I am an avid reader of many of the Travel pages in newsprint these days, avid because, to all intents, my travelling days are over. In my youth, I sailed across many seas, into many harbours and ports, and even travelled further that the nearest bar; well sometimes. I also lived and travelled throughout a fair stretch of Southern Africa. Most of the travel columns and sunjects are of course to be taken with a pinch (at least) of salt, because the writers are paid to shuffle out these columns, and the advertisers pay for the pretty pictures as well. But on the whole, allowing for the usual caveats of ‘buyer beware’ and ‘watch out for the steelworks hidden just down the road from your four-star hotel’, the holiday and tourist reader gets a fair bash at the truth about any country under the lights.
But I do tend to get just a little heated when only half the facts are lauded and pushed at the buyer, and the other half are quietly swept under the thick carpet. A good instance can be found in the columns of a travel writer in the Sunday Times (obviously no link) where he was asked to provide details of independent backpack travel through China. So Mr. Green goes into considerable proposals for backpack travel through this vast and fabulous (his adjective, not mine) country, with organised backpacker-style journeys readily available. He rhapsodises about the well-known tourist traps spots such as the Terracotta Warriors, or the Great Wall. Hostels and cheaper hotels are also covered, so he doesn’t leave much out of his writing.
It is a great pity that Mr. Green does not go into the other side of the marketing aisle, as it were, and after pushing aside some of the undergrowth, also tell his readers about the things which visitors to China might also see, or rather not see, if they walk about with their eyes only a little wider than normal.
They might see the People’s Security Police as they rough up and arrest any one who dares to even contemplate protesting against the overweening power of the Chinese Communist Party. They could attempt to travel the miles to visit ‘Chen Guangcheng’ the blind activist, but would also have to navigate past the echelons of Security Police who are determined to keep the activist ‘safe from harm’! They might check what happens when anyone attempts to speak out about the multitudinous abuses of basic human rights, but they are also advised to ensure that they are well-protected with medical insurance.
Finally, they might travel to the heart of Beijing itself, to see the ‘Birdsnest Stadium’, the ‘Forbidden City’ and all the other fabled sights of China’s capital; it is a pity that they won’t be able to see where five thousand students died in Tiananmen Square, because all the blood has washed away long ago, all the granite has been repaired, and absolutely no protests like this one in Hong Kong will ever be allowed, or even thought of, in the Capital City of the People’s Republic of China!