When I grew up in the West, I learned that China consisted of about two rivers (Yangtze and Yellow River) and a few cities (Peking, Shanghai, and Canton).  Only later did I realise how huge the blank spaces were in my mental map of China.  Since 1984, thanks also to my Chinese wife, I have been filling in some of those blanks.  When we moved to Hong Kong in 2005, we set ourselves the goal of visiting each province of China: while we are still far from reaching that goal, we indeed have seen many fascinating parts of China.

For example, visiting Kaifeng in Henan Province, a place I had never heard of before, was an eye-opener: I learned that this ancient capital of China was probably the largest city in the world for over a century, despite repeated destruction by wars and floods from the nearby Yellow River! 

I also discovered the impressive trading power of the modest town of Xidi (西遞) in Anhui Province near the famous Huangshan Mountains; it is now protected as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. It offers a fascinating glimpse into Chinese life in the 18th and 19th centuries. When my wife and I visited there, a remarkable experience happened to me. We were standing under a high richly-decorated stage. I stood out among the crowd due to my height and western face. Several young women dressed in traditional costumes announced that one beautiful Chinese girl on the stage would throw an embroidered ball at the crowd. Whoever could catch the ball would go onto the stage. I did not understand this, but caught the ball when it was thrown straight at me. I was kindly led onto the stage. Only then did I understand that I was reenacting an old tradition: I had been chosen as the bridegroom by the young lady who threw the ball at me. I was made to wear a beautiful Chinese silk costume, and then looked down for my real wife with embarrassment. Luckily for me, she laughed approvingly, while the spectators cheered hilariously...

Stay tuned for more of my adventures in China.