If you knew how long it took me to post this picture, you’d know it wasn’t worth it! My medieval internet connection has decided not to allow me to upload photographs, so until I come up with a solution, posts may be more sporadic than I’d like. Have a good weekend!
The picture at the top of this page (EDIT: I changed the picture, but now you can see it above) may give the impression of me being a nomadic, fearless wanderer travelling the world with just a camera and a sense of adventure (or at least, that’s what I like to imagine). However, the reality is a little different.
I was kicking my heels in Guangdong waiting for the ferocious weather in central China to clear so I could take the train north. While I waited, I caught a bus to Kaiping, a fairly nondescript city that in typical Chinese fashion is both ‘small’ and bigger than 95% of British cities. I had read about the Kaiping Diaolou, watchtowers built in the Qing dynasty by returning overseas Chinese as fortresses to protect their wealth from bandits.
I’d arrived out of season and there was no public transport to the diaolou. Outside the bus station I was mobbed by taxi drivers who tried to charge me extortionate prices, so I left the melee and found a guy with a motorbike who agreed to take me out to the countryside.
It was my first time on a motorbike and, wearing an ill-fitting plastic helmet and zooming along pot-holed roads, I regretted not paying more for a taxi. I gritted my teeth and held on so tight that my hands hurt. But it was exhilarating and the diaolou were stunning. On our return to the city, the situation turned sour when he reneged on our agreed price and charged me double. A crowd formed and things started to get a little heated so I paid up (it wasn’t worth arguing over the equivalent of £4) and headed on to Macau.
I was reminded of the Kaiping houses a year or so later when I saw a show by Li Yimo at Beijing’s 798.
I’m confident that it would be possible, and not particularly arduous, to drive in a day from the Netherlands into Belgium, down to Luxembourg, zig-zag through France and Germany and end up in Switzerland for supper. If you were so inclined, you might even be able to cross the border into northern Italy before the end of the day. That little trip would allow you to tick at least six countries off the current list of 192 UN member states.
On the other hand, you could spend months or years visiting China’s 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four municipalities, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan and you’d only be able to tick one country off the list.
Clearly, visiting a lot of countries doesn’t necessarily mean you’re well-travelled, or that you’ve gained anything more from your travel experience than a gratuitous detour along autobahns, autoroutes and borderless borders. Yet it’s so tempting to try to tick off as many countries as possible.
I’ve been reading a blog written by someone who’s visited 134 countries and plans to complete the set in the next few years. I’m envious. But I’m going to try to resist that ‘gotta collect ’em all’ attitude as I plan my route through south-east Asia. I suppose it’s not so hard, really – I’ve visited fewer than 10% of the world’s countries, so whether I visit another 3 or another 5 is neither here nor there at this point. What will be harder to resist is my urge to drop by the Chinese provinces that I have not yet seen (see image, above).
I’m resigned to the fact that I won’t have time right now to see the big western three (Tibet, Qinghai and Xinjiang) but at least they fit together neatly for a future trip. What I can’t bear is the idea of leaving China with a couple of unsightly, unringed central provinces on my map. So, for that reason, I suspect that my trip later this year may involve a little more ticking off than I would like.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It’s been quite some time since I abandoned my last blog. My lifestyle of sitting, sleeping and eating didn’t provide me with enough material to blog about. But now, as I count down the days (well, five months) until I pack my bags, leave China and travel Asia, I feel that I have a little more to say.
That said, I spent most of my weekend bedridden after eating some out-in-the-sun-too-long street food and didn’t do much worth reporting. I felt a little better on Sunday evening so went to a Japanese restaurant and, en-route, took a photo of this Batman-butterfly gate outside ‘The Graduate School of China Art Academy’.
It looked far more impressive in the twilight than it does under the rude glare of a camera flash.
Until the travelling starts, I won’t have an awful lot to write about, so I’m going to use this time for some zen-like reflection on my time in China, and to post some of the more interesting pictures I’ve taken during my time here.
你好. 我爱你. 再见.