A most exquisite delicacy

All this week there is an icy wind sweeping in from Siberia. Qingdao, the green island city, is shivering in the late Autumn chill, but that doesn’t dampen the Chinese enthusiasm for one minute. The welcome extended to guests in China is legendary, and people are inquisitive, generous to a fault, and full of fun and fortitude. They work hard and play hard, and life is very tough – as the country develops, there is fierce competition, and now there are all sorts of western novelties, such as labour issues due to market contraction. Despite the hardships in the west due to the financial crisis, I think most will be unable to imagine the devastating effects on rural migrant workers making just a few dollars a day. You’d have to reread The Grapes of Wrath. We have safety nets the Chinese can only dream of.


When I’m here it always makes me wonder how the early Portuguese navigators must have reacted to the changes in culture, language and food. You can stay for weeks or months and eat something different every day, and a broaded-minded palate is de rigeur, as you work your way through roast donkey, black preserved eggs or a dish of the infamous muddy bloody clam. Tourists don’t often get exposed to grilled scorpion atop a prawn cracker, and all the subtlety of a Chinese banquet, which is often a mix of gourmet cuisine, elaborate social occasion and hard-core drinking game. As Bryan Adams sings, “if you want to stay young get both feet in it”.

In the XVIth century the Portuguese arrived at the Zhujiang, the Pearl River delta, and began a 400 year love affair with China. By that time, all the heroes of The India Road were dead, but it was their trail-blazing that built that highway, in the true spirit of incremental discovery established by old King John II, by then 50 years in his grave. How far off it all was, as the Mathematical Junta, established by the king in the late 1400’s, discussed the challenges of sailing to the Congo, and looked at new ways to navigate the South Atlantic, using the “Golfão”, or roundhouse route, for a downwind run to the east:

http://www.theindiaroad.com/blog/1486 – the mathematical junta.pdf

At a time when many in Europe thought that sailing south meant certain death, falling off the edge of the ocean…


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