Biggles over the Gobi

Page30 Whilst I was reading Beatrix Bulstrode’s A Tour in Mongolia I recalled that there was one of the Capt. W.E. Johns’ Biggles stories set in and around parts of the Gobi. I also have the vaguest memory of having seen that book, perhaps even reading it when I was a youngster. I will need to think more on it. The book was titled Biggles in the Gobi and was first Published on 8 October 1953. It was 160 pages long. Actually, most of the Biggles books were fairly short, there is, after all, only so much excitement a young reader can take 😆

The story basically goes something like this.

Biggles is asked by Air Commodore Raymond to travel to the middle of Asia to rescue some missionaries from the evil Communist China. Biggles takes Algy, Ginger and Bertie with him in his unmarked Halifax bomber. Also travelling with the tram is a Chinese man by the name of Feng-tao (who speaks virtually no English).

Biggles flies the Halifax from Pakistan to the Gobi desert. The missionaries are supposedly hidden in a cave but there is nowhere suitable to land within miles (well duh, it is the middle of the desert and as I recall, Halifax bombers were not really designed for off roading). Algy, Ginger and Feng-tao parachute down whilst Biggles flies back to Pakistan.

The plan is for Algy and Ginger to build a runway. However, they find that the missionaries have been attacked and that only four out of eleven remain. One had already died, two were killed in the raid and four have been captured and taken prisoner. Facing constant threat from Chinese soldiers, lead by the evil Ma Chang – known as ‘the tiger’, Algy and Ginger have to hold out. Ginger organises a rescue attempt using the fierce Kirghiz tribesmen and manages to free the four captured missionaries.

Biggles and Bertie have had problems of their own, however, having hit an eagle with the Halifax (see the illustration below – the dust jacket). This accident with the bird has forced them to land to repair the plane (and this is the plane they expected to land in rough desert, grounded by an eagle). Biggles is able to return, after shooting down a MiG jet (right – Halifax bomber versus MiG jet and MiG loses – yep, can see that). When he arrives back the final battle is in full swing at the caves. He is able to rescue everybody, get them away and save the day. Yay!

OK, I was young at the time and I enjoyed Biggles. Tempted to look for some of the tales again, if only for period feel.

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Korea Suffers Worst Yellow Dust Storm

A citizen wearing a mask rides a bicycle in Hangang Park, Seoul, Sunday. Earlier, the Korean Meteorological Administration posted a yellow dust warning for the city (of Seoul)Over the weekend just gone, Seoul and parts of Korea were blanketed in one of their worst Yellow Dust Storms. This is an annual event starting around the end of March and carrying through to May. Often the dust is suspended high in the atmosphere, not coming down until out in the Pacific Ocean somewhere, perhaps even making it all the way to the US and Canada. We used to joke when I was living and working in Jeon Ju that is was the Chinese giving themselves away to the USA. The Korea Times noted about the dust storms that:

The whole nation on Sunday was under a cloud of yellow dust blown from a Chinese desert some 5,000 km from here. The worstever (sic) yellow dust cloud forced people, who often picnic or hike in the mountains on the first Sunday of April, to stay home. The number of holiday-goers was about one third of those of a normal day. The density of dust was up to 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter, 10 to 20 times worse than usual.

There were a couple of other articles about it and the photo above was presented showing the intensity of the dust in Seoul.

Yellow Dust on the edge of the Gobi in Mongolia

It has been noted that the problem is the Gobi Desert in China, where various poor environmental practices over the years has led to a dust bowl which blows away each each year. Well, the Gobi extends into Mongolia as well and around this time last year I was travelling by train to Beijing from Ulaanbaatar. On the way, we passed the cause of the dust storms – shown in the other photo.

Apology to the Northern Hemisphere

Whilst we all know now that Australia is on the top of the world (see the article in Thomo’s Hole), one of the proofs I presented in that article for the Northern Hemisphere being on the bottom of the globe was the following:

When someone walks outside at night and looks up, they see stars. In the northern hemisphere, they see, for example, the North Star. You do not see terribly many stars, just a few million or so (well, a few million if you happen to have particularly good eye sight). Therefore, stars are an astronomical sign of up. When you are in the Southern Hemisphere in say Australia, South Africa or Argentina and you walk outside and look up, you also see stars. The difference here is that you see a few hundred million and you do not need terribly good eyes to see them all. There are more stars in the sky. In this case, if stars indicate up, then more stars must indicate more up. More up must be higher than up, therefore the Southern Hemisphere is higher than the Northern Hemisphere and therefore must be o­n top of the World. Australia is o­n the top and Norway is o­n the bottom.

So, why the apology? Well, when I was out on the Gobi recently I was there at night and there is almost no ambient light on the Gobi at night. I had a chance to have a good look up, to see the Big Dipper (Doloon Burkhan in Mongolian – which means “Big Spoon”), Venus and Mars and a number of stars. What struck me was that there were many more stars than I had noticed before in the northern hemisphere’s sky.

So, I must apologise for the reference above to “a few million”. There are many, many more. Mind you, there are still way more visible in the Southern Hemisphere sky so the proofs still stand. 🙂

Driving in Mongolia at Night

Or more to the point, driving in the countryside at night – and in our case, the Gobi.

In the headlights, everything appears the same colour so the track that you are driving on disappears into the surrounding terrain. At times you have to stop and look carefully to see where the road goes.

Driving at night in the Mongolian countryside where there is no asphalt road (which is most of the country) is really quite dangerous. I can see why most locals stop and camp for the night rather than keep pressing on.

Mind you, those yellow eyes reflecting back at you from the dark are a bit spooky too – so I guess in the Gobi I saw my first wild wolves, er, in the dark.

More tales and entries from the Gobi Trip coming up soon, along with some photographs.

Train Trips – a Loooooooong Way to Beijing – China

We crawled across the border, from Zamin-uud in Mongolia to Erlian in the Chinese S.A.R. of Inner Mongolia. About 5 kilometres and it took about 30 minutes to travel it. We arrived in Erlian Station with the Chinese Immigration and Customs folks standing to attention. They entered the train and fairly efficiently went through each of the carriages, stamping us into the country and checking our customs forms.

Once the Immigration folks left the train, it was then backed up from Erlian Station and taken into a large carriage shed for a change in bogies. This is necessary because Mongolia uses the Russian Railway Guage of 5 feet between rails whilst China uses Standard Guage (4 foot 8 and a half inches between rails – only a three and a half inch difference but enough to ensure that each and every carriage is lifted, the Mongolian bogies removed and the Chinese ones added.

Irrespective of the being bounced around and the noise, I went to sleep.

We had arrived at Zamin-uud around 8 pm in the Thursday night. When I dropped off to sleep I can remember that the last time I checked my watch it was midnight.

I slept and the train rolled along through the night. And the train rolled quickly. Mongolia is all single track with lots of passing loops. China from the border is dual running – that is, one line northbound and one line southbound. It was, however, going to be another 15 hours or so before we got to Beijing.

We finally arrived in Beijing around 3:30 pm China time, so about 30 minutes or so late – not so bad given the length of the train journey.

It was an interesting rail journey and I am glad that I did it. I know that we will probably need to catch the train back to Ulaanbaatar but I am trying not to think about that at the moment. I am thinking that perhaps the next train trip may be Beijing to Kowloon (Hong Kong).

Train Trips – a Loooooooong Way to Beijing – Mongolia

I wanted to go to Beijing. Being “between engagements” again, I wanted an inexpensive way to go to Beijing. We decided, therefore, to catch the train.

Now, I have taken the train from Ulaanbaatar to Zamin-uud and on to Erlian in China once before see Travel, Visa’s and Related Matters for some of the details of that trip. Well, travelling to Beijing was really even more interesting.

We left Ulaanbaatar at 08:05 on Thursday morning UB time and arrived in Beijing at 15:30 the next day UB time. Loooooong time in train. There was a wind storm blowing across the Gobi Desert which means there was a dust storm, so everything in the carriage was covered in dust.

When you leave Ulaanbaatar, you are given a meal by the railways. Nothing to drink, just a meal. This was sausage, pasta and some vegetables as well as a bread roll. That was all the food given for a 30 hour trip. There is a water boiler in each carriage so if you take the trip, bring some pot noodles and packets of coffee (and a cup). Bread, salami and cheese is a good addition as well.

We arrived at Zamin-uud where Mongolian Immigration (Emigration) officers and Customs dealt with us. My first problem was that my Mongolian visa is in my old, cancelled passport so the Immigration Officer had to take my passports into the office to check them out with her boss. This caused some consternation as she had not returned after 40 minutes or so and it looked like we were getting ready to head into China (minus Thomo’s passport). She turned up with duly stamped passport about 2 minutes before the train moved.

The Customs officer was the next little trial. She asked me for my last Customs form. I did not have one. When you fly into Mongolia your customs form is taken at the airport. When you fly out, no problem. When you enter via train, your Customs form is returned to you. When you take the train out, you are supposed to return the form. Yes folks, two rules.

Still, after an hour or so all formalities were completed and we were on the way to China. Look for part 2 soon.