This time next year - February 13

Friday, February 13, 2009

Continuing in the basic west-to-east, mundane-to-exotic theme of my itinerary, today's TTNY destination is CHINA!

It's a bit ridiculous to expect I can sum up such a large, diverse and populous country as China with a few hundred words and some photos cribbed from a hasty Google Image search, but apparently I'm going to bodge something together anyways, so let's see how it goes.

The most populous country in the world, China's climate ranges from tropical to temperate; southern regions are at the same latitude as Mexico, and northern areas are around the same latitude as Montreal (which I can say from current experience is quite chilly this time of year. If I head that far north I may need to invest in some woolly socks). China borders Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam to the south; Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to the west; Russia and Mongolia to the north and North Korea to the east.

China has an incredibly ancient and accomplished culture, with civilization arising there around the same time it did in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Wikitravel notes that:

For centuries China stood as a leading civilization, outpacing the rest of the world in the arts and sciences. Paper, gunpowder, the compass and printing (both block and movable type) for example, are Chinese inventions. Chinese developments in astronomy, medicine, and other fields were extensive. A Chinese tomb contains a heliocentric model of the solar system, about 1,700 years before Copernicus. In mathematics, "Pythagoras' theorem" and "Pascal's triangle" were known in China centuries before their Western discoverers even lived.

Not only that but Europeans, through Marco Polo, were first introduced to paper money, coal, and window glass by the Chinese, who were also responsible for the blast furnace, decimal fractions, fireworks, playing cards, the collapsible umbrella and the bristle toothbrush, along with hundreds of other impressive and useful things. However, despite its impressive history, and its current status as a rising economic superpower, the majority of China's population - around 800 million people - still live in rural areas, farming with manual labour.

And now, a brief detour to recommend a bit of reading. "The Bridge of Birds" and "The Story of the Stone" are the first two books of a trilogy set in a semi-fictional ancient China, written by Barry Hughart (spoiler alert for those who haven't read the 3rd book in this series, like me, who didn't even realize there was a third book, and who read the Wikipedia article linked above and had a nasty shock about the end of the trilogy). The subtitle of the first book in the series is "A Novel of an Ancient China that Never Was", so the books aren't slaves to the exact history of the region, but they give a great flavour of the time and the people, and I heartily recommend them.

I'm hoping to be able to spend at least 3 or 4 weeks in China, though that seems an absurdly short amount of time for such a large place with so much to see. Of course I plan to hit the classic historical sights like the Great Wall, the Terra Cotta Warriors, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. There are also great scenic areas like Tiger Leaping Gorge and the Yangtze River, and impressive (if controversial) engineering feats like the Three Gorges Dam project. I also want to see the Bird's Nest Stadium, the iconic image of the 2008 Olympics which has apparently lost some of its shine, but none of its popularity with the Chinese people.

(In case it wasn't apparent from this post, I am a bit of a fan of engineering on a grand scale, so you may find that in the course of my travels I skip a few museums or galleries in favour of bridges, dams, aqueducts, skyscrapers, domes, tunnels... or things like that.)

China is also another one of those places I may consider doing a package tour of some kind - this will depend a lot on how much I've enjoyed the tours I've done to that point, how intrepid I feel by the time, and how the budget is holding up.

So, if any of you have an urge to go for a run with me along the Great Wall of China, meet me there some time in February, and bring woolly socks.

P.S. Apologies for the gap in posts this week, especially to anyone who might actually have noticed and appreciated that I was trying to keep to a Tuesday & Friday posting schedule. I'm in Montreal working and haven't had a lot of time for blogging or trip prep stuff. Consider this a preview of what it will be like when I'm in darkest Africa or some other place where internet access is dodgey or non-existent. Or possibly a preview of the general course of events when I'll be busy actually DOING the trip, as opposed to just blogging about it.


Anonymous said...

China is an ambitious destination. I have heard of people doing it solo but, more often, it is with a packaged tour. However, you'll certainly have gotten your travel legs by February and should be able to handle it solo. Sounds fascinating!

Heather Moore said...

Pam - I recently read a book about a guy who travels through China solo (and he went to most (if not all) of the places you mentioned) - you might be interested in it. It's very, very, very funny, very interesting and an easy read. It's called Lost on Planet China by J. Marteen Troost.

Pam said...

Thanks for the tip, Heather. Maybe I'll see if I can find that at the library.

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