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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 44: 7 November

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysNow, from the windows of the air-conditioned cabin I catch my first glimpse of Hong Kong's prospective owners. A huge country, but everything is on a smaller scale. Thatched huts stand in the water at the shores of the estuary, beside them long, low, elegant pencil-thin fishing boats. The river is as busy as the harbour in Hong Kong but less glamorous and cosmopolitan - the boats here move more slowly, and produce is more likely to be shifted in slow-moving lines of multiple barges than in shiny new bulk containers. Most of these barges look as if they're also people's homes. One is black and grimy, straining under a pyramid of coal slack and coke waste, but beside the wheelhouse a man is doing his washing. Clothes hang on a line and pot plants decorate the grubby superstructure. Everywhere I look, on land or on the water, are lines of washing and potted plants. Launderettes and garden centres could be the businesses to get into in China.

Even before we reach Guangzhou (or Canton, as it used to be known) I sense a similarity between China and India, as strongly as the similarity between Hong Kong and Singapore. Though China has factories and modern docks, and even, I'm solemnly informed by the captain as we pass beneath them, the tallest pylons in the world, it's a land of small enterprises, highly labour intensive, with most of the work being done by human rather than mechanical effort.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 44
  • Date: 7 November
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Pearl River
  • Book page no: 142

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