Originally planned as a 10-month family sabbatical. Now it's a plan to visit all 5 countries, in chapters, between 2016 and 2021.
China is a big unknown to all of us. Apart from stints in Taiwan and Hong Kong, we know nothing of continental China and are frothing at the mouth with the prospect of exploring it in depth. We intend to enter China via Nepal and Tibet and pursue our route northwards towards X'ian, where the Silk Route ended/began. From there, we want to head South towards Chengdu to fulfill on a promise to the kids try to find Kung Fu Panda's valley - we yet have to write to Pixar for its exact location. We will then follow the coast to Shanghai before heading to Beijing, the Great Wall and entering Russia via the Eastern border, into Vladivostok.
All of our travels in China will be done, from Lhassa onwards, on the reliable and well-developed rail network. This is, of course, subject to change and we will keep you posted on our blog as our journey unfolds.
People & Language
Anything we could write here would have to be researched on the internet or some other source because our foreknowledge of anything related to China's peoples and languages is pretty much limited to being aware that Mandarin is merely one of many, many languages used in China (i.e. there is no 'Chinese') and that Cantonese is the 2nd most spoken. So, rather that to try to expound a paragraph on something we know little about, we'll leave this space to be completed later (in our blog) as we discover China and slowly fill the gaps in our knowledge. A blank canvas and nearly no preconceptions: what an exciting premise for this leg of our trip!
Music & Literature
Thankfully, more and more, Chinese literature is being translated and reaching international audiences. Two authors have been bestowed the Nobel Literature Prize: Gao Xingjian and Mo Yan. Guillaume read Red Dust, the fascinating diary of Ma Jian's travels through his own country and the suprisingly modern Shanghai Baby by Wei Hui and they both exacerbated an already burning desire to see, feel, taste and meet modern China, in all its paradoxes and nuances. He is currently immersed in another travel book, this time writeen by a Westerner: Country Driving - A Chinese Road Trip.
Guillaume, ever the music collectionist, owns a few recordings of the great jazz divas of the 40s and 50s, who thrived in post-war Shanghai and a few others of melancholic Chinese classical music but that is the extent of our knowledge of China's musical wealth. We fully intend to explore the different regional expressions of music, the modern, the alternative and the traditional while on the road. Keep a close eye on our blog for music-related posts as we get excited with newfound gems!
We imagine 'Chinese food', not unlike its Mexican, Japanese or other tremendously globalised counterparts, to be quite different in situ than what is served on the streets of Johannesburg, Moscow or Sao Paolo. From our limited experiences in Taiwan and Hong Kong, we know that the variety is immense even within each given region and we also know that every corner of this immense country has its own specific culinary culture. We are therefore quite keen to sample 'authentic' food in every region of China, possibly ordered from a menu which we won't even be able to read (in Taiwan, a hilarious waiter, nonplussed by the absolute communication dead-end between us, actually brought us to the kitchen to point towards what we might want to be served) but which might not feature yet another unrecognizable stir-fry a la western or a fortune cookie (which, by the way, is not at all a Chinese tradition but rather one invented in San Francisco around 1920)...
Did you know?
China is the world's most populated country (and the 2nd-largest by land area) but it might not be long until India overtakes it. The UN predicts it should happen by 2028;
The Great Wall of China is by far the largest man-built structure in the world, stretching an incredible 8,850 kilometres in length;
The pace of infrastructure construction is so intense that a new skyscraper in China is built every five days; in a three-year stretch between 2011 and 2013, China consumed more cement that the USA had over the entire 20th century;
Put together, all of China’s railways lines could loop around earth twice;
The Chinese invented paper, the magnetic compass, printing, porcelain, silk and gunpowder, among many other things (the world's first bill - paper money - was used in China more than 1400 years ago);
By the fourth century B.C., the Chinese were drilling for natural gas and using it as a heat source, preceding Western natural gas drilling by about 2,300 years;
Villagers in central China have long been using dinosaur bones as medicine, thinking they were from dragons, who hold a special place in Chinese mythology;
Though the kids might be disappointed real pandas aren't kung fu experts, they will learn that the few hundreds that remain in the wild only live in Central China. All others living in captivity are lent by China to their hosts;
China has four 'mega-cities' whose populations each outnumber that of Belgium (10 million, roughly);
Chinese maritime explorers may have sailed much further and much earlier than was previously thought. New research indicates Zheng He would have circumnavigated the globe decades before Magellan, 'discovered' the Americas 70 years before Colombus and even sailed close to the South Pole;