Destination: Kunming

‘Beyond the Great Wall’: Exploring China’s Edges

Inspired by a recent New Yorker profile of the food writer/adventurer couple Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford, I ordered a Christmas present for myself this year: the duo’s wonderful cookbook and travelogue, Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China. It’s an affectionate look at the cultures and foodways of China’s outlying regions, including Tibet, Yunnan and Xinjiang.

The recipes, for simple dishes like Ginger and Carrot Stir-Fry, are surprisingly low maintenance. But my favorite sections are Duguid’s and Alford’s recollections of traveling in China in the mid-1980s, when the country was just opening up to foreign tourists. Alford, who taught English in Taiwan in 1982, remembers the mystique China held for Westerners at the time:

“Every once in a while I’d hear a story about someone visiting ‘the Mainland,’ traveling independently, but it seemed very hard to believe. The rumor was that a visa could be arranged in Hong Kong from a travel agent in Chungking Mansions, a low-life building full of bottom-end hostels, Indian restaurants and drug deals. It all seemed a bit unlikely—it was ‘Communist China,’ after all.”

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The Songstress of Kunming

The Songstress of Kunming Photo by autreyu via Flickr, (Creative Commons).

In the southern Chinese city, an unexpected concert prompts Jeffrey Tayler to wonder about the passage of time and the fate of history

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Tags: Mao, Music, Asia, China, Kunming

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