Veteran travel writer Mike Bingham relives the memorable moments of his travels through China which date back 25 years.
The guide for our group, about to enter Beijing’s Forbidden City, was embarrassed. The reason was a frightened three-year-old Chinese boy was clinging to his mother, pointing at me, and questioning her. His mother, also embarrassed, hushed him.
The guide was very reluctant to offer a translation, but eventually did so. “He said to his mother, mummy what is this thing with the long nose?”
For this long nose it was an amusing beginning to 25 years of discovering China and its people. Today, the long noses don’t draw a second glance but for this visitor China remains as fascinating and exciting as ever. As do the memories of standing on a remote section of the Great Wall in midwinter with the villagers below cracking the ice in the communal well; being amazed by an acrobatic troupe in Chongqing; riding the world’s fastest train from Shanghai’s international airport; exploring magical Wuzhen on the Grand Canal; and sitting on the shore of Hangzhou’s West Lake watching a sound and light show that was simply breathtaking.
Part of the wonder of China with its population of one billion-plus and mega cities such as Shanghai, Chongqing and Beijing is that there are still so many chances to escape into its 5000-year history. Who could forget drifting down the river at Guilin watching a fishing skiff lit by a single lantern. On board it was a man calling commands to a flock of trained cormorants which dived to catch fish for him.
That boy who was startled by this long nose all those years ago might like to know that my own sense of wonder with his world has never faded.