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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 45: 8 November

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysWe talk to some of the passengers in Intermediate, including an infectiously enthusiastic lady who has learnt English off the BBC World Service. When asked for an interview she agrees politely and just before we turn over cries, 'Wait a minute!', and rushes off to put on her lipstick.

Mid-afternoon and feeling drowsy as we pass into Hunan province - Mao's province. I talk with Mr Xie, one of our minders from China TV. He's very earnest and calls me 'Mr Mike'.

'Lot of people have deep feeling for Mao,' he says, 'but there have been economic changes that are visible, and the political changes must accompany economic changes.'

'Do you think there will be free elections in China, say, ten years from now?'

'Yes,' nods Mr Xie, frowning with concentration, 'is historical tendency.'

Now we are in amongst walls of rock rising sheer from the fields, eroded into fantastic shapes. Then we run along a narrow gorge beside a mud brown river, down which stacks of bamboos are being punted. At Zhen-zhou a couple of grimy steam engines stand tantalisingly close to our train. I hop out and ask if I might climb up into the cab. (For train buffs, the engines were 2-10-2s with smoke deflectors, built in 1981.) Whilst in the cab I notice that the engine is parked level with the roof of a long engine shed, roofed with small earthenware tiles, of the kind which Terry Gilliam, one of my timekeepers, requested I bring back. Very gently I prise one loose and return to the train, very pleased with myself.
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  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 45
  • Date: 8 November
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Guangzhou
  • Book page no: 152

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