March is international literary festival season in China, and I'm thrilled to be touring five major cities as a guest of the Bookworm Festival and M on the Bund's Shanghai Festival - with extra hospitality from the British Council.
|The Beijing Bookworm|
I arrive in Beijing on March 8 just a few hours after Malaysian Airlines flight 370 was due to land there, and the plane's disappearance turns into the grim theme tune of my two weeks in Asia. My father, Max Oxford, investigated many a crash when he ran civil aviation in Hong Kong and Malaysia half a century ago - but nothing like this baffling loss.
My first festival session is held on Sunday evening in the stylish atrium of the Opposite House - the hotel where I'm also staying. Fergus Naughton (from Jonathan Fenby's company, Trusted Sources) moderates a great discussion of At Least We Lived. I read a few passages and talk about the book, with several Beijing-based journalist friends asking apt questions. Some British diplomats are also in the largely expat audience. Friends take me out for an excellent Yunnanese dinner afterwards. Many plan to relocate from Beijing because of the noxious pollution - you shouldn't be able to smell the air, says one.
|Opposite House Atrium from above|
|The Red Gate|
On Monday other friends take me for a splendid lunch at Lost Heaven (also Yunnanese!), a smart restaurant in the historic complex that once housed the American Embassy. Then we stop by the Red Gate Gallery to see up close the watchtower made famous by Paul French's Midnight in Peking.
|At Least We Lived on display at the Beijing Bookworm|
|Paul Ham, a volunteer, Emma, Christopher New & Janette Jenkins|
We stay on afterwards for pizza and a drink in the busy Bookworm bar - also a chance to chat to the Festival director, Peter Goff.