When I woke up, the news apps on my phone were all going crazy with reports of massive upset at home. Last year I was away in Thailand when Brexit struck. This time it appeared I was missing one of the biggest shocks in a UK election, with an exit poll predicting that Jeremy Corbyn could be our next Prime Minister. Didn’t have too much time to dwell on that though as I had to dress up as Sandra Dee for our ‘Grease’ parody song, where John “Barney Harwood” Travolta leads me round Zhaoxing village explaining the history of Dong architecture. An average day’s work for me really.
In between dancing about on covered wooden footbridges and in front of large wooden towers I would check my phone using our portable wifi dongle to see what the score was back home, all of us slack jawed as the UK turned upside down with established SNP politicians turfed out by Tories and the supposedly useless Labour leader defying all expectations and giving the Prime Minister a run for her money. By the end of filming it was pretty clear that we’d be coming home to a UK that was in even more of a mess than it was when we left. One party China must think we’re bonkers.
The village is a bit of an odd place. Its most beautiful features were torn down in the Cultural Revolution, before guilty party officials had it all rebuilt in the early 80s, so you’re never quite sure whether you’re looking at something genuinely old or not. Half tourist toy town, half people going about their native life leading cows through the street or chopping wood, I couldn’t work the place out at all.
Despite a late start we made up good time and managed to fit in a sketch with Barney and I dressed as Chinese officials inventing paper, and a link for our compilation show, before piling into our people carriers and setting off on a drive through the sometimes man made valleys, with whole hillsides of rock cut away to make space for tower blocks and garages. Like the rest of this country growth has exploded in the last 20 years, but a lot of the time it seems like they’re not quite sure what to do with all the money. Empty roads are constructed, hastily built tower complexes sit virtually empty and shops and pavements pop up seemingly at random. I get the feeling they need to slow down a bit, take a deep breath, and work out what it is they’re trying to achieve with all this.
Checked into our hotel in the Beishang District (a confusingly named, quite large town) and then grabbed some ty