Armchair Travel to China
If you have ever dreamed of travelling around China off the beaten path, you must read the book "Fried Eggs with Chopsticks" by Polly Evans. This book was published ten years ago so things may have changed quite a bit since then, but it is still one of the most fascinating travel books I have ever read.
Evans vows to visit the "real" China beyond the large, developed cities mainly by public transport, and explores many distant and often unsavoury areas of the country. She is a marvellous writer and doesn't pull any punches. She refers to China "still festering outside" and describes many unpleasant aspects of her travels. For example, "The view from the window of the bus...would have been much improved had the girl in the seat in front not vomited quite so violently."
But she also mentions the kindness of many people she encounters, and the beauty of many little explored parts of the country. Her knowledge of Chinese history is extensive, perhaps because she spent several years living and working in Hong Kong. However, her knowledge of the language was not great, and I am full of admiration for her bravery in undertaking such a trip despite this handicap.
She writes in the book about a chance encounter along the way with better-known British travel writer Michael Palin. I admire his work too, but I believe this book puts her in the same category as Palin, Paul Theroux, Freya Stark and other greats of the genre.
I'm looking forward to reading more of her books. Her Website is www.pollyevans.com, and there is an interview with her on www.diversetraveller.com. The latter is a very interesting British-based site devoted to travel writing by women.