Monday, 28 July 2014

What is the waylosing tour?

The idea of leading a waylosing walk may sound a little perverse but it's not just a joke for it comes from the solid principle that if you never go out of your way you never discover new places. I'm aware the terms ‘losing your way’ or ‘being lost’ have negative connotations, they sound like a problem, like a lack of something, but these states almost never exist in an absolute form, we almost always have some idea of where we are: which country, city and neighbourhood we're in. Even Christopher Columbus landing on and ‘discovering’ the the Americas, which he mistook for Japan and China, was not completely lost. He knew he was five weeks sail west of Europe.

I’m not planning anything quite so ambitious as that for the voyage on the 2nd August in Birmingham with Still Walking. More modestly, I’d like to share some techniques and ideas which I use to put myself off my habitual tracks. This walk will, therefore, not follow a predefined route that pushes us ever further into obscurity, the route will instead be decided in the moment depending on who is taking the walk, which areas we are unfamiliar with and what we find. In this way it will be about the process of waylosing, the decisions we have to make and how we can make sense of the journey. Since most of us on the walk will know the city to a greater or lesser extent, chances are we will not be well and truly lost, but we might well come across a few unfamiliar streets, talk about what we find, what it means to not know where you are and not know where you are going. 

I'm excited that this walk has been paired with a wayfinding walk as I see the two of them as dealing with very similar issues. I did some waylosing experiments in Beijing recently, as it is easier to get lost in a foreign country, and I found I had to think a lot about how we navigate and find our way. It was necessary, for example, to choose the right area to get lost in, to locate landmarks in order to lose them and to keep a detailed mental map in order to know when it had been irreparably mangled. Like the unruly younger sibling then, this waylosing walk is cut from a similar cloth but attempts to know the rules only in order to break them.

Finally, on a practical note, the walk is going to take some time and we will try to include a stop for light refreshment on the way, though obviously that depends on where we end up. There will be quite a bit of walking involved, so dress appropriately, and the plan is to find our way back into Birmingham City Centre by 6PM at the latest. You can bring phones but using their map function is absolutely forbidden!  

Thursday, 24 July 2014

The People Behind the Plaques Tours: the famous and the forgotten

These two tours of Bath, one of the centre and one around the Royal Crescent, were based upon the historic plaques on the sides of buildings indicating who lived there. The idea was to understand more about these people, some of whom are well-known and others who have sunk into obscurity. 

These tours were organised by the Mayor's Honorary Guides who have been in existence for 80 years so they themselves are a bit of the city's history too. The two complimentary tours I went on were part of a week of one-off tours given to mark the guide's 80th anniversary. The guides do this for pleasure and neither ask for nor receive payment for showing visitors around the city. They are self-organising and seem to be mostly made up of older people who know their city and have the time to perform this role. 

The tour began with a map of plaques drawn up by the honorary guide's founder. It turns out that some of the plaques are not in the correct locations and some notables have more than one plaque, as they stayed in multiple properties. The group was led by no less than three guides who managed to share the work remarkably well. When I compare this with the Dalston Conservation Tour which was given by two guides speaking at cross purposes, this tour was wholly harmonious. Indeed, because this was a one-off tour and a significant number of the audience were themselves honorary guides, the spirit was more that of assisting and chipping in with information as and when it seemed relevant. It was also an opportunity for the guides to meet one another on a social level so it fulfilled this role and at the end I discovered it had a greater significance again. A well-respected honorary guide had planned this 'people behind the plaques walk' and he had passed away last year. These walks were a way to honour his memory by realising his proposed series of walking tours. In this way, there was a much deeper motivation behind giving these tours than most typical city tours, though this remained understated and the focus was very much on the plaques, people and their stories. 

A nice moment at the beginning was gaining access to the usually locked courtyard of Ralph Allen's city house. It was clearly a lost courtyard from the abundant weeds that were growing between the cracks in the paving slabs. While the story of the man was quite familiar to most, the location offered a new twist.

In general the plaques are made of bronze and were put up in the first half of the 20th Century. This one is an exception and is a more recent one. There are some complications around putting up new ones and some property owners do not want such plaques on their walls. This means that this record of the great and good is more or less fixed in time with history ending in the Victorian era. To compensate for this the guides did stop in front of some properties without plaques and talk about who had lived inside, which made for a balanced story but I should admit I was curious about the plaques themselves and what they connoted. Seeing as they reflect a historical idea of fame, which today equals celebrity, there may be some interest in testing these boundaries and sticking to the bronze plaques would do just that.

And there was a further type of modern plaque we came across, this blue circular affair for local legend Sally Lunn. I like the fact that most cities have one or two characters like this: they are a part of the story of the city and may indeed reach iconic status yet are completely unknown elsewhere. When you arrive you are told about them as if they are common knowledge and you have to take it all in faith. When you leave, you leave these personalities at the city gate, their significance lying solely in the city. As such, these figures offer quite some potential for invention and myth making.

Nelson's plaque was an interesting stop. I am familiar with him as the great naval commander who secured victory at Trafalgar at the cost of his life. This is the story that has been drummed into me since my childhood visits to HMS Victory. Indeed I'm still hearing it through my current research in South Dorset, which lies on The Trafalgar Way and was home to Hardy of “kiss me Hardy”. How refreshing it was then to hear another side of him, namely, Nelson the shameless rogue. In this way the tour managed to retain some interest in an overly famous person and it did so through taking the point of view of his wife who, it was said, he abandoned in Bath. 

The current life of the buildings on the Royal Crescent was not gone into at all as it is not yet plaque-worthy and that was a big question hanging over the tour for me, given my focus on the contemporary. The hotel behind was going about its highly-priced business and I heard on the bus tour yesterday that John Cleese was now living on the Royal Crescent. We occasionally saw someone enter or exit a door but they were like ghosts from the future who had no part to play in the tour. I had been interested a couple of years ago in making a performance about the usage of history in the present and on the basis of my observations in Bath so far I may be able to draw upon quite a number of that work's threads here. I like it when stalled ideas turn out to not be stalled at all but merely dormant, waiting for the occasion.   

The next plaques were located on the square at the end of the short road in the background. We didn't bother crossing the road and walking over there, however, and this indicated to me that the relationship between the stories and the precise locations was not that strong, it was more or less enough that these people lived in Bath but the exact building and how it looks today were for the most part irrelevant. This got me wondering whether it was necessary to make this walk at all if we weren't going to visit the precise locations referenced. I came the conclusion that it was necessary, not because the sites were significant to the storytelling but because this tour was a vehicle to bring people together in a series of attractive public spaces. It would be a very different event if it took place in a meeting room.

A final plaque and a short history of the postal service. I had never realised that Bath played an instrumental role in the setting up of the country's postal service and the city remains a stamp collector's paradise. It is definitely a niche interest but I suspect there must be a tour connected to the post service. That is a tour I will have to search out and report back on next.  

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Bath Bus Tour: City Sightseeing automaton guides

The City Sightseeing bus tour of Bath runs along two routes: the first circles around the city-centre and the second climbs up the hills so that you can get a view over the city. This is exactly the same as the Stuttgart bus tour which I have written about previously. Having two routes instead of a single longer ride means they each of the routes has a clearer basic theme and neither of them takes too long: they last about 45 minutes each.    

There was live commentary in English but no possibility of listening to it using any of the other languages indicated. I don't know if these were not playing because there was a live guide but it did mean that some of the people on the bus looked confused and then ignored the commentary, taking the bus simply as an open top bus ride, which can be a pleasant thing in itself. Unlike Stuttgart, whose tourist attractions are scattered over a large area, Bath's attractions are clustered in the city centre with relatively few points of interest that far out. The stop button was used on just one occasion. There is indeed less point in having a tourist bus in Bath as the city is highly suitable for walking tours. The bus therefore does not so much act as a transport service getting tourists to and from the attractions, it functions as a guide imparting knowledge to those who don't like walking.

Like in Stuttgart, art had a low position in the commentary. The art gallery was described not by what it currently does but by the fact it is free and what the building used to be. I get the impression that unless this sort of bus tour takes place in a dedicated 'city of culture', it is assumed that tourists don't have a great deal of interest in art. Added to that is the not insignificant fact that the bus moves much more quickly than a walking tour which means descriptions tend to be brief and to the point. There is simply no time for art.

Because it was mid-summer and the trees were full of leaves, it was hard to see through them and admire any of the stunning views that the guide was talking about.

As has been the case with all of the other Bath tours I've taken, the guides were somewhat older in age as indeed were most of the passengers, except for a Thai family who were taking a lot of photos. 

The suburban hill bus came to a rest and I changed onto the city-centre bus. It pulled away, the guide began to intone and settled into a rhythm. His commentary mixed significant and interesting details about the city with some pretty tedious information that seemed of little relevance. Granted, what is considered interesting and what is not, is highly subjective and I'd expect there to be some things of greater and some of lesser interest to me. That understood, I felt that there were points where the commentary continued not because there was anything interesting left to say but merely to cover the silence. For example we'd go from a story about Queen Victoria feeling snubbed by Bath to the opening of a new Primark. This has in fact rather inspired me with my imagination taking this to its natural conclusion: the deadpan delivery of a radically flattened order of knowledge in which everything is of precisely equal value. If nothing else, there is some good comedy potential here.

The historical background was more than a little messy. I learnt that under Henry VIII, England moved away from the Catholics and back to the Church of England, even though I rather remember it was he who founded that church in the first place. Meanwhile, a seagull did its business. We got a lot into celebrities, like Dickens who is connected to this pub, and celebrity chefs, who I very much doubt are connected to it. It seems pretty easy to get into historical figures here as not only did many live here but a great many more visited. When you enlarge the pool to include famous people paid a visit to Bath you practically all people of significance from the 18th century as this was the society holiday and gambling spot.

The weather was great, maybe even a bit too hot so I was sheltering under the covered area at the front of the top deck, as was the guide. This basic arrangement of the seats and space is awkward as it leaves the guide facing in the same direction as the passengers. As a result of this it was difficult for him to make any real connection with the public so, on my tour, he simply talked off into space. That must be a difficult thing to do for hours and hours on end and I could tell he was struggling to stay focussed. Finally he seemed to drift into autopilot, repeating the same information time and again to nobody in particular.

Some final things I spotted today: Fun For Less Tours. If I see them again I'll have to follow them and see whether they take people into the Weatherspoons for a drink, and then visit the Pondland and Primark for shopping.

And second, I noticed this pub map of Bath that proposes several routes for a pub crawl. Actually, the routes are not precisely that as they mostly contain too many pubs to make a drink in each feasible. Such a map which did offer distinct pub crawl routes with options for additional elements might be a nice but complicated work. A definite labour of love. This  map makes me think of the London Underground map and of the Bath's relationship with the capital. I sense a degree of complicity with London as opposed to the hostility that is often manifest in my home city of Portsmouth. I learnt, for example, that the 2004 film Vanity Fair was filmed in Bath, not London where the novel is set. In the city centre there is a shop called London Camera Exchange. Such a shop would rapidly go out of business in Portsmouth if it didn't change its name.

Bringing these thoughts together, I am also reminded of a Victoria Line pub crawl I heard about. The Victoria Line is the only proper line (i.e. not Waterloo and City line) on which it is possible to hold a terminus to terminus pub crawl. the idea is you start at Walthamstow Central, have a drink in a nearby pub, duck down into the tube, take it one stop, emerge for a drink and then repeat this process till you make your sozzled way to Brixton. That's another tour for another day, and most probably, another person.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The London Tour of All Tours: a meta-tour / performance around Spitalfields and The City

A long time in the making, the East London Tour of All Tours finally hit the streets last weekend.

The tour is up and running and manages to include most of the tours that were taken in the Shoreditch and City area towards the end of 2013 and which are reviewed on this blog. The arm pointing up high is to Broadgate Tower.

In the background is the work of Space Invader and a stop on the food tour. As was typical in Stuttgart, locations accumulate multiple perspectives with a number of tours having a go at defining them.

The weather was bright and sunny and the addition of a hat proved to be most useful to say nothing of its elegance. 

Something that I hoped would happen did: we encountered some other groups on route who I was able to identify and describe. This makes me think that a flexible structure which allows me to talk about tours when the group appears in front of us is great and when we are on the tour and don't see them, which is more typical, to still have a solid plan. I've gone some way to allowing enough spaces and options into this tour for this to happen but still need to get used to these encounters to play them fully for all they are worth.

The locations proved to offer a very large dynamic range, particularly on the Sunday when Brick Lane was heaving with people and The City completely deserted. 

There is still another weekend of tours to come and it will no doubt still evolve a bit more. Bookings via Richmix. I must thank two people in particular, Elo Masing for supplying some of these pictures and Rosa Farber for assisting with the trial runs and for also providing some of these images. Thank you!

Monday, 14 July 2014

The Mayor's Guides Tour of Bath: free heritage tours around the city centre

The Tour of All Tours now turns its attention to a new city and a UNESCO listed one at that: Bath. I will be making a tour here over the Summer months which will be presented later in the year. I got started by taking a guided tour. 

But not before I visited the Jane Austin Centre to inspect the newly unveiled waxwork of the famous author. It, or should I say she, cost several million pounds to be produced so I should have been humbled to stand beside this high-maintenance lady, but I must admit to being underwhelmed. I will be returning to the centre at a later point to take their tour but for  now this was enough as I wanted to begin my investigation of Bath with a more standard city tour.

The most popular starting point for guided tours is without a doubt the square bordered on one side by the Roman Baths and on another by the Abbey. This is an intensely touristic site: in addition to a very general random melee, there was a rank of Japanese tourists forming to my left, some excitable Spanish language students gathering in front of me, and a group of Middle Eastern boys lounging around beside me. The square retains some dignity, however, and is not completely overrun with souvenir stalls and ice cream trolleys, indeed Bath City Centre as a whole tends to avoid the worst aesthetic excesses of mass tourism. The look they strive for is historical: businesses adapt to the existing architecture rather than the street level exploding with garish signs and protruding shopfronts, all competing for attention.  

The tour I took was one with the Mayor of Bath's Honorary Guides. This is a free daily tour and as there was a large crowd of us, we were divided into two groups each led by a different guide. My groups's guide was Jean and her basic approach to the tour was to tell a roughly chronological history of Bath from Roman times up until today whilst making our way through the streets. It is often more satisfying to have a definite narrative structure, such as the city's chronology, shaping the tour, but it is also more difficult to do so neatly, as cities are rarely laid out in a way that makes walking such a timeline obvious. I thought Jean managed pretty well to reconcile these two demands and the history of the city itself aided her since the bulk of its history is from the Georgian period meaning that once we were into that epoch it was possible to treat the city and narration more thematically and to not worry too much about the chronology and more. 

Because the city has retained its Georgian architecture and many pedestrianised streets, it is not particularly well laid out for the delivery lorries that service the bustling shops. This means that on the back roads behind the elegant storefronts we stumbled across lorries backing up and men in high visibility jackets trying to make the system work as best they could. Out tour passed along a number of such roads and when we stopped to talk it was sometimes hard to hear the commentary such was the distraction of the vehicles. This front and back stage of the city is itself an interesting phenomena to observe and something a tour more focussed on the contemporary might be able to embrace. With the historical focus of ours, however, it was simply experienced as a minor nuisance. 

As we made our way through the city-centre we were shown that Bath remains a spa town. From the rooftop pool and viewing galleries, the white robed ones gazed down upon us plebs as we listened to the stories of their illustrious predecessors. I should imagine that the city looks rather different if you experience it from the comfort of one of the thermal spas. I don't know, perhaps it is even be easy up there to imagine oneself as a latter day member of a reconstructed high society taking a cure. That at least is what the pictures in the brochure would have you believe. On street level such a dream appears more likely to be ruptured, particularly on a Friday or Saturday night, when the streets belong to the drunks. I daresay there was a healthy supply of them, back in the real, rather than reconstructed past and I would not be shocked if a good few of them were the self same elite slumming it with the locals in search of kicks.

We were told about the former social life of the city and in particular how convalescence and cures merged with fashion, gambling and high society. This makes for an interesting comparison with today's visitors who take tours to hear about the history of these previous visitors. Bath has evolved from being a resort town into a historical resort town, but a resort nonetheless, that still has to provide beds, meals and entertainment to a wider spread of guests from around the world. This mirroring effect of having contemporary tourists learning about historical tourists as a a tourist experience, strikes me as not so far removed from my tours of tours, the main difference being there is not the same separation in time: I report on the contemporary whereas she reports on the past. 

Walking around the town and going up to the Royal Crescent it is clear why it is the visitor destination that it is: the city really does have a good deal going for it from a tourist's point of view. The commentary mostly stuck to local history and architecture though we did branch out into the origins of numerous phrases and fashions which could be traced back to Bath. In this sense the tour was not surprising, it played to the city's strengths.

About two thirds of the way through our tour we stumbled upon the other group taking the mayor's guides tour. But for standing on the left rather than on the right, at the very start, I would have been in their party. I learnt that the two guides do not give identical tours. While they draw upon the same basic material and there is a quality control filter that ensures it doesn't get too freaky or shambolic, the guides design their own route, tell the history in their own way and decide where to lay the emphasis of their tour. Jean, my guide, went so far as to say that we should take another Mayor's guide tour so we would see just how individual they are. I might well do just that.

In summary, I'd say my guide, was competent and enjoyed sharing the story of the city with visitors. Her presence was very much in harmony with that of the city itself: older, educated, neat and comfortable. So much was she the face of the city, I had to ask myself how a tour of Bath might work if it were given by someone very different: by a teenage goth, an african mother or a long haired hippy, which you do see a few of from time to time. For a first tour of Bath, the Mayor's Guides' Tour was a good one to take as it represented a mainstream idea of what the city is. I will, however, be looking further afield in the coming weeks and months to expand upon this and get a broader view of the things.  

The tour was circular finishing in the same bustling square where it started. As well as it being full of tour groups, it is also home to a constant stream of buskers and street entertainers. The quality of the acts I saw was decidedly mixed but the volume consistent. One consequence of this saturation of music is that tour guides have considerable competition for attention. I have not seen any of the guides wearing portable speakers to amplify themselves yet, but it really would not be a bad idea, even if it might look and sound a bit kitschy. When competing with musicians who come with amps and mobile generators, you can be at a distinct disadvantage and need all the help you can get.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Out of Date Tour: how the landscape is not as timeless as it may seem

After having spent the last 5 months in Beijing, working on a tour in rural Dorset is quite a change of gear. One thing that is quite certain, my lungs are appreciating the fresh air, I don't think I knew what fresh air was until I went to Beijing and got a good chance to experience its lack.

The cricket pitch was being used this time round so I talked to the batting team to find out about cricket tours. Unfortunately they were the home team, it was the fielding team who were the visitors coming from 'up North'. The pitch is quite idyllic, indeed it has been famously painted by David Inshaw

I realised the church deserved greater attention than I had previously given it and so I started in the church yard with the stones which are said to be on a ley line, at least that is the story I get from a book on Dorset stones and Earth Mysteries that finds significance in every stone.

The visitor's book proved to be very interesting as it is a record of people's visits to the village. Some come to remember a lost relative, other to discover one: there was a note from a Canadian family looking for their roots. I noticed a pilgrimage thrown in there too: a  bike ride to Canterbury. I remember making long bike rides before and doing so with a very different frame of reference, such as a trip from London to Sizewell nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast. I could try and call it a nuclear pilgrimage but I would be stretching a point as I basically wanted to ride and was looking for a destination to give the trip a sense of purpose. It is also good to remember that not all pilgrimages are deep spiritual experiences, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales reads as a more worldly holiday with a light religious packaging. 

My favourite entry was from one of the cricketer's who must have popping in while visiting the village for a match. I actually saw the team and so could understand his visit.

I then set off on a walk that I found in a 1983 guidebook to South Dorset. The book's directions got me going out of the village but the walk took an unexpected turn when I came across a couple of Danish students who had lost their way and were looking for the South Dorset Ridgeway (SDR). I was heading that way so could guide them and at the same time ask them all about their trip and how they ended up in Littlebredy. It seems as if it was a mistake that brought them there. They had been given a lift from a motorist and were dropped off not on the coast path but nearer the inland route (SDR). Following my out of date guidebook, I too would get lost as the signs were decayed and information out of date. Fortunately I had a proper map, too, that got us out of the village and them to the their path.

After many questions about their trip, I put them on the path and took a highly circuitous route to these stones. The guidebook was interesting in that it was written as if there was a set route but then the writer said that he could not find it so took an alternative. His route was therefore already somewhat improvised back in 1983; mine much more so 30 years later. Not finding a direct path to these stones added hours to my journey. Arriving was an anti-climax as there was little to see, though I later read in my book on Earth Mysteries, there is rumoured to have been concealed, within the burial mound, a solid gold coffin.

The route then took me to the next stone circle that is flat but nonetheless clearly laid out. I'm currently reading a book that suggests these stones have a site-memory and may be instrumental in saving the planet at a future point in time. I find that a little hard to swallow, but then again, my experience was coloured by having to climb over barbed wire fence to approach them as my guidebook was so vague and out of date. The fact that the book was obsolete was at first frustrating, but I have come to see potential in this as it leaves a gap between what is described and what is seen and in the gap something interesting can happen.

Also on my mind as I was tramping up and down was the state of my feet. I have been taking a Chinese remedy to burn off a wart on my toe, the red patch in the picture. It seems to be working but it is a slow and grizzly process that doesn't combine well with camping and hiking. Still, fixing my feet seems like an important thing to do and I was very happy to discover a specialist foot clinic just before I left Beijing that said they could remove the growth. Quiet and undercover, these things remain significant in how I experience a place, that's why they are not quiet and undercover here on the blog. A challenge for me in constructing a route for Littlebredy will be introduce a wart like element, as all the existing dimensions are really quite attractive. That is not to say I want to see problems where they don't exist, but rather, that there must be some depth to the work and hidden processes that can be made visible through constructing a tour.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Way Losing in Beijing: getting deliberately lost in the Chinese capital

I will be making a Way Losing Tour for Still Walking Festival in Birmingham on 2nd August and in preparation of getting lost in Birmingham I took advantage of being in Beijing to try and get lost: there is nothing like getting properly lost in a foreign city.

I started by making a request on Wechat for places in Beijing that are easy to get lost in. I got a reply: "Xizhimen, particularly the flyover, no joking."

The subway took me there and following the crowd I emerged in front of the said flyover. So far so good.

The excellent website Gettinglost lists different things that prevent us from getting lost, or to put it another way, help us find our way. One of them is landmarks like this building. I made it my task to make this building disappear.

And what better way to do so than by following John Terry?

Which is how I ended up in this shopping mall. Not being a fan of them it was good to break the habit of avoiding malls and instead enter into the belly of the beast. The problem was I still had a keen sense of direction. I therefore tried to go into shops and exit from other doorways to confuse myself. 

This brought me right back to my starting point: Xizhimen subway station, though I was at least at a different exit. Rather than backtracking however it felt important to use this and believe I was brought to this new exit for a reason.

And that reason was... to walk along the side of a rail station.

Doing so did in fact lead me to something rather unusual:  a circle of Chinese people standing in a park under the shade of a tree. I don't think I have ever seen this before, Chinese people tend not to be pulled to nature in the same way Europeans do, and my first impression was that this was a ritual event, quite probably religious in nature. If anyone reading this has a better idea do tell.

A river ran towards the train line and while I like natural paths I decided not to take it as I felt it important to get away from the train line. As long as I remained within sight of it I would never succeed in getting lost.  

So I instead cut along a rather monotonous road in the hope that it might deliver me to somewhere unknown, sooner or later.

The junctions were where there was the problem of having to decide which route was most promising. I did not take the first opportunity to leave this road as it felt like making some ground would help.

Finally I left behind the three tower block of Xizhimen but in the background another landmark came into sight: the mountains to the West of Beijing. These and the direction of the sun/shadow meant I was never in any serious doubt which way was North, South, East or West. 

To cut the grid structure on which many Beijing roads are placed I made it my business to forge a diagonal path. The way I found this worked in practice was to choose a tall building at a diagonal and find a path towards it and, once there, continue on a similar tact. 

And doing that in Beijing means entering into compounds. I passed the security gate and made my way through. In this sense every city or landscape has its own particularities and to get lost you have to engage with these.

One rule I made: don't look at the maps!

It was important not to be too analytical about getting lost. Sometimes I would just see something, like this bride, and allow myself to be attracted to it. I was working with the idea that using logical means only would not be enough to get me lost, I wanted to be led somewhere too.

The bridge brought me to a bus stop and I felt I had now managed to cut my sense of a mental map enough that I should use the bus next. Cutting the mental map is a way of saying I could not reassemble all the elements of my trip so far, the distances and directions, and place them on a clear mental map. It had become fuzzy and episodic.

This was the right moment to push the experiment further and take the first bus I saw. It pulled up, I hopped on, took a seat, closed my eyes, rode the bus for a while and then stepped out into the unknown. 

And that is how I ended up in an electronics centre where I got sidetracked looking for a handheld audio recorder which I will need for an audio tour I am making. It was not so easy  to work out what the products were and whether the prices were good or not so I just took in the scene instead. I was told that the common Chinese term for being lost 迷路 is not quite the same as the English meaning of being lost. The meaning is not knowing how to go somewhere rather than not knowing where you are. As I never knew where I was trying to go, I couldn't precisely be lost in Chinese. The place I was looking for was an abstract destination of the imagination, a site that a near infinite number of places could equally fulfil, including this electronics mall in a NW Beijing suburb.