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The fellow sitting beside me slammed his book closed and sat looking pensive. 

The bus was approaching Cremorne junction.  I like the M30.  It starts where I get on so I’m assured of a seat and it goes all the way to Sydenham in the inner West, past Sydney University.  Part of the trip is particularly scenic, approaching and crossing the Harbour Bridge.  We’d be in The City soon.

My fellow passenger sat there just staring blankly into space.  I was intrigued.   So I asked what he had been reading that evoked such deep thought.  He smiled broadly, aroused from his reverie.  “Oh it’s just Inferno the latest Dan Brown,” he said.   

“So what did you think?” I asked. 

“Well I’m a writer and all of us want to be read," he replied.  "Eleven weeks at the top of the New York Times Best Seller list, outselling everything else several times over during that period speaks for itself.  He's got a bankable name, even if this book is not his best.”

“He’s a great read on a plane,” I said.  “The only problem for me when I was flying just after Inferno came out was that it was only in hard cover. Too heavy and bulky.  So I didn’t buy it.  But I’ve read it since.  A borrowed copy.  Brown got no royalty from me this time.”

“What did you think of it?” he asked.

“Well I’m getting a bit sick of the paperchase/scavenger hunt formula. It’s getting quite difficult for him to sustain the reader’s credulity when Langdon is so blatantly being led from city to city by a mastermind who stays just one step ahead of being foiled.  And why wouldn’t Langdon be asking, as I was, about the point of leaving the clues, all involving his detailed knowledge of Dante’s Inferno?”

“Yes," he agreed. "About half way through I began wondering how the writer could explain why someone would deliberately lay a trail that if followed fast enough would apparently lead to their master-plan failing.  The plot resolution turns out to be that the trail has been laid posthumously by the mastermind simply to let his enemies discover that he has already succeeded.  But it’s a resolution that suddenly renders all the scrambling about that went before futile.” 

“A classical deus ex machina, an unexpected resolution provided by the gods, in this case Brown” I agreed.

“But like his other books the story is filled out with all sorts of esoteric research and locational trivia,” I added.  “Like some spy novels his books are becoming travelogues.  I’ve been to, and even have photographs of, a number of the locations in the book, including St Michaels in Venice, most of the buildings in Florence as well as the Basilica Cistern and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.” 

He looked surprised.

Feeling that I had been caught immodestly providing my own travelogue I cut short the list and continued:  “More than his previous novels, with more elaborate sub-plots, Inferno reinforced my view that most Brown plots are simply elaborate scavenger hunts.”

“Pursuing the blood of Christ or an errant priest using antimatter to secure the Papacy or secret Masonic knowledge or a ring engraved with a cryptographic key, the paperchase plot seems to have become a leitmotif in his work.”

“Did you go to all those places after the books came out?  Are you a Dan Brown follower?” he asked. 

“No of course not!  I have other reasons to visit Washington DC, Westminster Abby, St Peters or the Louvre.  It’s just that in the past ten years, since the kids got their own homes, we’ve tried to get overseas once or twice a year.  And Dan’s pretty well been following us about.”  I joked. 

“But I have to confess that when we were in Scotland recently we did go to see the Roslyn Chapel outside of Edinburgh that features in both the Da Vinci Code and the film.  Of course the following day we spent several hours on the Royal Yacht Britannia touring and having lunch.  So I’m expecting to see that as a location in a future Dan Brown novel.”

At that point the bus reached Wynyard Park and my companion rose to get off. 

“Happy writing!” I said as he moved to the door.  “Do you have a name?”  

“Dan Brown,” he replied.

It’s a common name I suppose.

 

 


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Travel

Hong Kong and Shenzhen China

 

 

 

 

 

Following our Japan trip in May 2017 we all returned to Hong Kong, after which Craig and Sonia headed home and Wendy and I headed to Shenzhen in China. 

I have mentioned both these locations as a result of previous travels.  They form what is effectively a single conurbation divided by the Hong Kong/Mainland border and this line also divides the population economically and in terms of population density.

These days there is a great deal of two way traffic between the two.  It's very easy if one has the appropriate passes; and just a little less so for foreign tourists like us.  Australians don't need a visa to Hong Kong but do need one to go into China unless flying through and stopping at certain locations for less than 72 hours.  Getting a visa requires a visit to the Chinese consulate at home or sitting around in a reception room on the Hong Kong side of the border, for about an hour in a ticket-queue, waiting for a (less expensive) temporary visa to be issued.

With documents in hand it's no more difficult than walking from one metro platform to the next, a five minute walk, interrupted in this case by queues at the immigration desks.  Both metros are world class and very similar, with the metro on the Chinese side a little more modern. It's also considerably less expensive. From here you can also take a very fast train to Guangzhou (see our recent visit there on this website) and from there to other major cities in China. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

The Greatest Aviation Mystery of All Time

 

 

The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was finally called off in the first week of June 2018.

The flight's disappearance on the morning of 8 March 2014 has been described as the greatest aviation mystery of all time, surpassing the disappearance of Amelia Earhart in 1937.  Whether or no it now holds that record, the fruitless four year search for the missing plane is certainly the most costly in aviation history and MH370 has already spawned more conspiracy theories than the assassination of JFK; the disappearance of Australian PM Harold Holt; and the death of the former Princess Diana of Wales; combined.

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Opinions and Philosophy

The Fukushima Nuclear Crisis

 

 

Japan has 55 nuclear reactors at 19 sites.  Two more are under construction and another twelve are in the advanced planning stage.  Net Generating capacity is around 50 GW providing around 30% of the country's electricity (more here).  

As a result of Japan’s largest earthquake in history on March 11 and subsequent tsunami all reactors shut down automatically as they were designed to do but cooling systems associated with two sites had been damaged. 

Three reactor sites are adjacent to the earthquake epicentre and two were in the direct path of the tsunami.  The Fukushima-Daiichi plant belonging to Tokyo Electric Power Company was particularly hard hit.  It lost all grid connections, providing electricity, and its backup power plant was seriously damaged. 

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