I had to look up the following words used in Behind The Wall: A journey through China, by Colin Thubron.
I hadn’t realised how limited is my vocabulary!
At one stage, he writes about Chinese inventions: printing and paper, the magnetic compass, gunpowder, porcelain, silk, the mechanical clock, dictionaries and encyclopedias, map-grids, lock-gates, paddle-wheel boat, chain suspension bridges, a seismograph, rain and snow gauges, winnowing machines, the kite and the wheelbarrow; yet he wonders how these inventions happened, as he says that metaphysical enquiry seems to be stillborn in their history.
The book is about Thubron’s journey through China in the 1980s, at a time when very few westerners travelled in that country. Amazingly, he writes at one point “…there are fewer than a hundred private cars in China…” So, things have changed drastically in the years since, as according to official statistics, there are now more than 70 million, and demand outstrips supply.
This is high quality travel literature. Thubron doesn’t need a gimmick, such as following in the footsteps of an earlier explorer, or pushing a washing machine round the country, or discovering an old travel journal in an attic and retracing its steps, or searching for cricket games in far off lands. Instead, he simply writes travel.
Apropos of nothing in particular, there are currently more than 780,000,000 mobile phones in China.