Travel tales

 
Playing games
No one wants to play with me...   In some Chinese villages I’ve visited, the only language I have in common with the inhabitants is ‘Hello’ or ‘Ni hao’ – and sometimes barely that. It’s all fascinating and new; the way people live, how they dress, what they do for work and entertainment. And yet when I lo...

Dressing up
I know I’m on the right bus when a woman gets on carrying a huge, scintillating silver crown. She thinks I’m hilarious (everyone in China thinks I’m hilarious) and when she offers to put the crown on my head the whole bus laughs uproariously. At the next village, people stuff carrier bags full of blue satin and pig’s trotters through the bus windows, along with what looks l...

The richest and the poorest
Guizhou has always been the poorest province in China. Accounts by 19th and early 20th century missionaries paint an appalling picture of an entire population indebted to their landlords and addicted to opium.  Mothers would blow opium smoke across their babies’ faces because they thought it would make them stronger. It clearly didn’t work – in 1934, infant mortality was fi...

The Land of Dong
Isn’t that where one’s nose turns luminous? asks one friend. No, but one’s hands might turn blue… The Land of Dong does sound like something out of a children’s nonsense book. But it’s real enough, it’s in south-east Guizhou province, China. It’s a land of green and red terraced fields, of streams tumbling...

May I borrow you for a picture?
Viewpoint no. 457 (minus Rapunzel) I’ve been borrowed more times than I can count in China and have probably lost a good many layers of my soul in the process (thank goodness Westerners have little soul still left to lose to the camera lens). I’m a guest here, so I think it’s the least I can do to agree gracefully, and in fact I&rsqu...

Too beautiful to live
  At its most beautiful, Huangshan (Yellow Mountain, in Anhui province) is like a place you could imagine, but not a place you’d ever think could actually exist.    It draws on so many associations, from every Chinese classical landscape painting you’ve ever seen – especially the vertical kind – to films about lost worlds, prehistoric islands, elvish p...

In the Top Ten
   If all gardens in China are copies of Suzhou gardens, all lakeside landscapes are based on Hangzhou’s West Lake. Poets and governors have been beautifying West Lake for over a thousand years. Lest you somehow fail to notice how lovely it is, the Chinese tourist board has carefully selected the Top Ten Scenes of West Lake for your delight and delectation (i.e. this is where you h...

The artful gardens of Suzhou
  are so cunningly constructed to lead you on and turn you round and open up before you new vistas, new worlds (‘The Other Land of Distinction; fairy land in Daoist conception’). They seem huge, endless; always another corner to explore, another fancifully-shaped entrance to go through to reach walls beyond walls, corridors leading to pavilions, screens hiding the entrance to new...

Coming soon...
“You wouldn’t believe the people who come to Kamchatka. Bored people looking for excitement. Boring people, thinking it will make them interesting. There are people looking for the last unspoiled wilderness, and people who want to make friends with the bears. Some are digging for gold and others want a volcano named after them, and some just want to know how it feels to be at the end ...