你好 China! Frog legs, fast trains & shopaholics

Posted on May 18, 2011

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Some of my favourite things about China are the stark contrasts this country offers.

On one of the world’s fastest trains, moving at around 350km an hour between Wuhan and Changsha – cities with populations well above the 7 million mark – I found myself surrounded by some of the most idyllic rural countryside I’ve ever seen. Rolling hills, lakes and canals, small villages with traditional homes, rice paddies, women and men working in the fields alongside their oxen. All of this from the luxury comfort of an engineering feat in transport.

It’s becoming a cliche to talk about China as a changing nation, but there’s really no avoiding the truth  – China is a chaotic, crazy land in transition. Being here makes me feel like I’m on the edge of a cliff, about to take a plunge into something truly amazing. Along with one billion other people.

While in Wuhan, a large industrial city in the centre of China, I had the opportunity to fulfill my childhood dream of seeing the Yangtze River. There is an English-language children’s book about a duck named Ping who lives on the banks of the Yangtze. Ping’s world is full of baskets and small boats, lanterns and cobbled streets. I don’t think Ping lives on the Yangtze anymore! Instead, the river is a brilliant celebration of Chinese communal culture – thousands of families spend time along the river until late in the night, dancing to Chinese and Korean pop songs, playing ping pong, flying brilliantly lit kites high above the water and roller blading along the sidewalks.

Changsha, in the Hunan province, offered the opportunity to try some tasty local cuisine. We opted for spicy snail, but were given a bowl full of something spicy, with bones – definitely not snail. I’m pretty sure they were frogs legs, but I still can’t really be sure! Either way, they were surprisingly delicious, coated in a sesame, basil and chilli sauce. The flavours in the food are amazing and I love that I can even have dumplings for breakfast!

Changsha also gave me an interesting insight into Chinese growth and industry. The hotel was full of Italian men living in China to teach the locals how to make luxury cars. Chinese car ownership has grown dramatically from 50 million in 2008, to an expected 75 million+ by the end of this year. It’s interesting to observe the rising middle class of China, and their rapidly growing consumer tastes. One of my favourite moments was standing in the middle of a busy shopping mall in Shenzhen, surrounded by blatant imitations of Western brands (JeanWest instead of Jeans West etc), all within a street lined by massive Chinese flags – the ultimate symbol of communism.

I will be in China for another month and I’m very excited to see what else unfolds..

view from the train

travelling at 331km/h

I’m having trouble uploading photos – slow connection! – but I’ve got a few other shots up on my Flickr page if you’re interested!

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Posted in: Travel, Writing