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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 50: 13 November

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysHe certainly had a bad case of disillusionment. I asked if the Chinese had been welcoming.

'The minorities yes,' said his companion . . . 'in Tibet especially; but in mainland China, no.'

They had been viewed with deep suspicion, followed, asked for money and forced sometimes to spend a night in a local jail. They had a fund of horror stories about the country, a lot of them, to be honest, second-hand. One concerned a student who had her camera stolen on a train. At the next stop, the train doors had been locked and police had come on board. They found a man with a camera and asked the girl if it was hers. She nodded. Then the policeman assured her that there were no thieves in China and shot the man dead on the spot.

We talk about medicine. I ask him what he thinks about the Chinese attitude to doctors - that you pay them when you're well and stop paying them when you're ill. He seems to agree with the traditional Chinese approach, and says he no longer believes in Western medicine. He taps his head, 'So long as you eat the right food, breathe the right air . . . '

At three o'clock in the afternoon the east coast of Japan can be clearly seen on the port side, rising in a series of rocky cliffs. The Pacific, meanwhile, is living up to its name, and time passes slowly.

In the shop down below I buy a book of short stories by a Chinese author, Lu Wenfu. He had joined up to fight the Kuomintang rule in 1949, but later found himself, as a writer of fiction, denounced during the Cultural Revolution. 'I was forced to confess my crimes and paraded through the street with a placard round my neck.' He was luckier than some. He escaped with banishment to the countryside. Others lost their lives, many were unable to write again. The fact that Lu Wenfu is being published again in China has to be balanced against the unhappy experiences of the walking acupuncturist.

I also buy a sweatshirt with a glamorous picture of the ferry on it and a wonderful example of Anglo-Oriental doggerel: 'Regular weekly service with gorgeous cargo-passenger boat. A Happy, Warmed Journey with Thrilling Sealine'.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 50
  • Date: 13 November
  • Country/sea: Pacific Ocean
  • Place: Pacific Ocean
  • Book page no: 172

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