In a couple of weeks I'm going to the 80th birthday party of the father of one of my students. In Mexico! At first this presented a problem - what the hell kind of gift do you get an octogenarian you don't know? Then I came up with this idea, which I will now give to you for free, in case you are also going to a stranger's party in Latin America: a calendar with photos of his son's exploits in Hong Kong and the mainland! It features my favourite scenes in both places, as the birthday boy is, I'm told, interested in geography. No printing firm was willing to make one for me - unless I ordered 4,000 units. So I decided to buy a 2016 calendar and jolly well glue the photos on it myself. While looking for suitable shots, I came across photos from possibly my favourite place in the mainland: Jiayuguan Fort, in Gansu province, a destination for which I still yearn. It is the most beautiful place in China, and one of the most interesting. I found it by accident while hitchhiking to the Overhanging Great Wall, a kind of mini-Great Wall a short drive from Jiayuguan town. Driving up the bumpy road with the Gobi Desert on one side and snow-capped mountains on the other, I nudged my friend R: "Look! We're in a Chinese costume drama!" There, about a kilometre away, rearing majestically up from a wide open plain, was the fort; a real Chinese fort with ramparts, turrets and flying eaves, looking so much like a postcard from clichéd ancient China that it was almost ridiculous. This fort, built during the late 14th century at the westernmost end of the Great Wall, marked the border between civilised China to the east and unhinged barbarianism to the west. The latter was the direction in which the poor souls who were banished from China for some transgression or other had to trudge. Instead of being executed, they were expelled through the western gate of the fort, never to return. Standing outside the fort it's easy to imagine the poor outcasts dragging themselves across the plains at dawn while uniformed bannermen gallop haughtily past, off to see whether any barbarians breached the Great Wall during the night. Amazingly, all the tourist action takes place inside the fort, leaving history fans and romantics to gaze at the unspoiled western vistas. To the east, however, is a sea of smoke-spewing steel mills. I probably won't include those in the calendar.