How I Became A Guidebook Writer

David Leffman Travel writing Leave a Comment

Back in 2005, I was interviewed by China Travel magazine in Hong Kong. The journalist took me out for afternoon tea at the swish Mandarin Oriental hotel, and we chatted for a couple of hours about my background as a travel writer, and in particular how I had become so interested in China. Between guzzling tea, petit fours and cucumber …

Yamdena

David Leffman Indonesia 2 Comments

Between 1997 and 1998 I spent six months working in Sulawesi, Kalimantan and Maluku, researching a guidebook to Indonesia. As a region of island groups scattered across 2000km of ocean, just getting around occupied most of my time. In theory, you could fly between major centres, but in practice the planes seldom left the ground, and when they did take …

Seda

David Leffman Sichuan, Travel writing 1 Comment

We hadn’t wanted to go to Seda. I doubt anybody does, unless they’re a monk studying at the enormous lamasery there, the largest in western Sichuan. But things had gone astray at the bus station in Ma’erkang, where the staff had refused to tell me whether there was a bus through to the monastery town of Ganzi, hundreds of kilometres further …

On Mesny’s Trail: Hami

David Leffman Mesny Leave a Comment

On 12 April, 1881, Mesny passed “the Royal tomb where the King of the Chao-to nation is buried, this of a green colour and shaped like a round tower with a dome” and arrived at China’s northwestern military headquarters, Hami (aka Qumul). He had spent two years on the journey here from Hong Kong, though he would by now have …

On Mesny’s Trail: The Road to Xinjiang

David Leffman Mesny 2 Comments

With Jiayuguan’s western gate behind him, Mensy left China for Xinjiang, the “New Territories” of Chinese Turkestan, whose desolate, sand-blurred vistas stretched thousands of kilometres west across two vast desert basins to the borders with Russia and Central Asia. His party marched onto the almost featureless plain, where bitter winds cut through everyone’s clothing (except for the carters, who had …

On Mesny’s Trail: Jiayuguan

David Leffman Mesny, Zuo Zongtang Leave a Comment

On 24 March 1881, two years into what would become a five-year trip around China, Mesny crossed an immense gravel plain and arrived at Jiayuguan, a run-down township at the edge of the nation’s northwesternmost frontier. He left early the next morning for Jiayuguan fort, which guards a 5km-wide pass between the snow-capped Qilian mountains to the south and the …

Buttons and Badges

David Leffman Mesny Leave a Comment

Mesny and other Qing dynasty officials showed off their rank with – amongst other things like jade belt buckles, Buddha-bead necklaces and peacock feathers – coloured hat finials or “buttons” (帽顶), and embroidered rank badges (補子). Here’s a photo of him from around 1875, dressed as a third-rank official. Hat finials were a coloured ball the size of a large …

Monkeys and Fire: Jiuzhou, 1869

David Leffman Mesny, Miao War 2 Comments

There’s a local saying in southeast Guizhou: “If you want to enjoy your New Year, don’t argue with the people at Jiuzhou”. The population must be a fiesty bunch then. I wondered if this was why my bus ticket included insurance coverage of up to ¥20,000 medical expenses, or ¥4000 for personal injury. Known as Huangping in Mesny’s day, I …