PROLOGUE

I leave on September 4, after having spent many of the week-ends in July and August in planning the travel. The idea took form in my mind in Spring when, mostly by chance, I read a couple of books about China: "The forbidden door" by Tiziano Terzani and "L'impero di Cindia" by Federico Rampini. Those books have been written approximately 20 years apart and they seem to speak about two different countries, which tells a lot on how fast China has changed, and is still changing. The relentless attention (or is it fear?) of the media and the business for China, its age-old history and traditions, its stormy but intriguing 20th-century history, its huge population and, last but not least, its recent international recognitions (China is going to host the 2008 Olympic Games) completed the picture and convinced me to go and see this country.

The residual doubts are swept away when I ask a friend, who travelled in China in Spring 2005, whether it can be dangerous to go and visit the secluded villages in the country, and he answers, half-serious: "In Chinese villages there are at least one million people".
I have approximately 45 days to spend in China. While they seemed a lot to me in the beginning, things changed dramatically as soon as I started to draw a detailed plan of my travel, with the help of a couple of travel guides (Lonely Planet and Dorling Kindersley) and online resources such as Wikipedia. I quickly realized that no, 45 days are not much, and the most painful part of the planning consisted in deciding what to leave out. Tibet and the well-known three gorges on the Yangtze River are the most important victims, but by no means the only ones: the Hainan island and its tropical beaches will be regretted for long .

Based on my previous travel in Russia in 2005, I try and come up with a detailed plan of the travel before starting. As strange as it may seem, you can get more information when you are at home, with Internet and books always available, than when you are at destination, in a country speaking an unknown language and with several other barriers. Plans can then be changed (it will be the case) but having one when you start is important and psychologically encouraging.