“It’s coming home. It’s coming home. Football’s coming home.” – England football chant during the Women’s European Cup.
There has been a huge gap since travel has been possible and plausible. Never spending more than a few days in Huizhou, Shenzhen, and just hours in Zhongshan since October 2021 had been quite challenging. Travel, during 2021 and 2022, in Guangdong was unthinkable. The suffocation of humidity and toasting heat above thirty-five Celsius seemingly spelled death for me. Unthinkable. I have zero tolerance to being baked alive.
I’ve been blessed since February 2014. I’ve stepped from my comfort zone in UK living and managed to live abroad for over 8 years. Not every year has had a roasting summer. With just summer 2020 spent in Dongguan, owing to an 8 day change of employer, I’ve not had to endure too many hot days. The air conditioner had never been far away. Green parks like Dalingshan Forest Park and Tongsha wetlands have proved useful for distraction. Summer 2022 wasn’t like that. I found myself on crutches and once again trapped in Guangdong, being cooked. Far from other provinces and cooler ait.
Northern China stretches far and wide from west to east and vice versa. Here, journeys into Ningxia province have proved adventurous. Inner Mongolia and the chills of Heilongjiang have been a stark contrast to the warm southern regions. Gansu was a pleasant surprise. The stifling summer heat, broken by northern breezes and a dryer sunshine.
Through the coastal east and lands of Nanjing, Shanghai and Suzhou, I’ve managed a few looks at a variety of urban and green vistas. Touching down in Shandong and Qingdao was a spiritual connection I welcomed. Thanks, Granddad George Acton, for making me curious about that naval city you once stayed within. The trip there proved colourful and now brings fond memories.
Western China, especially Yunnan, has warmed my heart and claimed my love. Sichuan and Qinghai have equally gripped my passion for the outdoors. Those vast mountain landscapes and green pockets and valleys could fuel a thousand stories. Each one with tales and wilderness to inspire.
In the core of China, Hunan was varied in appearance and home to the mighty Zhangjiajie Nature Park. Forget it being the backdrop to James Cameron’s blue movie Avatar! It’s stunning for millions of other reasons. Xi’an proved an intense city surrounded by history and bathed in glorious culture. Shaanxi and Shanxi provinces each had many highlights.
Guangdong and Guangxi are side by side, and Fujian sits to the east of the former. Here, weekends and short breaks have been spent. Vietnamese coffees, seafood, and wanders along coastlines have gripped attention. All within a short distance of Dongguan and very much accessible before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Of course no trip to China is complete without swinging by modern day capital Beijing. Comedic travel and radio presenter Karl Pilkington visited there in a few episodes of An Idiot Abroad. Like his views, I don’t really like the capital city. How a city of that size doesn’t have a plethora of top flight football teams, or a heartbeat like many other capitals I’ve visited is beyond me. It felt very much like visiting how I imagine North Korea to be. Not my kind of place. Gridlock, grid lines and authoritarian concrete landscapes are a travel turn off. There are historic gems but how much has been remade is open to debate. Even the Great Wall looks too new. Apart from the wild bits. They’re glorious!
Macau, I could live without. It’s okay for a few hours, but not my kind of place. Hong Kong was the global city of cities, but times have changed, and I suspect so has Hong Kong. Many refer to it as just another Chinese city, now lacking its once famed uniqueness. The velodrome, mountain trails, and Clockenflap music festivals are just a few of the many highlights.
One day, I hope to visit Tibet and Xinjiang. For now, those journeys remain on a to-do list. Never say never. And, in September 2022, I found myself back in the UK. I didn’t think I would return to China so soon. The border reopened to tourism and many visa types in March 2023. That change and another more needy necessity led me back to the charms of the People’s Republic of China. This large swathe of lands often offers many attractions still. Would I move back? Never say never. Right now? No.