Jile Temple, February 2010. Harbin’s beautiful Jile Temple, also known as the Monastery of Bliss, was constructed in 1924 by Master Tanxu; a famous disciple of the Tiantai Buddhist clan. Although firmly under the radar as a Harbin attraction, the temple stands as the biggest Buddhist building complex in Heilongjiang Province and draws a steady flow of worshippers.
Siberian Tiger Park, February 2010. Visitors to the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin are attracted by the promise of stunning Russian architecture and the world’s most impressive Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival. Less trumpeted, but equally fascinating in its own way is this eerie Siberian Tiger Park Preserve situated 14 km outside the city centre.
The Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, July 2013. I’ve never really been that bothered about Spanish football. But if someone put a gun to my head and forced me to pick a team, Real Madrid would be the first to go into the NO WAY pile. I could point to the fact that I don’t like their kit much, or voice my disdain for their miserable fans, who routinely boo club legends during games at the slightest provocation. But the real reason I don’t like Real Madrid is Cristiano Ronaldo, a hideous individual for reasons I surely don’t have to go into. In any case I didn’t let any of that stop me from taking a tour of The Bernabeu, one of Spain’s most impressive and historical football stadiums.
One of the scariest things about getting older is the ever-increasing rapidity of the passing of time. I mean, how can it possibly be three years since I launched Leighton Literature? I was in Beijing at the time, my second stint, and between then and now I’ve been to Korea, Singapore and Malaysia, travelled all around Thailand and lived in Cambodia, Scotland and Spain before heading back to China again. It’s literally felt like the click of a finger.
The River Kwai, April 2015. I’ll never forget my first night in the Thai town of Kanchanaburi. Arriving late afternoon in a minivan from Ayutthaya, I checked into V.N. Guesthouse, where a floating raft room awaited me right on The River Kwai. Unspeakably hungry, I dumped my backpack, took a quick shower and headed up to V.N.’s stunning little restaurant terrace overlooking the river. Dropping onto a large straw mat of cushions and pillows, I ordered dinner (a rich tomatoey noodle soup), cracked open a beer and turned on my MacBook. With the sun beginning its slow decline, I sat breathing it all in before watching a download of the Academy Award winning movie The Bridge on the River Kwai. A really special night.