When I started the walk, I realized I would need maps to help guide me. I want to walk as much possible through the villages, and away the main highways, always keeping as close as possible to 31st parallel as I head west. But finding useful maps has proved impossible.
Maps in China, in general, are pretty useless. I have bought every map of Zhejiang and Anhui that I can find and they are full errors and guesses and are of little value in terms of gauging distances or even locations. Added to that is the massive construction work going on in all areas – new highways, expanded cities and towns, shrinking farmland – trying to keep up would drive a maker to distraction.
I contacted a couple of satellite photograph companies that offered aerial shots taken by Russian satellites, but they were expensive, old, and not high enough in resolution for the places through which I am walking.
Then, at a broadcast equipment trade show in Japan about a year ago, I saw a demonstration of a piece of software called Keyhole which allows for 3D representation of the earth's surface, apparently extrapolating from satellite imagery.
I downloaded it, and it was great for New City, hopeless for western Zhejiang. MSN came out with a similar piece of software, which was laughably inaccurate – the whole of Taihu Lake is green agricultural if this Microsoft software is to be believed.
The solution came from Google – Google Earth, which is a development of Keyhole. I downloaded the free version, and in terms the areas I am interested in, it was too fuzzy to be of much use. The major elements such as mountains and urban areas could be seen, but details like roads were basically not there.
Google Earth has a Pro version which costs US$400 for an annual subscription. I subscribed, paid by credit card, and filled in the form giving my place of residence as Shanghai. It solved the problem. Highways are clear, smaller roads can be made out, villages can be seen. I can use this to work out my path through to Tibet.
I plan to cross the Yangtze River at the town of Tongling. I have never been there, I have never seen any surface photographs of the town, but I know that the bridge that crosses the Yangtze River just south of the town has two pylons. I have seen their shadows on the surface of the water as captured by a satellite.
A week later I received the following email from Google:
"Hello Graham, We apologize for the inconvenience but we are unable to process your order. We currently do not offer a product for your country code. Details of your refund are noted below. Thank you for using Google Earth, The Google Earth Support Team"
So my Google Earth Pro account was canceled. The high resolution images I have already downloaded from Google Earth Pro are still in my Earth Pro cache, and will be more than enough to get me through the next couple of months of walking. But I presume that the account was canceled because I informed Google that I live in the People's Republic of China.
I may be wrong, but I guess this means Google has a deal with the Chinese government that it will not supply this service to people in China. Which is silly and frustrating.
I will simply get someone else to register Earth Pro and then use that account myself, because technology transcends national borders.
The rice harvest in Anhui this year, according to well-informed sources in the fields, has been only so-so. I have no way of judging it myself, this being the first one I have seen. But one weather-beaten analyst said authoritatively: "The harvest has been mama huhu." If you ask a businessman in Shanghai how's business and he says "mama huhu," the assumption is that it means "Pretty good, but I am not going to tell you that." But in Anhui, where they call a horse a horse and a tiger a tiger, I think it actually means what he says it means.
When I started the walk last year, I was unsure about whether it would be possible to persist in the project, so I was hesitant about even talking about it, let alone setting up any other connected elements. But being now a third of the way across Anhui province, with the Yangtze River within striking distance, I feel this is a doable project. So the next step is to link in charity element of some sort.
I plan to offer sponsorship opportunities, with people donating a certain amount for every kilometer I walk. As the entire project is likely to take up to five years, depending on how much time I can devote to the Walk, I propose to offer sponsorship on various stages, with payments due as I hit Hubei province, Yichang, Chengdu and Lhasa. But what to donate the money to? How to use any money raised? My first thought is something to do with education, perhaps scholarships for people in the districts through which I walk, but if you have any specific suggestions, please send me an email on email@example.com.