In the last four years I have just about rounded it off: 1996: Jakarta; 1997 Seoul, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Shanghai; 1998 Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Mexico City and Santiago de Chile. 1999: Tokyo, Osaka. Sydney, Singapore, Beijing, Bombay and Calcutta. 2000 Kuala Lumpur. 2001 Cape Town. 2002 Back to Jakarta, Bangkok, Cairo and Milan. 2003 will be
Casablanca, must be New Delhi.
I have (just as I did the streets of London) pretty much done it.
But done what? Been there? Seen them? Got to know them? What I do is I just walk; walk unselectively, dispassionately and for big distances. I aim to embrace the sheer extent of the city. "Oh, but what can you see in four days?" I often hear "You can't begin to…" The answer is, I see a lot thankyou, and things that a "traveller" would never see. Yes, in Beijing I visited the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven in Tiantan Park. But more compelling for me, more moving , more memorable by far were the miles and miles (10/15 miles a day) I walked round the great concentric rings of Stalin-esque boulevards that ring the city, the underpasses, overpasses, the heady and audacious new building; (50 stories topped off with a pagoda: I like it! Now that's real post-modernism!) I am in love with the modern. I want to see how the real Chinese live, and that is in the modern world.
And so I hop, handluggage only, with no hotel rooms booked, from city to city. It is stressful, it is physically hard, it is expensive (but ask a crack addict how he can "afford" his addiction). No backpacker hostels (all those virtuously huge backpacks.). The minimum for these trips for these trips is the three-star concrete block of a hotel; en suite bathroom and big TV (with a wobbly picture) the absolute minimum. There is no greater freedom, physical, existential than a month like this. Forget that farmhouse in the Dordogne; that Victorian Distillery in Skye; that converted eighteenth-century sardine pickling plant on the banks of the Douro, that tumble-down wheelwright's workshop in Thuringia. Join me here in the mighty…OSAKA…where I write this, installed very much downtown, in the Hotel California, watching dubious films on the Rainbow Channel and deciding which skyscraper to go up tomorrow (the Umeda Sky Building perhaps?), which shopping mall to visit, which elevated loop trainline to go round and round on three times.