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
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 illness.
“This bread is as dry as a stick,” Sandra complained angrily.
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 from me.
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
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 different place!
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
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 her?
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 place.
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.
© Copyright 2016 Phillip Donnelly. All rights reserved.