My trans-Siberian rail route for August 2015 ends in Beijing so China is on my mind.
What I have been thinking about today is my one previous visit to China. Back in the day. When it was still a bad and scary Communist place. Now it’s a rich and successful Capitalist/Communist place and I hear there are two cars for every previous bicycle.
That earlier trip was to Hong Kong with son Scott and daughter-in-law Sandra. Visiting mainland or ‘bad China’ was easy even then. I think we took a train over to Guangzhou, known at the time as Canton and spent the night.
I remember very little of Canton except the streets full of bicycles, more than Amsterdam even. Really, looking back, the only memorable event was Scott and Sandra’s little tiff because Sandra had taken a small towel with the name of the hotel on it as a souvenir. Scott was appalled, honest almost to a fault as he is. More immediate though, good liberals us, we were nevertheless a little fearful of those real live ‘communists’ who might jail us for sneaking a hand towel across the border. As I remember, Scott actually took it back to the hotel but I may be wrong.
Hong Kong is a proper part of China these days but back then it was basically British territory. Our visit was great fun. One of Sandra’s best friends from back home in the Philippines lived there and we were taken to a perfectly wonderful red/gilt noisy chaotic restaurant (where the famously spoiled only children of China ran wild) for authentic Peking Duck. One of the truly memorable meals of my travels anywhere. That deep brown fatty crispiness and maybe a sweet sauce and…well, let’s have Wikipedia describe it:
Peking duck is a famous duck dish from Beijing that has been prepared since the imperial era. The meat is prized for its thin, crisp skin, with authentic versions of the dish serving mostly the skin and little meat, sliced in front of the diners by the cook. Ducks bred specially for the dish are slaughtered after 65 days and seasoned before being roasted in a closed or hung oven. The meat is eaten with scallion, cucumber and sweet bean sauce with pancakes rolled around the fillings. Sometimes pickled radish is also inside, and other sauces like hoisin sauce can be used. (Wikipedia)
Hong Kong was a glittery hectic place with an astounding view from Victoria Peak. We all loved it except back then it was hard to get dark American coffee—unless staying at one of the big international hotels which we were not—and I had a serious coffee addiction.
The ‘new territories,’ the developing land outside of Hong Kong proper combined open countryside, quaint villages and, looming in the distance like ethereal white castles of gigantic proportions, were the ghostly-appearing skyscraper cities, big white cities of millions of people sprung overnight it seemed from the villages of peasant China.
In 2015, I’ll return, but to a new city for me and a new time in the history of the country that invented practically everything. And I’ll finish reading Simon Winchester’s The Man Who Loved China before then so these inventions can just roll off the tip of my tongue in Beijing conversations. While I’m eating Peking Duck in the place of its origins for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And this time there will probably be a Starbucks on the corner.