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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 44: 7 November

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysMingling incongruously with the Chinese proletariat are huge bronzed Western athletes, glowing with hairy good health and carrying sheaves of tennis rackets. They have come to take part in the first professional tennis tournament ever held in China. They look like men from outer space.

I have a room on the sixteenth of twenty-eight floors with a stunning view down onto the Pearl River where it bends and is joined by a side canal. I could easily sit and watch the ebb and flow of craft along it all afternoon, but we have a film to make and after a bland international buffet lunch I'm out in the streets. The commonest, nay almost universal, form of transport is the bicycle. No racing bikes here, no sports bikes, mountain bikes or drop-handlebar affectations. These are solid traditional sit up and beg jobs, with wheelguards and racks on the back. Housemasters' bikes. There are occasional cars and the way they are driven suggests an apocalyptic future for China when the millions decide to forsake their bikes for Toyotas. As it is, rush hour, apart from the occasional tinkle of a bell, is pollution free and wonderfully quiet.

As in India, there are enormous numbers of people about, but the Chinese behave very differently. They're more purposeful, they always seem to be on the move or intent on doing something. There isn't much of the drifting, gazing eye-wandering of India. Nor are they particularly curious. Whereas Indians are always catching your eye eager to exchange a smile, the Chinese tend to avoid eye contact and it's difficult to get any response from the faces.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 44
  • Date: 7 November
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Guangzhou
  • Book page no: 145

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