Posted by: martinworster | May 20, 2016

Fuel The Fear: Weird Gun Logic

The only way to stop a bad guy with a bad idea is by a good guy with a good idea

Living in a country where guns are so predominant it’s equally fascinating and scary to observe. What’s particularly interesting is the illogical thinking you often come across that’s used to justify and preserve their existence and use. From what I can see a prevailing gun culture promotes a society based on fear. Everyone else has a gun. In that case – I also need one myself to protect myself from everyone else who also has a gun. The fear spreads and perpetuates. A nice little side bonus is the massively profitable industry this creates. Let’s sell guns to everyone who’s scared. I’ve even felt myself – through a process fearful osmosis that seeps into your being when you’ve lived in this country for over a decade – that I might need a gun myself to protect myself and my family. I only thought that – I would never actually go out and act on that fear. So I use the higher, non-fear driven, part of the brain to reason and work out that having a gun probably won’t make me safer. Or would it? When I go hiking or mountain biking in the wilderness I will take knife through a legitimate fear of being attacked by a mountain lion – hikers and bikers have indeed been killed by them here. Not many I admit. So it’s a genuine fear that leads my to weaponize to protect myself from animals. By logical extension, should I not also own a gun to protect myself from other people?

Probably not as owning this gun frequently leads to death through misadventure, a child finding it, accidental firing, suicide or drunken disputes that turn deadly. The fear of other people having guns and then getting one yourself can quickly backfire. Overall I try to not get into gun debates with people over here as I find the different arguments are polar opposite epistemological mountain tops you end up shouting across to the opposing view. I don’t like getting into shouty, circular back and forths that don’t resolve.

America’s whole history of gun culture and how their use is protected by a the Second Amendment – hence they’re viewed as a basic right – is totally at odds with a Europeans view on guns. We feel they are not needed. That society is safer and better off without them. And statistics back this up. It’s important to add, many people I know here don’t own guns and want tougher gun laws. Not everyone here’s an angry gun nut. But the one’s who are here are very vocal and aggressive about their perceived rights. I see some of the States that have ‘open carry’ laws like Arizona and Texas and hence some gun owners like to flaunt this and proudly carry their AK47 slung over their shoulder whilst shopping in Target or at the grocery store. I find that move very aggressive, hostile and intimidating, particularly to children. What sort of message is that sending out? ‘This is what I think my right is and I will flaunt’, they think, even though externally that move promotes the threat of violence.

Whilst mentioning Arizona, it reminded me of a contractor (builder) who came to my house to do some tile work. He was a nice guy and we used to chat about this and that. He always held up Arizona as kind of utopia, mainly down to it’s lax gun laws including open carry. One day he’d got in a minor road rage incident in California where the other driver had ‘flipped him off’ ie gave him the middle finger. He told me that would have never happened in Arizona due to the higher penetration of guns. Ie the fear of getting shot would have prevented the guy from raising his fingers. I thought that was a strange notion that some form of societal order and balance was imposed through the fear of getting shot and that this was a good thing. I guess it would work. But is it a good standard through which to regulate society? Thinking about it, it does even affect how I behave as if I feel a touch of road rage coming on I think twice about confrontations, or shouting or pulling up beside someone to have a rant as I think to myself, ‘hang on, they might have a gun’. I don’t really want to be one of those pointless deaths from a road rage incident. A page 6 News In Brief in the LA Times – ‘Man Shot On 405 Off Ramp’ – a sad and meaningless way to go.

Posted by: martinworster | June 30, 2015

Mount San Jacinto (10,834 feet)

…second highest mountain in Southern California..lets, er, do this…

Distance: 11.4 miles
Elevation: 10,834 feet
Vertical gain: 4,689 feet

Mount San Jacinto

Mount San Jacinto – are we there yet? Early morning trail start…

Originally our plan had been to keep in order of mountain height on the Six Peak Challenge and climb Mount San Bernadino. Sadly – due to wildfires – this mountain was closed so next up on the list was Mount San Jacinto. I was a little intimated by this one as I’d heard and read how tough a hike it was – not helped by it’s proximity to Palm Springs which of course also means it’s very hot. In fact if you have ever driven to Palm Springs from LA you will see it on the right as you cruise down the 10 freeway into Palm Springs. You can even take a cable car from Palm Springs to near the summit.

Mount San Jacinto

Are you having a giraffe? (Are you having a laugh?)

Our way in was via the Marion Mountain trail which is just outside of Idylwild, the main town in the San Jancinto mountain range. We camped the night before pretty much on the the trail head so as to ensure an early (and cool) start. My alarm went off at 4.45 am and we had started by 6am. This hike is steep. Luckily the first 3 miles were in shade as the sun was still rising – looking ahead you could ominously see the sun and where we would have to eventually break out of the shade. At times a lot of trail included scrambling up over steep boulders as we continued to gain elevation.

Mount San Jacinto - apparently a fungus?

Mount San Jacinto – apparently a fungus?

Sometimes when I hike I think to myself – ‘do I actually enjoy this?’. I mean I love being outside in nature and the fact that my mobile phone doesn’t work. But many of these hikes are very tough and challenging and it becomes quite a mental test. I kept thinking I would be better off by the pool on a hot day like this. We were in a heatwave. I was tired starting the hike but you have to find the will to soldier through it and keep a good mental attitude. And Tristan didn’t fail to really impress me on this hike with his strength and positive mental attitude. We carried on up the valley admiring the hazy views and wildlife.

Did we peak too early...? Well no..

Did we peak too early…? Well no..

Even though it’s only 5.3 miles to the top it’s pretty unrelenting and hence it feels like it’s a lot longer. After 2.5 miles we completed the Marion Trail and hit the basic campground and the only flat (but short) section of Round Valley. Then we continued to climb now in full sunlight. It was hot and dusty. There is no drinkable water on the trail so I was carrying 3.5 Litres plus enough food and sweets to start a corner shop. I had to really focus to get through the last through couple of miles. Asking any hikers who were descending from the summit ‘how long left?’, the adult version of ‘are we there yet?’. The answers varied and were inconsistent – perhaps with a view to keeping your spirits up.

Looking East to the hazy desert...

Looking East to the hazy desert…a band of smoke and pollution.

Finally we got to the last section with 0.3 miles left which was basically scrambling over boulders on steep mountain. There was a hut / refuge in which you could sign the book and at the very top a geographical marker. The views were awesome. A 360 panoramic on the whole of southern California. Looking East Mount Gorgonio was visible across the pass – although with clouds of smoke making all of it except the summit visible. At best of times – with the heat and pollution – the views are hazy. Looking over the steep escarpment Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley lay below us, a seemingly infinite sand and desert scape with no visible horizon. Looking West we could see Orange County and it’s highest mountain Santiago Peak. It was truly an awesome, top-of-the world view.

Ice cool stream for some much needed toe dipping..

Ice cool stream for some much needed toe dipping..

Tristan was very happy and proud of himself. I was even prouder of him. This climb is no easy feat for anyone, but for a nine year old it’s a major accomplishment. Once you reach the top it’s a major psychological relief as the rest is – mainly – all down hill. The return did drag on. We had a nice little respite by paddling in stream we passed. Bizzarely, despite the desert heat, the water was icy cold. I didn’t see how there could be any snow or ice left to chill the spring water to this cold a temparature? There must be a deep mountain spring full of icy water from the snow melt. Incidentally, there are various ski descents of this mountain in water, although strictly for the intrepid / slightly mad.

Mount Jacinto..looking up the creek..without a paddle

Mount Jacinto..looking up the creek..without a paddle

As we carried on with the descent I could sense Tristan’s furstration for the last two miles as it never seemed to end. I was also getting annoyed by it – it becomes a good test of character. We’d left at just before 6am and arrived back at base camp at just after 5 so it was a good 11 hour trek in hot and slightly hostile conditions.  Tristan passed with flying colours. We have two mountains left to climb on this challenge but they are both closed by the large fire (17, 000 acres at time of writing) so this might scupper our plans to get this finished before our trip to England. Nevertheless it’s still a case of onwards and upwards…

Nice frond...

Nice frond…

Posted by: martinworster | June 12, 2015

Orange County Gun Show 2015

Guns and Coffee. Extra shot…

There’s about three gun shows in Orange County every year at the Costa Mesa fairground which is less than five miles from where I live. I went last year and took some photos and – as I am clearly a glutton for self-punishment – went again this year.

Orange County Gun Show (2)

Says it all…

I am fascinated by American gun culture. Guns – and all the violence they bring – are so entrenched in the American psyche and I find it in equal parts baffling, illogical and disturbing. In a country so seemingly obsessed with safety and protecting it’s citizens, it seems illogical why guns would be so widely available and used. Yada yada..I am not even going to exhaust myself with the vagaries of the gun debate or hoping that things will change – they won’t. If after Sandy Hook and the gun slaying of twenty school children didn’t facilitate change – then nothing will.

Orange County Gun Show (2)

Police line do not cross

The Gun Fair is massive. Upon entering it clearly says everywhere that you are not allowed to take photos – so I tried to surreptitiously use my camera phone. Hence the photos are not the best and not many of people’s faces. I was working undercover.  A number of times people saw me and commented and thankfully nobody called security. It’s no wonder the organizers don’t want photos taken as some of the imagery is quite shocking. Nazi memorabilia, rows of semi-automatic guns, children pouring over weapons, silencers, tones of ammo, ISIS target practice sheets, grizzled Second Amendment libertarians:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Orange County Gun Show (2)

Trust your kids with guns..

As with last year I noticed the slightly fervent atmosphere as gun enthusiasts salivated over the latest fetishistic products in the vast halls. I was also surprised at how many children were in attendance. Lots of father son duos trying out different guns which definitely indoctrinates the youth into the ‘glamour’ of guns and weapons. There was also a large stand for Gun Trusts – ‘In a home invasion cowering in fear won’t keep your child safe… Train your kids’ – which I found quite disturbing and shocking.

Orange County Gun Show (2)

ISIS target practice. Jihadi John?

That’s the whole engine of this industry. Fear. I even feel it myself. I was actually going to buy a large knife for hiking (bears, mountain lions), a purchase based on – actually quite legitimate – fear of animals in the wild and the need for self defense. I ended up not buying a knife as they were too dangerous and I didn’t want it in the house with kids. Similarly fear is used as a marketing angle to sell more guns – fear of intruders, fear of the apocalypse (still a lot of Doomsday Preppers goods). This fear marketing strategy doesn’t really cover the reality of all the accidental deaths from guns not protected. I read every week of kids shooting themselves  – or others – after finding the families unlocked weapons stash.

Orange County Gun Show (2)

US of Eh?

As a person living in the US and with kids at school here it does all make me feel very uneasy. You really appreciate the values of the UK where the police don’t have guns and there isn’t such an extreme gun culture. It makes the whole place feel that much safer and reasonable. I think the gun culture atmosphere percolates through society and allows violence to be more of a norm or way of life.

Orange County Gun Show (2)

This semi-automatic gave various gun enthusiasts a semi..



Orange County Gun Show (2)

Guns R U.S

Orange County Gun Show (2)

Aim high lady…

Orange County Gun Show (2)

Brainwash them from a young age…

Orange County Gun Show (2)

Pink for little girls…?

Don't mention ze war...

Don’t mention ze war…

Orange County Gun Show (8)

Best of British

Orange County Gun Show (8)

Open hold policy..

Orange County Gun Show (8)

Cold metal: hard shaft

Orange County Gun Show (8)

And this is California? I hate to think what a Texan gun show looks like…

Orange County Gun Show (8)

Guns and Coffee. Extra shot with that?

Orange County Gun Show (8)

Shooting practice…

Orange County Gun Show (8)

In guns we trust…

Orange County Gun Show (8)

Freedom ain’t free buddy!

Orange County Gun Show (8)

The sweet smell of fear…

Orange County Gun Show (8)

Dad, can I get this one?

Orange County Gun Show (8)

Bourne Identity…

Posted by: martinworster | June 2, 2015

Cucamonga Peak (8859 feet)

Cucamonga Peak – fifth highest mountain in Southern California…let’s do this…

Cloud bursting

Cloud bursting

We’d only had a week of from the last climb – and I’ll be honest I was still aching from 6 days before, particularly my calves. The beginning of the climb stars near the Mount Baldy hike so I was familiar with this pass. We started following the sylvan Columbine Spring stream in the steep sided North facing Ice House Canyon. I bet it’s beautiful here in Winter. The early-ish start – 7.30am – meant it was misty and damp, giving a lovely mystical look as if The Hobbit or a goblin might pop out from behind one of the thick cedar trees. As we got higher we passed massive boulder and scree slopes and took regular rests as I think we were all a bit achey still from last week. Tristan was doing well although seemed to want to rest more than any of us.

Misty mystical pastoral

Misty mystical pastoral

The first major stop off point was the Saddle which is a junction where three major trails meet. One eventually takes you to Mt Baldy, another Ontario Peak and one to our destination Cucamonga. We were now deep in the San Gabriels and as we looked back down the valley we could see clouds lower down. The trail started to switchback and was quite steep in places. Some of it had quite steep drop offs to the side and on these sections I’d hold Tristan’s hand. I started to feel a little bit anxious – I’m with a young boy in the wilderness I’m responsible for his safety. We took regular rests and Tristan’s pace was quite slow. I like to plough on and get in the hiking zone where you’re just steaming forward. I also got a little worried with time – I don’t really want to be coming back down in the dark, although of course we had headlamps for this eventuality.

Looking back down the valley..

Looking back down the valley..

We admired the birds, mainly blue Scrub Jays, plus a bright yellow one I don’t know the name of. Also tiny, baby chipmunks and incredibly healthy (plump) and bushy tailed gray squirrels. Little boys love seeing animals in the wild. I really liked getting Tristan away from computer games, iPads and any other form of screen which are a sadly to frequent intrusion on modern living. I think Tristan also appreciated this. Going was still slow. Never mind – as long as we keep moving forward we should be fine. And any other trite life – hiking metaphors you can come up with.

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

I think we hit the peak at approx 3 o’clock. I was again immensely proud of Tristan and he was overjoyed at finally being at the top. It’s all downhill from here. The views were incredible – we were way above the clouds that spread out before us like a white ocean lapping at the foothills below. I took a great photo of Tristan sitting on a rock which I like to think he’ll cherish forever. Again we got to the top with no complaints, moans or grumbles, except from me playing the good role model.

Top of the world

Top of the world

Even though once you’ve reached the top and it’s downhill back this is when accidents can really happen as you are tired. Again I felt slightly worried – in a good way – of having to get my young son safetly back down the mountain. Again Tristan became quite floppy limbed and I held his hand on any sections that were steep or dangerous. I made a mental note to perhaps buy a harness for these tricky bits on the next climbs. We got back to the car at around 7 o’clock. The whole climb had taken 11 hours which is really too long for a climb of this long if we were to successfully complete the next mountains. I will have to do some training with Tristan on faster walking. Three more peaks to go. Onwards and upwards…

Clouds lapping at the lower hills like a white ocean..

Clouds lapping at the lower hills like a white ocean..

Silly antics

Silly antics

Across the stream we go...

Across the stream we go…

Posted by: martinworster | June 2, 2015

Mount Wilson (5710 feet)

First hike in the So Cal six pack of peaks – Mount Wilson – 5710 feet. To give you an idea of scale Scafell Pike (the highest, ahem, mountain in England) is 3,209 feet…

Santa Anita Canyon

Santa Anita Canyon

We started out at the trail head at Chantry Flats at 9 am – a bit later than anticipated. All of the guides had said to do the ascent via Sturtevant Falls – I was a bit disconcerted as we started to see that at the beginning of the trail we actually started to go down the mountain. Hang on a minute, I thought we’re meant to be going to the top? We must have gone down at least five hundred feet in elevation. Gulp. I could tell this bit was going to be painful at the end of the hike, a finale I could live without.

Keep going..onwards and upwards..

Keep going..onwards and upwards..


Tristan was all kitted out in his new hiking boots and we followed the creek in Santa Anita canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains. Luckily – and rarely – for the Los Angeles area, the weather was over cast and cool. A pre-cursor to the June gloom that normally occurs here. My favorite time of year as it reminds me of home. Perfect hiking weather. That’s the thing in this warm part of the world, hikes in the high summer months get very tough in the sun, especially as many of the hikes are exposed. We followed the creek admiring all the mini waterfalls and assorted cabins to the side of the trail. It was forested and verdant, at parts mulchy underfoot and a lovely damp peaty smell hung in the air. We crossed the stream a number of times and the cascading water sound gave us a nice soundtrack.

Got ladybirds?

Got ladybirds?

We rested every 40 minutes or so as we started to gain higher in elevation and started on the switchbacks that snaked across and up the mountain. Tristan was doing very well. We ascended slower than I normally would have gone which is normal when accommodating a young boy. I was careful to always offer lots of encouragement and the odd energy bean – aka sweets to keep the sugar levels high. Spotting thousands of hatching ladybirds on a branch in one spot was a nice diversion. They must have been hatching. As is always the case the last couple of miles dragged on a bit. I looked at a neighboring mountain for reference thinking, ‘this is the highest mountain in the area, we have to get higher than that’. I sensed Tristan was getting a bit ‘are we there yet’, although without explicitly saying it. His attitude was also very good and positive. The boy was doing me proud.

Halfway house (I'm knackered)

Halfway house (I’m knackered)

Finally at approx 2.30 we hit the top. We were all ecstatic. Tristan had nailed his first big peak. We looked around for the geographic marker that states the mountain’s height for the obligatory summit photo. We then found out that someone – very annoyingly – had stolen it. At the top were lots of people who’d driven up as there are roads to view the astronomical observatory established over a hundred years ago by George Ellery Hale. We put on jackets as it was actually cold and had our packed lunch. Unfortunately the views were of course obscured by the cloud and normally you can see the twinkling lights of the LA basin. Overall I’d swap a cooler ascent for sweeping views. I think…

Not much view at the top

Not much view at the top

The next mission was to descend. I was a tad worried about Tristan as the descents can be long and arduous. He looked a little tired. I noticed his limbs were a bit floppy – but he kept going like a trooper. With no complaints. On any sections that were steep or in anyway dangerous I held his hand as I know it’s when tired that mistakes can happen. I swear the trail was longer than 15 miles as there were different ways of doing it and we took different routes. The last bit – which was a uphill, was a complete ‘butt kicker’. We arrived back at the car, happy and tired. Tristan ran when he saw the car. We did it. Onwards and upwards.

Down the hill we go...

Down the hill we go…

Posted by: martinworster | June 2, 2015

Hiking the So Cal Six Pack of Peaks

Climbing the six highest mountains in Southern California with my nine year old son…

Wildflowers on Los Pino's peak, Orange County's fourth highest mountain

Wildflowers on Los Pino’s peak, Orange County’s fourth highest mountain

Having bagged Mount Whitney last year – at 14,505 feet (4,421 m) the highest mountain in the contiguous United States – it only seemed natural that I’d want to climb (well hike) the biggest peaks in Southern California. After doing the Whitney hike in a day – 22 miles return on challenging terrain with lack of oxygen – I felt that anything was possible. Also, my 9 year old son Tristan got wind of the idea and decided he’d like get in on the action. The list of peaks in reverse order of height are as follows:

1. Mt Wilson

Distance: 14 miles
Elevation: 5710 feet
Vertical gain: 4,200 feet

2. Cucamonga Peak

Distance: 12 miles
Elevation: 8,859 feet
Vertical gain: 4,300 feet

3. Mt San Antonio (Mt Baldy)

Distance: 10.2 miles
Elevation: 10,068 feet
Vertical gain: 3,900 feet

4. San Bernadino Peak

Distance: 16.5 miles
Elevation: 10,649 feet
Vertical gain: 4,702 feet

5. Mt San Jacinto

Distance: 11.4 feet
Elevation: 10,834 feet
Vertical gain: 4,702 feet

6. Mount Gorgonio

Distance: 17.3 miles
Elevation: 11,503 feet
Vertical gain: 5,840 feet

Close up of an unknown insect

Despite the amazing views I decided to experiment with the macro feature on my camera

I’d been hiking with Tristan on various local trails and hills but nothing too extreme. I doubt we had ever done anything more than five miles. A few weekends ago we’d hiked Los Pinos peak in Orange County (4,555 feet – the fourth highest mountain in OC). I know, the fourth highest mountain in the OC is a bit ‘9th man on the moon’, although not a walk in the park for a young boy. To give you some idea of scale Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain, is 4,409 feet. To be fair, on the Los Pinos hike we’d driven quite a way up, I’d say the return hike was approx five miles so not the longest ascent in the world. Although a healthy jaunt in the high chaparral of California. I think this little jaunt piqued Tristan’s interest. I sensed a burgeoning interest in the wilderness, geology and the facts and figures of mountains. When I told him he’d climbed higher than the highest mountain in Britain he was very excited and I seemed to have opened the adventurers door.

Posted by: martinworster | December 30, 2014

Xiamen, China

Chinese travels continue… Xiamen in Fujian province, street markets, tea drinking, Gulangyu Island…


China - Xiamen Scenes (1)

After two nights in Ghangzhou and walking what felt like hundreds of miles after two intense days traipsing around the fair I was ready to leave. Next stop Xiamen in Fujian province. At this point I’d like to say thank you to my hosts Edward and Makiyo who showed me around, translated, put me up, entertained and basically made the best trip possible happen. I am so grateful for their help – and sometimes in China you really need it.

China was one of those places where I had no idea what to expect – on any level – before visiting. It’s such a vast place, the most populated country on the planet, a place which, as it exerts such a large impression on the imagination, means there’s quite a big gap between the fiction of what you think it will be like and the reality of how it actually is. My impressions are also of course highly superficial after a relatively fleeting – 9 day trip – to a small part of this massive country.

China - Xiamen Scenes

Driving across Ghangzhou to the train station (more on this later) and then from the train station in Xiamen to where I stayed I had that feeling of being daunted again. Everything’s so big – just endless miles and miles of large tower block housing, much of it looking quite grim and unappealing. Basically workers digs. Small rooms for factory workers who work long hours for little pay. In the cities there isn’t much much greenery. Just lots of concrete and lots of people. An Orwellian dystopia, humans as drones. Life looked hard. Its the scale of it – 1.3 billion people who all need to work, eat and live. On an already dangerously overcrowded planet, I just find the numbers a bit overwhelming. However, from my brief travels there I never saw a desperation to the people, quite the opposite – very proud and friendly people, taxi drivers and waiters would often refuse or hand back tips, perhaps due to the Chinese honor code they find it demeaning to accept money thrown around by Westerners. Again I am sure there are other parts of this huge, diverse country where this isn’t the case and hunger and poverty will be the norm.

China - Xiamen Scenes (2)

The train stations are simply immense. As with the Canton trade fair, the scale is mind bending – the terminus at Ghangzhou was bigger than Heathrow Terminal 5. The trains literally miles long. The timetables hyper efficient – the trains leave on the dot and you have to book your tickets days in advance and if you missed the train you were screwed. A massive mass transit system to cope with volume. In fact when it’s Chinese New Year and all the workers can leave their factories to visit their families, I believe it’s the largest human migration on the planet, all carried by the train system. As a world leader, China has invested massively in it’s infrastructure (America take note) and the roads, trains and subways are amazing. The trains were clean and fast – very impressive. This is where the help of our translator helped – once you get out into the cities no one speaks English. Not a word. I felt that if I got lost it would be a real test to find your way home again.

I’d never heard of Xiamen (3.5 million people, small for China) before but it’s well known in China and as it’s on the Strait of Taiwan, one of strategic and historical importance. I was staying right on the lake in the nicest part of town. This was my time to explore. We visited the fish market one morning which was a real eye opener and a great place for local colour, smells and people watching. In China if it moves it gets eaten – so there were snakes, toads, turtles, sharks, alligators, endless species of fish – all on sale ready to be cooked. As I a vegetarian I perhaps surprisingly didn’t find it that gross or shocking – in my world view, it’s shocking that a human would want to eat anything that lived, whether pig, snake, cow or shark.

Xiamen Street Market -  More Sea food

It seems common for areas of the city to specialize in a certain area of trade. Hence there was an area – a few blocks – of painters and artists knocking up copies of classics like the Mona Lisa or Canaletto-esque Venetian city scapes. I think this congregation of similar skills is fairly common in China and there are even towns or cities that specialize in one thing, for instance one town will make all the Christmas decorations that will be exported and sold to the rest of the world. Another town (or city) will specialize in washing machines or TVs and so on and so. It’s really quite bizarre.

In Xiamen one of my favorite discoveries was the tea area. Again, a couple of blocks of everything related to tea – tea pickers, sorters, dealers, shops selling kettles, cups, machines. Outside older women sat on stools picking and sorting the leaves from the twigs and stems of the bushels recently transplanted from the plantations that surround Xiamen . In China everyone drinks tea – taxi drivers have their own flasks with their favorite brew. In fact it’s believed the quantities of tea drunk goes some way in explaining low obesity in China despite the fat rich diet. The hot tea flushes out all the fat and toxins. It’s served before meals and business meetings. In some situations there’s quite a strict ritual of how it’s brewed – the tea ceremony which I experienced a number of times. How much tea is used, temperature of the water, washing of the tea cups with the first strain of tea, smelling the leaves, smelling the brew – it’s an art form, a tea culture that goes back millennia.

Tea Picker, Xiamen, China -

Nanputuo Temple

Nanputo Temple, Xiamen, China - Buddhist Prayer

This was another highlight in Xiamen for me. After a tasty lunch in a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant we walked up the hill to the Nanputuo Temple which is near the beautiful university. As it’s set on a hill you walk up and there are various Buddhist shrines and lots of monks. As with the Buddhist temples I’ve visited I love how the atmosphere is different to a traditional church – minus the sacred hush and holy reverence. The Buddhists seem more welcoming, open and accepting in their beliefs. This part of China is mainly Buddhist and for me it was another plus – the people seem kind and passive. I felt very safe at all times. I think most crime is low in China as the laws are very strict and well enforced. No deviation from the norm, a mass conformism to ensure the safe functioning of a society with so many people. Plus a hangover from the Communist days when strict conformism was much more the norm. As China has opened up to capitalism and westernized society is going through a massive change. An ever expanding middle class, consumerism and a vastly and disproportionally wealthy one percent much like Western cultures.

Gulangyu Island‬

Gulangyu Island, Xiamen, China - Marriage Proposal

This was another fascinating day trip. Just a 20 minute ferry ride off the coast of Xiamen, Gulangyu Island is car free and is stuffed full of colonial history and architecture. After China’s loss after the First Opium War and the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, many foreign governments – British, French, Japanese etc – set up their administrative head quarters there. The architecture was stunning – large Victorian houses, French villas, art nouveau styles and palatial homes abound in the winding lanes where cars are banned. It really gave me a sense of history – a lot of older buildings frequently get knocked down in China to make way for new developments and it was reassuring to see this part had been protected.

Gulangyu Island is a famous tourist destination for the Chinese – particularly young about to be married couples who flock there to get their portraits taken with the classy architectural backdrop. Every street you turn down there are couples every where only adding to the romance of the place.

Gulangyu Island, Xiamen, China - Colonial Building

Posted by: martinworster | December 11, 2014

Canton Fair (Ghangzhou, China)

Dude, where’s my virus mask?

The Canton Fair was my main reason for visiting China. The Canton Fair is the biggest exhibition / fair in the world and the place was daunting, especially as it was right at the beginning of my trip and coincided with jet lag. I flew into Hong Kong, spent one night there then up at 5am the next morning to cross the border and then take the train into Guangdong province and the city of Ghangzhou (romanized as Canton). First impressions of Ghangzhou were it’s pollution – you couldn’t see the sky, just a heavy, smoggy, repetitively low amber-grey cloud. Sometimes the sun would haze through the smog but it was always grim, cloudy and a tad depressing. It didn’t help that my hotel didn’t have any windows looking out so I felt like a worker in his digs working on the Qatari World Cup.

China Canton Fair (1)

At the fair, manufacturers of everything from all over China – and obviously there’s a lot of them – try and wholesale their products to buyers from all over the globe. Each week – or ‘Phase’ – focuses on a different market sector. Phase 1 is electronics and household electrical goods, machinery, lighting equipment, chemical products etc and Phase 2 was consumer goods, gifts and home decorations (our sector). Phase 3 is textiles, food, health, shoes etc. It’s hard to convey the immense scale of the place – I can’t think of any comparatively sized buildings I’ve been in before to give scale. Think Heathrow Terminal 5 but 4 times bigger. And then lots of them all joined up next to each other with multiple floors. Then there was the amount of people – from every corner of the globe, Europeans, Russians (a lot), African’s and Middle Easterners, American’s and well – just every corner of the planet represented. The trip coincided with the ebola panic so many people were wearing masks and your temperature was taken as you entered the building, obviously a pointless exercise as you could still be carrying and incubating the disease without displaying any symptoms. The joke on the trip was what I would do if I was sat next to a sweating and sneezing African gent on the flight home.

China Canton Fair (2)

Golf carts would transfer you from one end of the building to another. The array of goods was fascinating. One hall kitchen ware, another outside furniture, marble statues, architectural items, bronzes, porcelain, tableware, dining furniture – and from high to low end. Some really funky pieces – trendier stuff you’d see in Restoration Hardware. In fact I recognized the many pieces from one factory as Restoration Hardware although they could have been copies, as you soon learn in China everything is copied. I did even see a 3D copying stand – and thought of buying a 3D copier and printing more 3D copiers to sell.

China Canton Fair

It was quite daunting on many levels. Mainly the scale of it and the people. But also the scale of manufacturing. Each stand would have it’s own factory – so if you took a fancy to certain lines on a stand that factory would then make your order after receiving a deposit. Many of the exhibitors had Minimum Quantity Orders – if you liked a desk, you’d probably have to order 40 of them and fill a 40 foot container with other pieces in similar bulk. When you talked to the Chinese people on the stands they’d proudly tell you that they were suppliers to Tesco, Next, Sainsburys, etc so I kind of felt like a small fish buying for a small family business. It just put into context China’s global position as the maker of everything. The machinations of capitalism – the process chain from manufacture to end consumer product in household. That’s what makes Guandong province such a polluted corridor as most things made in China exit from the ports of Ghangzhou and Hong Kong in containers to be shipped the rest of the world. The smelly end of capitalism. China’s cheap labour facilitating the manufacture of cheap goods to feed the rest of the world’s nihilistic and mindless consumerism. Belching factories, exploited labour and polluted skies a 21st century version of Blake’s ‘dark satanic mills’ line which critiqued the Industrial Revolution in England in the 1800s. A rape of resources and labour. Still, I think I found some nice new lines at the fair that will hopefully go down a treat with our global customer base.

China Canton Fair (3)

We used the metro a few times in Ghangzhou and that was very impressive – clean, hyper efficient and dirt cheap. Although you have to contend with the vast swathes of humanity that use it and of course the different cultural values when it comes to personal space – people will push and jump in front of you, not to mention cough, sneeze and loudly clear their nasal passages. I guess with 1.3 billion people you might have to put up with a bit of hustle and bustle….

China - Shenzen Train Station (1)

China - Shenzen Train Station

Posted by: martinworster | November 8, 2014


Posted by: martinworster | July 14, 2014

Hiking Mount Whitney

Driving up to our campsite at Whitney Portal from the high desert town of Lone Pine I felt intimated by my first glimpse of the mountains. Who’s idea was this? Six months earlier I’d entered a lottery to win a permit to hike Mount Whitney which at 14,505 feet (4,421 m) is the highest mountain in the contiguous United States (ie not including Alaska). The lottery system was devised to limit the number of hikers on this popular route. I hit the jackpot but the snag was it was a one day permit – most people prefer to do it over 2 or 3 days to split up the arduous route and to get used to the altitude. The 23 miles return from the trail head at Whitney Portal and an elevation gain of 6100 feet makes it quite a tough one day hike. Oh well, let’s hope my arthritic right knee holds up. To give some sense of scale the highest mountain in England is Scafell Pike at 3209 feet  – so Whitney’s 4.5 times bigger.

Lone Pine Brook

Lone Pine Brook – babbling brook at Whitney Portal campsite

We drove futher up the valley to the campsite and I was immediately struck by the sheer, vertical granite faces either side of the valley. Looking up skywards you could see jagged peaks and needles, a more dramatic mountain scenery normally associated with the Alps. We were definitely in high mountain territory. Lower down in the high desert the temperatures has been pushing 100 so I was concerned but as we ascended they dipped to the low 80s. Our campsite was exquisite, set amongst tall sequoias with Lone Pine Creek babbling in the background, an idylic pastoral setting you wouldn’t expect being so close to the desert.

We went to bed early the Sunday night as we were to start the hike at 2.30 am the next morning. An early start’s required when doing it in a day. Ideally you summit around midday as later on in the afternoon it’s common for thunderstorms to hit in July – and you don’t want to be exposed on a ridge or peak when lightning strikes.

The alarm went off at 2.15 and we were on the tail at 3am in the dark using headtorches to navigate. My backpack had 3 litres of water in a camel pack, a litre of Gatorade, two cheese sandwiches and enought sweets, energy gels, trail mixes, nuts and chocolate to open a sweet shop. I also carried a knife (bears, mountain lions, meth heads?), first aid kit, knee brace, map, compass, whistle, water proof top and fleece, beanie, small camera and hiking poles. It weighed quite a bit – approx 45 Ilbs. Starting in the dark we soldiered on – you could sense the immense beauty around us but only the small beam of our lamps made the rocks and immediate path visible. We encountered lots of switchbacks, crossed the river a few times, then after an hour or so the trail levelled out to what must be a meadow formed from alluvial muds brought down via the river over millenia. It was still dark. My knee was holding up (slight twinge, that’s normal) and I already had small blister in my palm from the hiking pole – time for gloves.

Sunrise over the high desert- Whitney Hike

Sunrise over the high desert- Whitney Hike

After two hours or so it started to get lighter – just as we encountered Lone Pine lake, still in quite a green section of the trail. After perhaps two hours we came to Outpost Camp and Mirror Lake (technically a tarn) – the white granite faces of the mountains glistened in the early morning light and reflected in the lake. Looking around the scale of the place became apparent, vase scree slopes, dotted with snow, remnants of the mild winter remained in patches, nothing now growing amongst the rocks and stone. It was like Game of Thrones meets the Hobbit. If the Romantic poets were that inspired by roaming around the Lake District to come up with such beautiful poetry, I can only wonder (or wander, ‘lonely as a cloud’) what they would have made of these environs. Simply sublime. We stopped to rest at the lake and kept guard from the marmots (large rat meets guinea pig creatures) who can easily get into your backpack.

Mirror Lake - Mount Whitney Hike

Mirror Lake – Mount Whitney Hike

Looking up from the Mirror Lake was the next part which was named 99 switchbacks and is a tough section which really gains elevation over a short distance. Little figures were dotted on the slopes – humans dwarfed by the landscape. I tried to not to be too intimidated by the sense of scale and what that meant for our already tired legs. Onwards and upwards.

The 99 switchbacks section was where the mental part of the hike kicked in. Trying to remain positive and upbeat – knowing there is a final destination in the future – and thus trying to override your exhaustion and the feeling that maybe I’m not really cut out for this hiking lark. It was also here that the altitude and subsequent lack of oxygen started to kick in. Getting out of breath, headaches, blurred vision and the feeling that your legs are made of stone were now part of the struggle. Altitude sickness is the main reason people don’t make it to the top of Whitney. On the day ascent there’s a 50% failure rate. To cope with the elevation gain we’d take a rest every 15 minutes and eat some sugar – and then keep going. Onwards and upwards, what what. Through snowboarding I had spent some time in high altitude regions, most recently in the Himalayas, so altitude sickness wasn’t a major concern, but I still felt the lack of oxgyen.

Getting stuck in to 99 Switchbacks - a butt kicker!

Getting stuck in to 99 Switchbacks – a butt kicker!

Finally we reached the top of 99 switchbacks at Trail Crest (13650) – this is where it really started to get breathtaking. From here you look outwards to Mt Hithcock (13186) with deep blue lakes in the foreground, parts of the Kings Canyon sequoia forest are visible in the high plateau valley and beyond that more wildnerness with multitple 13,000 plus peaks of the High Sierras as far as the eye can see. It was Narnia meets Lord of the Rings. An immense, vast uninhabited wilderness of sublime and spellbinding beauty. At this point we had completed 8 miles of the hike. Only three more miles to the peak. Although still 14 miles back to base camp after – if – we summit. It was a constant math equation in my head – how many miles down? How high are we? Are we there yet?

Psychologically I was in a good place – it felt like this was the home stretch. We’d come up through the steep valley and now were going to ascend the ridge that led up to Whitney. The path snaked around the ridge, quite treacherous with steep drop offs and lots of boulders, but with each turn the views seemed to get more insane and other worldly. A sign marked where the trail branched off to the Jean Muir trail and at this point the summit was 1.9 miles away.  Finally we turned a corner and we could see the hut that lies on top of the smummit – although it was still a long way off. Two more hours away to be precise. Hikers coming down told us ‘not long to go’ trying to encourage us probably seeing the tired and anguished looks on our faces. Movement was slow as the altitude increased. I sat down every 15 minutes or so and ingested sweets and energy gels to keep my sugar levels high and to give me that surge required. Furstratingly it seemed like the summit wasn’t getting any closer. I had to resist stamping my feet in a childish tantrum. Are we there yet??

Ridge Crest overlook - out of this world scenery

Ridge Crest overlook – out of this world scenery – the High Sierras. uninhabited wilderness as far as the eye can see…

At this point it was where the trite ‘climbing mountains parallels life’ metaphors kick in. Despite the setbacks and struggles of the journey, keep the destination in mind as your goal. No pain no gain. Try and adopt a zen like meditative approach to the journey – mind over matter. Okay I hurt now but this is a passing moment. Keep going. Keep going. At 12.30 we reached the summit. I lied down on my back on a large slab of rock. I could have quite easily gone to sleep. Unfortunately clouds had come in so we couldn’t see much from the lookout. We’d did it! I treated myself to a Snickers bar (my dangled carrot motivational treat for the top) and we took our photos next to the Whitney summit sign. Then we signed the guest book in the Smithsonian hut. Then I thought to myself; ‘hang on, I’m only half way through – now I’ve got eleven more miles to go downhill whilst tired, arguably the most challenging bit. And I am totally cream crackered’.

Mount Whitney summit - I made it.

Mount Whitney summit – I made it.

Whatever they say, downhill is of course easier. You lose elevation and gravity is on your side. It’s tough on the joints though. Plus there were some quite technical sections over large rocks and boulders on the trail with steep and treacherous drop offs – one wrong step whilst tired and you could be toast. But always you felt ‘I’ve done it!’. I’m just returning. It’s just a long, long way home. The trail kept going on and on. At points I when I rested it felt like every molecule in my body was totally zonked – where can I muster the energy to keep going (more energy gels, more sweets). Despite the massive calorie burn I’m sure I put on weight on this journey. After five miles of the return journey I started to hate myself. ‘Who’s idea was this? I’m never hiking again. I hate hiking.’ Just emotional responses in the heat of the moment. I had to battle my way though my negative thinking. Rein in those thoughts and bring it back to the centre. Keep going.

It kept going on and on. And of course there was the whole 4 hour section of the hike which we’d earlier completed in the dark. Coming down we looked down the valley into the high desert. Beyond that another range of more barren peaks, part of the Inyo Mountains. Over those lies the desolate Death Valley. Not too far from the lowest point in the US in Death Valley (Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level) to where we’d just been, the highest point. A land of vast extremes, low to high, desert to forest, exhaustion to exhilaration, negative to positive, failure to success. I was in the 50% that made it. We are the 50%!

We descended and reached parts we hadn’t seen in the dark. Very lush, almost tropical sections with streams, rivers and waterfalls, deer and wild quail shared the trail, a place of Edenic abundance and beauty – except I was too tired to really appreciate it. We soldiered on. How much further? Four more miles. Three more miles. My legs were beyond exhaustion, joints acheing, ankles giving me gip. We’d started at 3 am and it was now 6. Finally we returned to base at 7. We did it. 16 hours on our feet hiking in high elevation – but we’d done it and conquered Mount Whitney. What’s next? A cold beer and a lie down I think. Maybe Everest.


More photos below:

Mount Whitney - how were the views? Not bad...

Mount Whitney – how were the views? Not bad…


Consultation Lake - Whitney

Consultation Lake – Whitney


A marmot

A marmot


Mirror lake - jagged peaks

Mirror lake – jagged peaks


Summit up? Cloudy at the top

Summit up? Cloudy at the top



Needle View

Needle View


Lakes and mountains - Whitney

Lakes and mountains – Whitney


National Geographic stream crossing

National Geographic stream crossing


View from the desert - she's a bigun'

View from the desert – she’s a bigun’



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