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Full Circle

Day 56: Qingdao to Tai an

Michael Palin - Full CircleToday we leave Qingdao and head south. Rather than follow the coast with its familiar and predictable run of boom towns, we have decided to make an inland journey using Yangtze river boats to take us into the heartland of China, where Mao's revolution had its roots; and from there south-west to the Vietnamese border. Every journey in China is an adventure and fraught with complications. We have our own fixers (one from the film facilities company in Beijing and another a freelance photographer also from Beijing) but we must also have at least one local official with us. Here in Qingdao it has been Mr Li. He arrives to see us off, looking red and puffy in the face. He shakes his head unhappily. Hospitality is getting him down. Yesterday alone he had to eat four banquets.

Chefs, gardeners and chambermaids help us load up. Everyone looks with envy at a powder blue Mercedes-320 parked outside the front door of our hotel. It has Tibetan licence plates.

The attractive old city which first caught my eye from the Inch'on ferry gives way to a monotonous and apparently endless urban industrial sprawl. Most of the development is new, Pacific miracle stuff. Plastics and clothing factories, 'Monkey King Frozen Foods'. After an hour or more we get out into the countryside, only to find that most of it is wrapped in polythene sheeting. Seas of hot-house plastic stretch away on either side of the Jinan expressway, a long straight, almost empty, elevated toll-road which looks as if it has been imported lock, stock and barrel from Europe. Why else would restaurants be marked with a crossed knife and fork in a country where everyone uses chopsticks?
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 56
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Qingdao
  • Book page no: 82

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