Information on the Author
Phillip Donnelly grew up in Dublin. After completing a
psychology degree, he realised that he was profoundly
misanthropic, and started travelling the world looking for
aliens to take him to another plan.
Unable to speak any foreign languages, he decided to teach
English as a foreign language, as this was the only job that
would allow him to travel widely without any marketable skills
or noticeable intelligence.He has unsuccessfully searched for
life from outer space in classrooms in the following countries:
Spain, China, Russia, Thailand, Hong Kong, the UAE and France.
He currently lives in Paris with his patient and long-suffering
wife who never gives up hope that his condition might improve.
Apart from this piece of travel writing he has also 'published'
travel writings on India, a novel (Zoo) and a book of short
stories (A.S.S.). He has recently ventured into the moving
image, and been equally unsuccessful in that field.
More information on this strange but harmless creature can be
found on his website and his YouTube channel.
This 'book' has had three forms. Beginning life as a notebook I
scribbled into on a four-week journey around China in 2005, it
was later typed up and published on line, both on my own deserted
web site and on various travel web sites. .
Anxious to be able to say I had 'published' four books in three
months, I decided to covert the web travel writing into dead tree
format, thinking it would only take a few days. However, it has
taken far longer, since large parts of it had to be rewritten,
being too awful for even me to put my name to. It is, of course,
still badly written, but at least it's better than it was.
As with everything I write, it is more a journey through my own
mind than anything else, but since that is where I live, I make
no apologies for it. Moreover, thus far at least, my five loyal
readers have been quite understanding.
This preface is rambling, self-indulgent and far more
concerned with the author's internal state of mind than with
describing China. It is intended to prepare the reader for the
rest of the book, but can be skipped by those already familiar
with author's style, or those suffering from a psychiatric
"This bread is as dry as a stick," Sandra complained
It's strange: the thoughts that go through your head on a
holiday. While one should be inspired by the chance to experience
a new culture and the sheer joy of travelling, it is the hum-drum
trivialities that tend to occupy one's mind for a disconcertingly
large part of the day.
The same day-to-day concerns that occupy your mind during the
working week tend to rear their ugly heads when you're away as
well. You cannot escape them, try as you might.
It was the same from the very beginning of the trip. Even on the
flight from Bangkok to Macao, when I should have been salivating
at the thought of one month exploring China, I found myself
fixated on a group of noisy passengers sitting across the aisle
To be honest, it would have been difficult not to notice them, as
they were louder than the plane's engines. They spent the entire
flight shouting at each other, but in a friendly way. Not for the
first time in my life, I wondered why some people shout rather
than speak to people who are right beside them.
They were the kind of passengers who are incapable of sitting
down. Like noisy children in a fairground, their energy bubbled
over and they could not be still; even when seated they
gesticulating wildly with their arms.
Jetting off into fantasy land, I wished there was a more thorough
segregation of passengers at check-in. They used to separate
smokers from non-smokers, so why don't they separate noisy people
from quiet people?
It wouldn't be hard to do. The check-in girl would simply have to
ask you, "Would you like a noisy or a quiet seat, sir?"
and then seat you accordingly. In fact, why not does the same
thing at the job centre too: "Would you like to work in a
quiet office or a noisy office?" It could even be extended
to the social sphere, with 'quiet parties' and 'noisy parties'.
And what about education? Why shouldn't students have the right
to demand a 'quiet teacher'? If I ruled the world, it would be a
All planes, for example, should be required to have a separate
section for children, of course, or perhaps they could just be
put in the hold with the baggage. I don't really care where they
seat children, just so long as they keep them well away from me.
By now, completely oblivious to the fact that I was on a plane
journey to a land I had always dreamed of travelling in, I
instead considered a new law to enact when I'm placed in charge
of the planet which would require those whose voices that exceed
a certain decibel level in any enclosed space to be fined, using
ANDs (Automated Noise Detectors), which would be placed beside
smoke alarms in all public buildings.
It is often like this with me. My travel notes are full of
bizarre schemes like the one above. My mind is like a spidergram
that is constantly spinning out of control; a mind that cannot
stay focused around its central circle; a mind that cannot
tolerate reality for more than the briefest of periods before
throwing itself into fantasy.
Lost as I was in developing my ten-point plan for world
dominations and the creation of a fair and just society for the
subjugated introverts of this world, and deciding which Morrissey
song would be the world's new anthem, I dozed off in the
surprisingly comfortable airplane chair.
I woke up with a start, horrified to find myself surrounded by
strangers, but after reminding myself where I was and what I was
doing, I picked up my book on Chinese history and tried to read
it. However, I was still in the Neolithic era, a remarkably
boring period, and instead my mind returned to studying the
people around me.
I wonder if people realise that when they travel on public
transport, or sit in a caf�, or do just about anything in any
public place, people like me are studying and analysing them. I
do it covertly, appearing to be lost in thought, often with an
open but unread book in front of me.
I'm sure I'm not the only one out there who studies people. I'm
sure there are many others like me; watching and analysing
complete strangers for no reason whatsoever. As you read this
book, perhaps you too are being watched. You may end up being a
paragraph or a page in a travelogue. You might even become a
character in a novel. There is no way to defend against this sort
of character theft.
At this point, lest the casual reader think I am going to spend
the entire book describing the imagery lives of people
unfortunate enough to sit next to me, let me assure you that this
prelude does not reflect the rest of the book. It is only
intended to make the point that consciousness is a ferret-like
creature, darting hither and thither, and difficult to control.
Being on holiday and taking notes for a travel book you intend to
write does not change that. You are still you: you are just in a
different place; but all the petty neuroses; all the prejudices;
all the experiences that have shaped you, for better or for
worse, are still there too; like unwanted hitchhikers you picked
up and can't get rid of.
In rewriting this travelogue for the third time, I have
endeavoured to eliminate the worst excesses in my
self-indulgent writing, but I have not expunged introspective
thought and restricted myself to simply describing things. To ape
an objective descriptive style would be to rob myself of the
reason for writing, which is to understand myself more.
To move away from the why's and the how's of writing this book,
let me briefly describe my 'credentials' for writing this book,
so to speak. What do I know of China that I dare to write about
As a child, China seemed like the most exotic place on Earth. I
think it's probably like that with all children. China fascinates
western children like no other place: It is a land of dragons, of
kung-fu warriors, of emperors and pandas. I never imagined I
would be lucky enough to see it.
As a teenager, I was excited by tales of Mao's Cultural
Revolution, but had no understanding at that time of its true
horrific nature. I think I just liked the idea of the students
being able to put their teacher on trial, and I wanted to force
my P.E. teacher to denounce himself and admit his crimes.
I first actually experienced China in 2002, and worked there for
a year as an English teacher in a small town called Zhuhai, on
the south coast of China, near Hong Kong.
While a year is obviously not enough, and I freely admit that a
man could easily spend his entire life in China and still not
understand the Chinese, I would like to point out that I am not
completely ignorant of China and my opinions are not
totally without foundation.
However, I am by no means an expert on China, in any sense of the
term, so this book will instead focus on my impressions of China;
on how travelling around China affected me; on me and the Dragon.
While I admit to not being an expert on China, I am an expert on
myself. In fact, I'm the world's greatest authority on myself,
and have spent a lifetime studying the subject.
You, the reader, may ask yourself at this point, what could
possible be gained by spending your precious time reading such a
book, when there are so many 'real' books on China out there. I
do not have a proper answer for you. You will find some history,
politics and economics in this book, and may find out some facts
you don't yet know about China.
As a member of the human race and a member of the same species as
the author, you may even inadvertently find out something about
yourself. And that would be wonderful; highly unlikely, but
You may even get a laugh out of reading this book, or at least a
wry smile. I try very hard to be funny when I write; being so
unfunny in real life. I try too hard perhaps. My favourite travel
writer by far is Bill Bryson, and while I will never approach the
level of that literary genius, I can at least imitate him, or
perhaps only ape him.
But to return to my original point, after this very long
preamble, it is the hum-drum, day-to-day concerns that occupy
most conscious thought on any journey; however much you'd like to
believe you're on some epic adventure and completely divorced
from the mundane concerns of day-to-day existence. Your mind if
full of the same flotsam as always; you're just in a different
At least, it's always that way with me when I travel.
The only 'epic' thing about my journeys is the struggle to clear
my mind of junk and focus on what I'm actually seeing.
This is the story of that struggle; this is my four-week journey
through China; this is me and the Dragon.