13 July 2010

I have been in China for eight weeks now, and I am just starting to feel that I am settling in.

I have never been attracted to the “hit and run” tourism that has developed out of the desire to escape the boredom of sodden camping trips in Britain and replace it with a Disneyland experience.

It may have change of course in the intervening years, but I visited Disneyland in California several times in the ‘90s – I have a friend from Bristol who lives in LA and is addicted to self-gratification – and you could buy a book of tickets for the day. There are ‘A’ tickets which allow you to sit in some spinning Alice in Wonderland teacups for a while, and ‘B’ tickets that are slightly more exciting. But the real gems were the ‘E’ tickets (no, they don’t come with free drugs) where you got to queue up for around 3-hours for an exhilarating ride on the newest attraction such as Splash Mountain or Space Mountain.

My favourite was always The Pirates of the Caribbean, but I forget where it rated in the alphabet. It’s probably been replaced now with something equally kitsch, but a lot more high-tech (just checked the Disneyland website and it appears to be as popular as ever).

When we were kids we got our excitement from riding a home-made trolley down the road, lying flat to it, nose just inches from the pavement. I don’t remember brakes.

Now we all expect to be able to fly across continents, or across the world, with our noses pressed to the triple-skin bonded acrylic lozenge-shaped window as we pass thousands of feet above our homestead, leaving a tell-tale contrail behind us, and arrive in an exotic place which is all ‘E’ ticket.

This is the ‘hit and run’ tourism I hate. I did it once with Explore on a 10-day Egypt trip which left me disappointed, exhausted and bewildered. We had scant time to see the pyramids before we were bussed off to witness genuine papyrus making where we could have our names written in genuine Egyptian hieroglyphics. The pyramids seemed awfully small, subsumed by the encroachment of Cairo and the tat that was being hawked around.

I need space and time to experience a place. And I am not in China as a tourist.

It’s never easy starting a new project. There’s a dance that takes place – confronted with a new music, different rhythms, learning the steps, at first awkward or clumsy, having to trust that these will eventually will lead to confidence and grace.

And I find that my first steps have taken me back to the safety of working small, and with too much detail too soon. It will certainly take some practice to develop the fluidity and ease of style to which I aspire.