Saturday 30 April 2016

My old China: I was twenty years too late for Peking

Ironically, North Korea in the 1960s and 1970s had far higher living standards than China and North Koreans would frequently congratulate themselves on not having fallen into the chaos and backwardness of their giant neighbour. It was only in the early nineties, with the end of Russian and Chinese subsidies, that the North Korean economy collapsed. 
James Palmer, Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao's China (2012)
Many years ago a young Romanian friend, Alexandra, was about to go to China and asked me for advice. I gave her three pieces of advice: to observe, not judge and to eat dog. She told me she did all three. I have just come back from China and only followed the first of these. 

Tourism in Peking leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Literally. The taste of Starbucks coffee and Starbucks baguettes.  

A shiny, very modern mega-city has been created by order of the Party in a place which

South Korea is a triumph of the human spirit

I was in South Korea for less than three days, as a holiday within my holiday in China. Since I was a little boy I have wanted to see Portuguese churches under a Chinese sun in Macao but am told it is like Las Vegas now. Instead of Macao it therefore seemed a good idea to get out of China and the flight to Seoul took only ninety minutes, though the queue at passport control took slightly longer. 

South Korea is not my kind of place but I liked it. It is a great triumph of the human spirit.

Utterly ruined and impoverished in 1953 it is now one of the richest countries in the world, not because of mineral resources but because of human resources.

The Gyeongbokgung palace
Seoul is a wonderful argument for capitalism, especially useful against people who worry that the state has too little power and multinational companies too much. South Korea has very little welfare safety net and not too many poets or painters, but there are more and

Friday 29 April 2016

Back home after not going to North Korea

I got back to Bucharest last night after two weeks not visiting North Korea. Today I feel bliss that thanks to the rain I can have a long weekend at home with books, rather than go to the seaside. One more outing for this thought from Logan Pearsall Smith
'Thank heavens, the sun has gone in and I don't have to go out and enjoy it.'
I had been supposed to go to North Korea with four pals, but the political situation in North Korea became a little too exciting. I felt the time was not right. But I had bought a ticket to Peking via Istanbul and Kiev, so I spent some days in Peking and flew to South Korea for three days. A good decision, because I would never have chosen to go to China, a place I once glimpsed, and disliked, in a stopover. I still don't like it very much but it is very important indeed. And I met two very interesting and civilised foreigners, both historians, who live there, speak Chinese and explained the country.

I had dinner last night with Marc, one of the four who was just back from North Korea. I was disappointed that I did not get to that room on the border where a North and South Korean soldier eyeball each other. He said he was too.  

A lot in North Korea was as I guessed it would be. It has all been written about by bloggers, but nothing compares with seeing for oneself, which Marc has done and I have not. Pyongyang was impressive and in many ways normal, although the roads were almost empty of traffic. He could talk to people freely, except almost none spoke English. The beer was good. He only saw two old tractors in the countryside. I pointed out that from 1996 to about 2004 I never saw a single tractor in Romania, only ploughs.

He was not afraid while in North Korea, but knew he had to be always on guard. The beautiful and charming twenty-four year old girl who was his guide would, he knew, have killed him without a moment's compunction if ordered to do so. He was in a bubble, but nevertheless found the place fascinating. He warmly recommended that I go and I may well. 

What was the best moment? Oddly, visiting the very odd mausolea of the two deceased Kims. He made it sound like Evelyn Waugh's satire about American funeral directors, The Loved One.
Ian Coles took this shot

Wednesday 13 April 2016

South-Eastern Europe has always defended Europe from Asian invaders, without Western Europe feeling gratitude.

I first wrote and published this in July 2010.

I picked up a couple of years ago in a second hand bookshop an essay by Mircea Eliade and idly opening it I had an odd experience. As I read Eliade say the historical destiny of Romanians, Serbs and Bulgarians was to spill their blood to protect an ignorant and ungrateful Europe from the danger of Muslims I recognised that I had heard similar ideas many times in guide books and inscriptions in places as far apart as Poland and Greece. They were the kind of local patriotic white noise one shut out but now the words had a chilling clarity.... 

File:Vlad Tepes 002.jpg

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Stanley Baldwin said 'Freedom is England's secret'

Think before you post or you may receive a visit from us this weekend. Use the internet safely.

Sunday 10 April 2016

The Archbishop of Canterbury learns he is illegitimate: how very attractive 1955 seems now

A strange story, worthy of a nineteenth century novel, was broken yesterday by, of all people, Charles Moore. Mr. Moore is the former editor of the Daily Telegraph, the Young Fogey's Young Fogey and himself a comfortingly nineteenth century figure, not someone I think of as a sleuth reporter, but on this occasion he has scooped the world.

It seems that, as a result of Mr Moore's investigations, the Archbishop of Canterbury took a DNA test to disprove the rumours about his paternity. He found to his surprise that they were true and that he is the illegitimate son of Sir Winston Churchill's last private secretary, Sir Anthony Montague Browne.

Since Dr. Welby was born almost exactly nine months after his mother's wedding to the