The International Steam Pages
About the International Steam Pages
A Very British Lady
5 years ago in late 2009, we took the decision to relocate from China, and over the next year or two we sold a flat and three houses and bought a house in the UK and a flat in Penang, we packed up and moved all our belongings. That was the easy bit, we also had to jump the series of hurdles which the British government has erected for those wishing to bring their spouses into the country as an equal. Now five years on, Yuehong is a British citizen and, as she put it, for the first time in her life she will have a vote. That's something that most of the readers of these pages take for granted, we may not always love our governments but with others we do have the ability to change them. I can't begin to know how it feels for her.
The International Steam Pages were established in late 1996 to publicise steam action in those parts of the World which are not covered elsewhere on the World Wide Web. If you want news about preserved railways in Western Europe, North America or Japan, by and large this is NOT the place to look, please use your favourite search engine. But if, like me, you seek out steam power in far away places, then you will feel at home here. If you are just back from a visit then I'll be happy to include your report on this page, just email firstname.lastname@example.org. I can accept relevant pictures - JPEG or GIF, if they are more than 100Kb please email me first to check I am in a position to download a large email. Unless you say otherwise you'll get your name mentioned (in these days of uncontrollable spam I tend not to post email addresses) - if you want to contact a reporter, please get in touch with me. The bulk of the news comes from a core of reporters to whom we are all very grateful. Below is a rare gathering of happy international gricers who had come separately to Bago, Myanmar in January 2006; Ray Gardiner, Heinrich Hubbert, Rob and Yuehong Dickinson, Manfred and Kyi Kyi Schoeler, Han Win Aung (guide).
These pages are maintained by Rob (and Yuehong) Dickinson - see above - as from September 2010 'home' has been in Mitcheldean, UK. I met Yuehong at Weihe while we were both separately recording the last year of operation of the forestry railway in February 2003. We met again in Beijing for dinner in early December 2003, suffice to say that evening changed our lives for ever. Some hint of what that means is given in the paragraphs that follow. Previously, between 2004 and 2010, we were based in China, where all around were beautiful mountains and constant reminders that economic development for its own sake brings only an illusion of increased happiness. For those of you who may have met us on your travels or are simply curious you can read about our new life in the UK.
Like all 'steam travellers' I (for which read 'we' in what follows) found it harder and harder to find 'real steam'. And where I did find it, all too often it had been tarnished by what might politely be called 'insensitive behaviour' by selfish enthusiasts and tour operators who think only of their own immediate photographic results. So increasingly, I headed for the less obvious destinations especially those where there is no alternative to a little bit of patience and where I could blend into the background as far as possible. And perhaps overtaking my interest in steam locomotives, I discovered the joys of stationary steam engines, in Indonesia, India, Myanmar and Thailand. I have used the epithet Temples of Steam to describe our voyages of exploration in Burma (Myanmar). This picture was taken in early 2006, maybe you could still take it, maybe not. Click here if you want to know what was making the steam. The country is now changing fast, steam mills were already closing in large numbers by the time of last visit in 2010, soon it will nearly all be gone...
Regrettably the crass commercialisation of many of the steam operations caused me to stop reporting most of our own trips in China, but rest assured we were still out there from time to time enjoying real Chinese steam which is the best in the world. As one operator said quite bluntly "As usual, we don't wait for occasionally passing steam trains and have arranged some special trains." I am glad he now seems to have gone out of business. And until they nearly all closed, it seemed there was not a single accessible working narrow gauge steam railway in China which hadn't had some selfish bastards chartering trains. Quite how such sad people derive any satisfaction from the photographic results beats me. These days, more than ever you need to take time to get your shots of 'real steam' and we spent half of June 2006 staying up the line at Shibanxi ands went back again in June 2007, this is a frame from our video:
Alas, this and the Shibanxi railway we loved is now history, we won't be going back. And I for one won't be going back to China. So I officially classify myself as a 'retired gricer'., the only place I might still have gone back for real steam was Java which has had such an influence on my life for nearly 40 years, but there has been a rapid and near terminal decline in steam activity including the mills themselves. where most of the best ones have closed or been modernised. 'Steam' now for us means relaxing in the English countryside at steam rallies enjoying the spectacle of preserved traction engines parading themselves in front of us. Real it is not but they are accessible and the owners are real enthusisasts.
Is there life after steam? Of course, just read on.....
Having now climbed all the major peaks on Java I compiled a brief guide to its largest volcanoes. I even got persuaded to go up one of them (Merbabu) a second time in 2005.... Merapi (background) probably has a different shape by now.
Less obviously as strenuous but equally wearing was a luxury cruise down the Irrawaddy River.
In early 2009, we took nearly two months off to go backpacking through Burma, Thailand and Laos. It was a fabulous experience, we wrote it all up as we went along and you can read about it - there's a bit of everything in 'Rob and Yuehong in the Golden Land' and there are links there to our more recent explorations.
Most of us are now 'well past our prime', maybe even into the sunset of our lives. I prepared for full time retirement by building a house in the country near the Great Wall of China, but right now that's history too as we have very quietly sold it and we have new homes both in the UK and also in Penang.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson