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Five Things We Love About China

1. THE FOOD! Whether it cost 30p or £3 just about every meal has been delicious, healthy and great value. The delights which can be cooked up in a single wok or the ingenuity of a restaurant on the back of a motorbike trailer can only be marvelled at. Never forgetting those who cook it – the millions of generally friendly men and women who work long and hard providing great food. Just brilliant!

2. COMMUNITY LIFE. In the park, in town and city squares, and on the streets it all goes on. Karaoke, orchestra practice, aerobics, ballroom dancing, line dancing, tai chi, games of cards, and mah jong (at any given moment, there must be at least one million games of mah jong happening in China!)

3. PUBLIC TRANSPORT. A huge network of cheap and efficient long distance coaches, city buses and village minibuses mean that you can get around this vast country cheaply and you almost always get a seat. Not to mention the trains. I will especially sorely miss the “bottom bunk hard sleeper”. First a decent China Railways meal, then a soothing politically correct lullaby before lights out at 10 pm, a comfy bed with sheets and duvet and when you wake up, you’re in another part of the country altogether.

4. RURAL LIFE. Anywhere there’s some land, there are small scale, neat and productive fields. The country people have a well developed self -sufficient lifestyle with piglets on the porch, chickens in the garden, and lovingly tended veg patches. Outside are stacks of wood for the winter, feed for the animals, pickles and preserves. The country people know their environment intimately and how to make the most of it.

5. Jim says NATURE. The physical geography of the place, the desert, the Tibetan plateau, the mountains of Guizhou, the lakes and rivers and the man-made beauty of astonishing rice terraces and lovely villages. Di says THE MINORITIES – the exotic Tibetans, friendly Uyghurs, busy and sociable Dong, chatty Bai, tough and resourceful Miao, hardworking Hani and especially those gay Tibetan line-dancers!

And then there’s also the fantastic MARKETS – Kashgar Animal Market, Kaili Bird Market, and all the other wonderful country markets – colourful, sociable, and endlessly fascinating where we have spent so many happy hours! And Jim wants to put in a word for big bottles of TsingTao beer at less than 50p…

And Five Things we will not be sorry to leave

1. The Noise. Conversations and instructions all delivered at top volume and usually in a scolding tone, the peculiarly Chinese sound of loud hawking followed by the inevitable gob, furious mobile phone calls shouted at full volume, blaring car and bus horns, dreary pop music and loud martial-arts fantasy films on the buses.

2. The ugly mess. The rubbish, the litter, the urban scene mostly an eyesore with falling down buildings which no one can be bothered with any more, so they build another one. Beauty spots covered in crap, litter tossed out of the bus and on to the ground, gutters blocked with rubbish and plastic bags. Piles of sand, gravel, bricks, cement, routinely blocking roads, pavements and shop fronts.

3. The tourist biz. The regions have obviously all been instructed to come up with some sites of touristic interest – whether they be an ancient irrigation system, a mosque, a big fishpond folk art village or a sunset on the rice fields. Huge inappropriate viewing platforms, coach parks and steel gates where ticket offices are then constructed to extract at least £3 but probably much more from every one. Legions of Chinese tourists dutifully worship at these shrines to consumerist tourism, complete with the obligatory trappings, the enormous telephoto lenses, tripods and various other leisure-related totems supplied by the camera industry.

4. The bad driving. The meaningless gridlocks on village streets, at bus stations and city road junctions, which occur for no other reason than selfish and/or stupid driving, and a certain cretinous type of bus driver who prefers any activity -smoking, gobbing, talking on his mobile, yelling out of the window, whatever- to actually driving the flipping bus to its destination. Being blasted out of the way on a pedestrian street or on a zebra crossing (don’t make me laugh!) by a car or scooter quite possibly going the wrong way.

5. The construction boom (enough said about that one) and the relentless pursuit of wealth which seems to have gripped the nation – or a certain sector of it.

Not to mention…strange sugary milky stuff masquerading as coffee, strange sugary airy stuff masquerading as bread, going into a supermarket and not knowing what 90% of the items on sale are, being reduced to a state of total non-communication through a mixture of cultural and linguistic barriers and total illiteracy, the OCP (the spoilt self-obsessed twenty-something Little Princesses and Little Emperors – products of the urban One Child Policy), that heavy metal guitarist with his soaring rock guitar solos who seems to feature on 75% of Chinese pop songs, cold hotel rooms with rock hard beds, being shouted at, oh that’s enough… roll on Vietnam!

P.S. I know you will have noticed a startling omission from this list – the toilets. They ranged from luxurious tourist toilets to the village communal shit-pits (sorry, but there is no other word). But in general, they are plentiful and not as bad as I thought they would be – and, anyway, anyone can get used to squatting over a stinking trough with a load of other women.

Jim working in his hard sleeper bunk

Bottom bunk hard sleeper

HERE ARE A FEW OF OUR FAVOURITE THINGS!

productive little veg patches

Wonderful veg plots

food at a restaurant in Dali

Lovely fresh food

An open air orchestra practices in the Park in Kunming

Park Life

A market in Guizhou

Great minority markets

Line dancers in Kunming park

Line Dancing with the Gay Tibetan troupe

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