Photographs from Slchuan. Including a birth control poster



Alex Neilson has recently returned from a cultural exchange visit to China. Here. to coincide with Chinese New Year, he gives some of his impressions ofthe country and presents a selection of the photographs which are on display at Edinburgh‘s Central Library trom 6 February to 20 March. On his travels. he visited Edinburgh‘s twin city. Xi‘an.

My journey really started on a wet Wednesday morning in the Royal Scottish Museum A local journalist wanted to do a feature on Michael Jannetta. an [Edinburgh school

teacher who was also going to China.

and myself. Somehow we both ended up in Emperors‘ gowns. posing in front of a pagoda-like object. The gowns were probably Japanese. but that didn't seem to matter at the time.

I met my group at Heathrow‘s Terminal 3. and we fought our way into the ambiguous queue. The



plane was overbooked it looked as though forty people would be stranded for a week. Fortunately despite the panic we all eventually got on.

We stopped over in Islamabad to change flights. during a hazy monsoon. Everything seemed distorted. like a hall ofcrazy mirrors. The vapour was twisting and reshaping the distant trees. giving a surreal atmosphere.

The customs in Pakistan are unforgettable. Armed soldiers guard

64 The list 27 January--9 February

the plane as your luggage goes through a ritual ofsecurity checks and you simultaneously get a body search:

A few hours later we were in Karachi. Our evening in Pakistan was one of the best experiences of the trip. For the equivalent ofa few pounds we hired taxis for the evening and cruised the city. taking in the ornate buses that look like jewel boxes and the neon adverts for American and European products.

We took off for Beijing early next morning. The views of the hot (‘hinese deserts bewitched many people. myselfincludcd. for hours and hours. Soon we were in a Beijing hotel being treated to a banquet of fifteen courses with wines and spirits.

Then unexpectedly we were heading for the Great Wall of(‘,hina. The monsoon made us look like we‘d just walked through a river. The Wall's fantastic. but there‘s too much tacky commercialism going on around it. Dozens offreemarket traders swarmed on to our coach. harassing us to buy ‘Mao‘s' the familiar green army cap and ‘I climbed the Great Wall‘ T-shirts. The fact that we had arrived ahead of schedule didn't trouble our Malaysian guide: he simply got the bus driver to drive in circles around Beijing till we arrived at the White Peacock Friendship Store which I‘d noticed halfan hour before. Friendship Stores are the official tourist shops- they‘re full of exquisite but overpriced souvenirs. ornaments. and clothes. which you can often buy elsewhere for a third of

the price.

We left Beijing on the afternoon train for Shenyang. travelling llard Sleeper. There are four classes on Chinese trains. llard Seat means what it says. Most (‘hinese travel this way as it‘s the cheapest. Soft Seat is generally used by party cadres and business people for short journeys. Hard Sleeper is bunk-bed style accommodation used by intellectuals and Government officials -- I met the Chinese national Weight-lifting Team and a TV producer in this section. Soft Sleeper is BR-style luxury with carpets. air conditioning. and an ‘off' switch for the tedius railway speakers which attack you with Alpine ‘whistle' songs. and ageing Western pop-songs like "Those were the days. my friend‘.

Shenyang is an industrial city in NE. China. reminiscent of Birmingham. I spent six weeks there attempting to learn (‘hinese language (Putonghua) and calligraphy. and grappling w ith the politics and economics of the country. which currently involves ‘borrowing capitalism‘. The city has a population of five million people and most of them collided with each other on bicycles every time they saw our unfamiliar Western faces.

I needed a haircut by this time. and found a barber with the traditional red and white striped bar. I described the trendy Edinburgh haircut that I wanted. much to the amusement ofthe hairdresser. for only five year-old boys have short hair in Shenyang.

Learning English is an obsession with the Chinese. despite the fact