I love Travel programmes so when I found out the poised and wonderfully well spoken Joanna Lumley, who is one of our national treasures in my humble opinion; was doing a three part programme about the Trans-Siberian Express I was delighted! I was not disappointed!
This kind of programme is what ITV does so well and the seminal work of Michael Palin in the 90s with the BBC is becoming less clear in the minds of the casual viewer as Ms Lumley takes us on a journey of discovery that entertains and educates.
Rooting this journey in her own experience was a lovely touch, she spent early childhood in Hong Kong whilst it was still under British Rule and modelled in Moscow during the Sixties whilst the Soviet Union was locked in the throes of the Cold War. This first instalment was the Chinese leg of that journey and utterly enthralling it was, with jaw dropping scenery, rather upsetting facts about China and it's treatment of people both within and outside it's borders and some real characters along the way.
Her down to Earth style and her genuine interest in the people she meets were really evident, she is personally well informed and this did not feel scripted beyond the voice overs, she looks like a star but acts like us and we love that. Her little asides to camera really revealed her personality and I would pay good money to travel with her where ever she chose to go! Her have a go attitude and the truly beautiful photography made this a show I would happily watch again.
Hong Kong, now part of a communist China, but deeply entrenched in a highly capitalist way of running their country, proved an odd homecoming for Joanna, as her shoreside childhood home was now slap bang in the middle of the city after authorities had reclaimed great gouts of land from the ocean to build upon.
The train was exceptionally cheap considering Jo made money from her transaction and her reaction to the departures board did make me smile, thank heaven's for dual language boards! Her bullet train ride to Beijing a luxurious ten and a half hour ride in Business class
Chinese opulence and in some way's arrogance was so interestingly juxtaposed by the journey in the short journey in the Rolls Royce costing half a Million Pounds, British premium goods cost 30% extra in China and the average wage is just forty Thousand Pounds a year. Madam Lu, the million purchaser of the" blinged "up Rolls ( crystal encrusted interior not withstanding) was a character. Her insistence on snapping selfies whilst driving at speed on the highway was obviously disconcerting poor Jo whose utterly beautiful retorts to ask her to stop were so polite and yet steely edged.
Weirdest meal of the first episode award goes to the fast food restaurant and Maoist Cabaret where you could watch flag waving, gun toting renditions of the communist take over whilst eating pizza and chips and slugging European beer, whilst visited at your table by a Chairman Mao look alike. The experience was obviously surreal.
The scene in the infamous Tiananmen Square was indicative both of the effect China has had on it surrounding nations and Joanna's attitudes to communist rule, illustrated most eloquently by the treatment of Tibet as a Himalayas province rather than a nation it its own right in holiday promotion. Her face said it all. She was utterly appalled and Jo once roused us a formidable foe as the Gurkha soldiers she fought for in Parliament will attest.
The Forbidden Palace is exquisite but I found it rather disheartening to see logo umbrellas at a cafe and the tradition dress of the Palace concubines being hired out for the day to the eager punters and the hilarious comment on the suggestion Jo hire one, rebutted with a " I am not sure it would look good on a European followed directly by a shot of two blondes in the bright jewel outfits and Jo's comment " You look Enchanting" true sarcasm wrapped in silk!
The Buddhist faith is still big in the architecture and Jo is guided by Jason who tugs at the heart strings, his love of Art and poetry is at odds with national sentiment that commerce and money is the path to happiness and Joanna's attempts to encourage his creativity is lovely to behold.
Built to repel the Mogols after the three Generation empire, of Genghis a Khan and his descendants, the Chinese wall really is a feat and it's sheer scale is hard to fathom when you realise that towers are built on hills higher than Snowdon and the length was surveyed at three thousand miles or more which is the journey to, and back From New York from London. The dawn arrival at the wall that Joanna makes is truly majestic.
Entry into Mongolia is a right Palaver, with all the wheels on the train having to be changed and masses of paperwork, but to wake up in the creation glory of the Gobi dessert must be amazing! The Shaman was a very strange little man with the best voice I have ever, ever heard, like a gremlin with an eighty fag a day habit, but seemed pretty astute and who wouldn't want their future naughtiness whipped out of them with a whippy stick? A really humorous end to a wonderfully diverse and incredibly interesting journey through China and into the full wild grandeur of Mongolia.