Visting Beijing Wonderland Castle by Subway

A couple of years ago I read about a derelict theme park on the edge of Beijing, sadly this was just after I'd returned from visiting Beijing. Even though I'd passed in by train to the Great Wall on a previous trip I never figured out how to get there at the time. Roll on two years and I returned to Beijing having done more preperation (and a new subway line having been built to take me there) and I finally visited what remains.

The Castle

A few years ago there was an almost complete theme park, sadly most of that has been demolished and the Badaling Outlets 八达岭奥莱 shopping mall built over the top, however the castle still remains and has even had a lick of paint to match the mall so maybe it might be here for a while longer. The surrounding scenary is also epic...

Beijing Wonderland Castle 2016

Beijing Wonderland Castle 2016

Beijing Wonderland Castle 2016

Beijing Wonderland Castle 2016

Access to the interior may be possible but it appeared to be inhabited by builders and some guard dogs so I retreated fairly quickly after the dogs saw me, however I've seen other reports that suggest builders don't mind innocent visitors.

Getting There

Not many others were planning to join my adventure: Beijing Metro to Changping Xishankou Station

The Castle in essentially located behind the rear car park of the Badaling Outlets 八达岭奥莱 with not even a fence blocking access. However if taking public transport (and not really speaking Chinese) there's a decent walk involved to get there. Take the subway to the far end of the Changping to Changping Xishankou Station (around 90 minutes from central Beijing). Follow the road towards and past the univerity campuses and police college and turn left down a Nanxin Road opposite The Old Beijing Mini Landscape Park, the mall is located where it meets the G6 Expressway. See Bing Maps

Other remains litter the surrounding area: Beijing Wonderland Old Gateway

A Postcard of Chongqing

Disclaimer: I visited Chongqing in 2015 but I've only just got around to posting this, I'm sure it's still there.

For most people in the UK picking a holiday destination Chongqing isn't the first place that springs to mind, however having read too many Sichuanese cookbooks, a passing interest in modern Chinese history and aided by a good deal on flights with Finnair I set out for a 4 day jaunt (following some time in Shanghai). Chongqing is sighted by many media outlets as the biggest city you've never heard of - I set out knowing little about what I was going to find, however it proved to be a really great trip.

Below are some highlights of my trip:

City

Jiefangbei Chongqing War Memorial Jiefangbei 重庆解放碑店

Hall of the People Chongqing Hall of the People

Bang bang men (and lady) Chongqing Bang bang men (and lady)

Chongqing Workmen

The longest escalator in Asia

Chongqing - The longest escalator in Asia

Yangtze Cable Car Chongqing - Yangtze Cable Car

Chongqing - Yangtze Cable Car View

Chongqing - Yangtze Cable Car View

Whilst not pictured I can also recommend visiting Ciqikou (an ancient town) and the nearby Nationalist prison camps which are walkable from Ciqikou light rail station.

Food

These three noodle dishes are some of my favourite food I've had in China:

Dan Dan Noodles Dan Dan Noodles in Chongqing

Cold Shanxi Noodles Cold noodle Shanxi salad in Chongqing

Some other form of yummy cold noodle salad Cold noodle Shanxi salad in Chongqing

Practicalities

I arrived at Chongqing Jianbei Airport from Shanghai, it's conveniently linked to the rest of the city by monorail and I was easily able to arrive at my hotel in around an hour. The views during the trip are pretty epic as Chongqing is closely surrounded by large mountains. I did all my travel during my trip by Monorail which, as in most Chinese cities, is by far the most cheap and efficient method of transport.

I departed Chongqing by air on a flight to Manchester, UK, via Helsinki, Finland. Flying from a small airport like Chongqing means everything is much quicker and queues are generally smaller, although the airport shops left a lot to be desired.

Enabling middle click using a Kensington Trackball in Ubuntu 15.10

Recently I've been trying out a trackball to see if it relieves pain in my lower arm / wrist - after some consideration I choose the Kensington Orbit Trackball as it seemed to be the one that required least configuration to get working on Linux as it has a scroll ring and two buttons so appears just like a normal mouse. However there is no middle click so I wanted to enable clicking both buttons simultaneously to replace that. After trying various methods the following seemed most successful.

Kensington Orbit Trackball

There are various ways to persist this setting, however I found the most foolproof to be to edit ~/.profile to include the line:

xinput --set-prop --type=int --format=8 "Primax Kensington Eagle Trackball" "Evdev Middle Button Emulation" "1"

Editing the settings this way rather than hacking the files in /usr/share/X11... means the settings are nicley contained in my home folder and can easily be transfered to other machines or when I upgrade rather than potentially getting overwritten or forgotten if the core config files are removed / changed.

If you have a slightly different model of trackball you can find a list of input device names just by running xinput with no parameters on the command line.

This method likley works for other versions of Ubuntu but I've only verified it on 15.10.

Hiking near the DMZ, Baengmagoji, Cheorwon via the DMZ Train and visiting Korean War ruins

Visiting the DMZ is one of the most popular tourist activities when visiting South Korea, however most people get bus tours from Seoul and go on a closely guided tour including Panmunjeom and a few other sites. There's nothing wrong with these tours, however I'm not a big fan of being herded like a sheep to the most popular place so when I heard of the DMZ train it sounded like a much better option.

The DMZ Train

For tourists wanting to visit the DMZ more independently Korail has recently launched the DMZ trains, these offer daily direct services from Seoul Station to either Dorasan Station (part of the traditional tour route) or to Baengmagoji.

DMZ Train in Baengmagoji Station

These trains are not the only way of reaching the destinations, however other routes require navigating a couple of changes in obscure stations (Dongducheon, some old details here: http://koreantrains.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/types-of-trains-in-korea-1-commuter.html) on the edge of Seoul where little English may be found and information is scarce online.

The train route:

DMZ Train Route Map

On the train the staff organise entertainment, which to a non Korean speaker was all very confusing but very interesting to watch and try to work out what the hell was happening however it helped pass the time in between chatting to a middle aged Korean lady in semi broken English.

The interior of the trains can only be described as psychedelic:

Interior of the DMZ train

Buying tickets

I first attempted to buy tickets from the machines in Seoul Station a few days before however they never manged to complete the transaction, for some reason I had to go to the ticket office, however this went without issue but it helps to have the times and train number written down if you're not a Korean speaker. My train was full and seemed to sell out a day or two before so I'd recommend booking in advance.

If you wish to take a more organised approach there are bus tours into the DMZ which match the train times, tickets are sold on the train and next to the station.

Baengmagoji

Baengmagoji is interesting as it marks the northern end of the South Korean Rail network on an old line that once ran deep into North Korea. Now the terminus is located just outside the military line of control (the buffer zone around the DMZ) and can be explored freely (or at least mostly as we'll see later). It's close to several significant Korean War sights (my reason for visiting) and also a great hiking area.

The end of the line at Baengmagoji Station

Baengmagoji Station

My intention was to walk from the station to the former headquarters of the the Korean Labor Party (i.e. the North Koreans), a ruined building with a notorious past including the torture of many South Korean people who objected to the North Korean invasion, helpfully there was a decent map outside the station which showed many possibilities for exploring the area (I basically followed the black line:

Baengmagoji local map

Korean Labor Party Headquarters (Nodongdangsa)

Around 35-40 minutes walk from the station is the former Korean Labor Party Headquarters, it's an imposing building and is quite a contrast to the beautiful natural surroundings:

Korean Labor Party Headquarters (Nodongdangsa)

Korean Labor Party Headquarters (Nodongdangsa)

Korean Labor Party Headquarters (Nodongdangsa)

Despite taking a route along the road with no footpath the walk from the station is quite easy and interesting, along with the military checkpoints going into the DMZ (which you can't go through on foot) and passing military patrols keeping a close eye on me there is also an area of mines and some tank defense obstacles to block the road in the event of an invasion, all set in a really amazing landscape of rice paddies and stalks:

Minefield warning near the DMZ

Anti tank defenses near the DMZ

Rice fields near the DMZ

Rice fields near the DMZ

White Horse Hill Battle Memorial

My next stop was back towards Baengmagoji, one of the most intense battles of the Korean War was for White Horse Hill, a major vantage point within the DMZ. There is now a very small museum and memorial to commerate those who died.

White Horse Hill Memorial Bell

As soon as I started photographing towards the DMZ a friendly solider appeared and calmly watched my every move:

White Horse Hill Memorial Bell and solider

After this I passed time walking around the village of Baengmagoji before catching the train home. If I went again I'd love to hike more, in the time I had I could have taken a more scenic route through the fields to Nodongdangsa, from vague comments online I understand there to be various military paraphernalia left around in the area between the station and Nodongdangsa including a hilltop observation point which can be visited. I'd thoroughly recommend exploring this area to anyone who's looking for something different in Korea rather than the usual bus tour to Panmunjeom.

Installing Nodered using Ansible

Recently I've been playing around with Vagrant and Ansible to configure my home server. The server runs a few local network services and I'm working on some home automation stuff which I hope to base on NodeRed, in this post I'll describe how I've used Ansible to install NodeRed with git.

Installation

Dependencies

Since Nodered is a NodeJS application, we need to install a few dependencies first, I'm using apt and npm to do this but the method can be easily modified to the appropriate package manager:

- name: Add node key
  sudo: yes
  apt_key: url=https://deb.nodesource.com/gpgkey/nodesource.gpg.key state=present

- name: Add repos
  sudo: yes
  apt_repository: repo='deb https://deb.nodesource.com/node precise main'
  
- name: Install packages
  sudo: yes
  apt: upgrade=dist
  apt: pkg= state=installed update_cache=yes
  with_items:
 
  - nodejs
  - git-core

- name: Setup Forever
  sudo: yes
  npm: name=forever global=yes
  

NodeRed

There are a few ways to install Nodered; from a downloaded archive, using git or plain npm, I've chosen git as it allows me to easily upgrade just by changing the version tag and rerunning Ansible. All the functionality to get the code is built into Ansible:

- name: GetNodeRed
  sudo: yes
  sudo_user: oliversmith
  git: repo=https://github.com/node-red/node-red.git dest=/home/oliversmith/NodeRed version=0.9.0

- name: Install NodeRed
  sudo: yes
  sudo_user: oliversmith
  npm: name=npm global=yes registry=http://registry.npmjs.org state=latest
  npm: path=/home/oliversmith/NodeRed/ production=yes

Running

Launching node applications from the command line is tricky as if they crash the application doesn't have a mechanism to recover, I've chosen to use forever to solve this issue, however it won't make the application start on boot so further configuration would be required to enable that.

Forever has already been installed using npm (above) so after installation we can dive straight into running it:

- name: Run NodeRed
  sudo: yes
  sudo_user: oliversmith
  shell: forever start red.js
  args:
    chdir: /home/oliversmith/NodeRed/