Friday, 23 December 2016

A week in China

I have been on a week long book tour to promote the Chinese editions of my books. A fascinating whirlwind visit:  three cities (Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing) , five talks with the aid of my excellent book translator and interpreter Hans Lu, ten interviews (I think), about two thousand books signed. The enthusiasm of Chinese readers for Mediterranean history has taken me - and indeed, I think, my Chinese publishers - by surprise.

A little practice at signing my name

The size, the energy and the sheer gaudiness of the cities was surreal. Christmas musak in hotels, giant teddy bears dressed up as Father Christmas - China appears to have the appetite to absorb all traditions and festivals in its rush to consumerism after the decades of Maoist austerity
The castle is entirely edible. The bricks are cinnamon flavoured biscuits; its snow capped turrets are icing.

I was whisked from city to city on bullet trains at about 200 miles an hour, through flickering landscapes of fields, huddled traditional villages, lakes, rivers and the repeated sightings of new mega towns and their stooping cranes rising on the horizon like mirages in a desert.

The attention of the audiences, the depth of their questions, and their desire to take photographs at book signings were amazing and surprising. Not to mention the limitless dedication to social media on all occasions. 30, 000 people watched the last talk on live streamed video.

The talk in Nanjing was held in one of the most extraordinary bookshops I've ever been to. The Librairie Avant-Garde is in a converted underground car park. It's a vast temple to literate  book loving, owned by a Christian, hence the cross. The welcome there included a hat, as worn by the bookshop staff, and a fabulous piece of travel luggage, courtesy of a Chinese travel company who helped sponsor the visit - the must-have marketing tool for all authors!

There were brief opportunities for sight seeing. The Forbidden City in Beijing on a clear, smog-free sunny day was extraordinarily impressive, followed by a ramble through the hutongs (the network of traditional narrow lanes with houses built round courtyards),

Street food in the hutongs

I also had an enjoyable morning's tour of central Shanghai - the Bund, the old European trading centre on the banks of the Yangtze, now facing an immense panorama of twenty first century skyscrapers across the water - Stockholm remade as Manhattan - and the streets around.

I got to sample a wide range of Chinese cuisine - and  my chopsticks skills held up reasonably well!

Thanks so much to Mr Li, Hans, Joan and Fengyun - the man who made it all happen.