I can’t remember the first time I saw one. Not this year,nor last. Nor buried somewhere in the shadowy dreams of childhood. Wings. Claws. Scales. Jaws. Fire.
As it goes (this is a Welsh colloquialism I’ve picked up over the last few weeks,) I see these dragons everywhere.
On street corners, on shopping aisles. In dappled flashes across backlit screens and in embroidered emblems on tight collared shirts.
This week, I am in Cardiff, Wales. A scarlet dragon stomps across their flag and there’s no chance to miss it as Wales gears up to play England in this week’s Six Nations final (it’s a rugby tournament. And kind of a big deal around here. The biggest of deals. Think hockey in Canada, baseball in the US and ,er, kangaroo racing in Australia (I’m joking. Cricket. Or Aussie rules. I’m also not so hot on sport.)
Anyway, dragons are everywhere and no-one is surprised.
Except for me…
For in my geekery I indulged in a little dragon research.
The Welsh dragon is an anomaly. The Welsh dragon defies its class. The Welsh dragon rears up against centuries of Western folklore and says…Well, actually there’s nothing threatening that can be said in a Welsh accent. Believe me. I’ve BEEN threatened with an iron bar and swinging chain and still the street banter sounded cuddly instead of cut throat.
But we digress.
The welsh dragon, like the accent, is a good one.
Across the rest of the western hemisphere, dragons symbolize evil beasts to be slain by the honourable. England’s patron saint, for example, finished off a dragon in a gesture of heroic derring do. Dastardly dragons also crop up in Catalonia, Slovenia and Disney cartoons.
The Welsh dragon, meanwhile, represents power, strength and integrity.
And on a global scale, it’s not the only one.
Cross the oceans, swim the seas and tread the land to reach the country that is home to 1/5 of the world’s population.
Home to the dragon of the east, the one that travelled to Japan, Vietnam and beyond, China’s dragon is also essentially “good.”
Which begs the question…
What other myths and legends do these countries share? What else do we think we know about places far away? About the places we call home? What stereotypes have grown legs and scales and claws and flames within our collective living memory about China and its neighbours in southeast Asia.
Well, I’m going to find out.
I’m travelling back to China, the travel dream from all those years ago, and this time I’m walking in the footsteps of dragons.
Or more accurately, having a look at myths and legends, perception and reality. Symbols and certainties.
Those of you who’ve followed this blog from the start will realise that this is something of a dream come true.
I’ll start in Hong Kong, that marbled concoction of east and west, and then spread my wings from there.
I’ll land in Hanoi (Vietnam), Yangon/Rangoon (Burma/Myanmar – more about that “slash” later) and Guilin (China.)
I’m looking to break the stereotypes, to sift through the mists, the ancient and modern folklore, and report back to you just what I see. And I’ll search for the threads that explain the links between these countries and my own.
Will I have long enough to answer those questions once and for all? No. Will I have long enough to make a damn good start? I’d like to think so. Will I tell you what it’s like and show you some gorgeous photos? You bet.
What’s in it for you?
I hope you’ll follow along. You’ll find plenty of ways to do so here within the next few weeks.
Win £200 off your trip to Asia
This project comes thanks to the generous help of Cathay Pacific UK. As usual, as always, I maintain the right to write about whatever I like and to do whatever I like so think of them as artistic sponsors if you will.
That said, they do fly to Hong Kong and beyond and there will be a competition open to subscribers at the end of my trip. £200 off the cost of a flight. Full terms, conditions and all that jazz to follow.
Right, I’m off to scramble around through visa applications, guidebooks, blogs, twitter and more to make sure I’m ready in time.
I may also procure a fluffy red dragon in time for this weekend’s match.
If you’ve any tips or tricks to share with me about unmissable, unusual things to see or do in any of those places or books to read or films to watch then please do let me know. You can reach me on Twitter,Facebook, Google+ and by email or else leave a comment on the blog below or on a snazzy country-specific page*
Here’s to the #DragonRoute!
Thanks for listening,
* Looking to share a travel tip on Vietnam? Head here