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All Posts by Thomas Bird
  • Mountain High in Lianzhou

    The Nanling Mountains long sequestered the Cantonese natives of Guangdong province from the Chinese interior. The mountains protected the ancient dialects of the southerners and cultivated the unique cultural character of the sea-facing and seafaring Yue peoples.

  • Cuckoo for Qingyuan

    Branding itself "the garden of the Pearl River Delta", around 80km northwest of Guangzhou, straddling the Bei, or North River, is the Cantonese-speaking city of Qingyuan. What first appears as a cluster of mottled factories (many fast being dismantled to make way for new high-rise flats) was once an important river town on the imperial highway – the Bei is a tributary of the Pearl River to the south and thus connects Guangzhou with Shaoguan in northern Guangdong Province. So while malls and marauding traffic might define Qingyuan’s metropolitan pretensions today, the river is still the lifeblood of the county, feeding its predominantly agricultural surrounds while crafting a centerpiece through the fresh-faced urban district. It should, therefore, stand to reason that the principle sites of interest lie along the steep banks overlooking the deep jade waters of the River Bei itself. To experience what Qingyuan has in store simply hop aboard a boat at Wuyi Dock and ask the captain to sail east.

  • Kunshan and its Water Towns

    Wedged between Shanghai and Suzhou, Kunshan is often overlooked by holidaymakers. Its reputation as a manufacturing hub courting Taiwanese and Japanese company’s to set-up-shop and produce their wares hardly endears Kunshan to tourists. But its superficial modernity bellies the fact that Kunshan was an important centre of culture and trade when Shanghai was still an inconsequential market town. And this heritage is evident within the city proper and beyond in Kunshan’s idyllic water towns. Indeed hearty travellers will be rewarded with architectural wonders, musical marvels and much between.

  • The Unreal Rock Formations of China

    If we look at China’s great paintings from Huang Gongwang’s Dwelling in Fuchen Mountain to Wang Ximen’s A Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains to Gu Kaizhi’s Nymph of the Luo River, we see a common thread; namely a fascination with strange rock formations. Southern China, in particular, is a place of extraordinarily diverse topography. And as the Middle Kingdom’s political center moved south during the Song Dynasty, artistic attention was increasingly drawn towards the marvels of the natural world.

  • Great Chinese Poets and Where to Find Them

    Poetry is an ambiguous art form to many in contemporary society where commercial cinema and Internet pop-ups; graphic art and digital visuals inform much of our dizzying, day-to-day experience. Yet the desire to capture a moment, a feeling, a profound experience or philosophical insight in verse still resonates. Indeed the poetic concept has had wordsmith’s grappling with language since the earliest vestiges of the modern man, whom rose from the swamps, woods or desert and began to wonder what life was all about. Everything from epic journeys to dandelions has been evoked with rhyme, wordplay, symbolism and meter.

  • Yaogun – Beijing’s Best Rock n Roll Dives

    When you think of Beijing you probably imagine fantastical Ming palaces, the austere edifices of socialism or the vast Great Wall meandering its way over forested hills. You might conjure to mind the scholars and scribes, the courtiers, artisans, eunuch and royal concubines who once inhabited the imperial citadel. Or perhaps you think of contemporary China – crowded highways, a festering high-tech industry, malls decorated with the plastic trappings of consumerism. Rock music is seldom what comes immediately to mind when one thinks of the Chinese capital.

  • Guiyang and Beyond

    Guizhou – a province of cloud-quilted mountainous, deep river gorges and lost valleys. The remarkable topography here has shaped a myriad of minority cultures; peoples that to this day make southwest China one of the most intriguing places to visit. And these diverse people typically converge in Guiyang, the rambling capital at the heart of this unique quarter of the Middle Kingdom.

  • Lost in a Beijing Museum

    It stands to reason that Beijing, being the capital city, posses a multitude of museums to explore. Perhaps most famous of all is the Palace Museum, a sort of living, breathing insight into decadent imperial life during Ming-Qing China. It is of course better known as the Forbidden City.

  • The Marvels of Shanxi

    The province of Shanxi covers a large plateau in northern China. Landlocked and averaging at 1000 metres above sea level, the Yellow River flanks its western border, while its tributaries, the Fen and Qin, feed much of this rain-starved region. Mount Wutai in the northeast is Shanxi’s tallest peak standing at 3058 metres.

  • Experience Datong Reborn

    Anyone who’d visited the city of Datong in northeastern Shanxi province a decade or so ago would have reported on a crumbling old town blighted by smog. Much of the city’s architecture would have constituted Mao-era square brick tenements. The coal industry was the only thing turning the wheels of the economy.

  • Within the Walls of Ancient Pingyao

    Shanxi, the vast and arid plateau to the west of Beijing known principally for its coal mining industry, is in fact, a part of China steeped in history. Nowhere is the rich heritage of this landlocked locale better exemplified that in the gorgeous, historical town of Pingyao

  • Beijing Through Literature

    We tend to get to know a place through its writers: Victorian England through Dickens, the American South through Faulkner, Colombia through Marquez and Paris via Baudelaire. And of course, Beijing is no exception, with rich literary heritage and plenty of associated sites of pilgrimage for the bookish backpacker to uncover.

  • Spice, Rice and all things Changsha

    ​Superficially there’s little remarkable about Changsha. The city suffered heavily from fighting in 1938 during the Sino-Japanese war and much of it had to be rebuilt. Today the capital of landlocked Hunan province is most readily associated with its most famous adopted son Mao Zedong. The Great Helmsman hailed from nearby Shaoshan but spent time in Changsha as a student from 1913 to 1918 and again from 1920 to 1922, this time as a teacher. The Mao-related sights are, indeed, of interest to anyone with glee for modern Chinese history. But Changsha’s story reaches way back before the tumult of the twentieth-century.

  • The Wonders of Wuhan

    Right in the middle of the Middle Kingdom, mighty Wuhan is the capital of Hubei province – for centuries a rich agricultural basin bisected by the Yangtze River. Wuhan is a tri-city, a conglomeration of Wuchang, Hankou, and Hanyang, so it stands to reason that the present headcount is over ten million souls, making it the most populous city in central China. Nowadays Wuhan is a thriving student town with a plethora of higher-education institutions attracting the region's best and brightest. Driving Hubei’s economic wheels Wuhan produces many of the world’s automobiles, as well as pharmaceuticals and steel. But it’s along the thread-lines of Hubei’s 3,500 years of history that we uncover what has made Wuhan the core Chinese city it is today.

  • Noodles Unwound: China's Most Popular Styles of Noodles

    Though many civilizations along the fabled Silk Road claim to have invented noodles, scribes of the Han dynasty were the first to document what was fast becoming a Han China staple dish. Over successive dynasties, the consumption of noodles evolved and spread throughout the Celestial Empire where different regions interpreted and molded noodle consumption to fit local mores and tastes.

  • Detox your mind and body in Beijing

    Beijing, the giant capital of China overseeing the lives of 1.4 billion people. It has been the capital of China for much of the last 900 hundred years. Today the municipality is home to almost 22 million people, more if you consider the satellite towns fast converging as the Jing-jin-ji megalopolis. It is home to seven UNESCO world heritage sites, China’s best universities including Peking and Qinghua, the country’s major political institutions as well as many corporate headquarters. Its subway is the world busiest and the “city of bicycles” could just as well be dubbed the city of cars, trucks, scooters and motorbikes. In 2008 Beijing hosted the world’s most expensive Olympics and it will host the Winter Olympics in 2022.

  • Revitalise in Bama

    The Bama Yao Autonomous County in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region is no easy find. The bus departs provincial capital Nanning and follows an expressway through the pastoral lands of the South, veering past banana plantations, rice fields, grubby roadside garages and pig farms until it finds the hills. Here the Han Chinese lowlands submit to the highlands of Zhuang and Yao peoples, isolated villages clinging to the crooked karst landscape that dominates and defines so much of southwest China.

  • Dive into the legends and history of Jiangxi’s Capital, Nanchang

    Wedged between Fujian and Hunan the landlocked southern province of Jiangxi is often overshadowed by its more boisterous neighbours. This has had the converse affect of preserving a lush environment of rice fields and forested hills, not to mention leaving Jiangxi’s many cultural and historic sites unburdened by marauding tour groups.

  • Explore China's History Off the Beaten Path in Old Fuzhou

    Many overlook Fuzhou in their rush northeast to the tea fields of Wuyi Mountain or south to Xiamen, which is home to a much-revered collection of colonial villas. But while many use Fuzhou as a point of transit, this semi-prosperous provincial capital it is in fact a pleasant place to while away a few days. The city and surrounding region has its own culture and an architectural style distinct from other regions in China and Fujian, which informs the area’s unique culinary and linguistic traditions.

  • Eating Out in Guangzhou

    Given the large southern Chinese diaspora and Canton chef’s dominance in the kitchens of the world, Cantonese food is today a global commodity. Indeed, if you haven’t been to China, what you deem “Chinese food” might well be Cantonese in origin. The eclectic if distinctive fare of the Middle Kingdom’s Deep South is one (if not the) most revered of all China’s Eight Culinary Traditions, unmatched in the clarity of its flavours and its appealing presentation. Nowadays it’s enjoyed nationwide in China, from Beijing to Shanghai. But to taste the real deal you’ll need to head to Guangdong’s provincial capital Guangzhou, a city where eating out is more a religion than a means of sustenance.

About the author

Thomas grew up beneath heavy clouds in the South Wales suburbs. After reading too many books, he decided to see for himself what this weird world had on offer. Now an itinerant traveler, writer and photographer usually lost somewhere in East Asia, he prints his musings in a number of notable publications and has contributed to several guidebooks including Rough Guides China and Dunhuang: A City on the Silk Road. When he's not wandering, he can sometimes be found practising mandolin in Beijing.

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