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During the months before I finally headed into China, I had slowly started to dislike travelling. Half a year in Southeast Asia had led me to become bored by the easy road – a path not only worn out, but stomped to death by millions of tourist feet. I started dreading going places, because while in theory it might easy to get there due to the abundance of information, I always had to anticipate the crowd of rude and annoying tuktuk-, taxi- and busdrivers who have all made it their personal mission in life to rip off as many tourists as they can. I was sick of fighting all the time for all the wrong things – fighting for space with the crowds of partypackers who have only left their home country to drink and pass out somewhere else, fighting to find some nature that hasn’t been destroyed or covered in garbage and fighting the ever present scammers, touts, drug dealers, rip-off artists, child beggars and pushy vendors .
Needless to say, while I quite liked a few destinations, I had a feeling that Southeast Asia and I might just generally not get along. This hunch was finally confirmed in Changsha, my first stop in China, where travelling immediately stopped being this weird combination of boring and frustrating and started being fun again. Buying my first train ticket took me two hours, which included locating the ticket office in the station, trying to find the right counter among thousands of shoving commuters, standing in line for an hour and then explaining where I wanted to go with hands, feet and a Mandarin app. Even ordering food was an adventure again and meant pointing at a few random Chinese signs and hoping the steaming pot coming out of the kitchen would be good. It took almost a week of travelling in China until I spotted another white person. People on the streets said hello with a smile, not because they planned on ripping me off in one way or another, but because they simply wanted to be friendly and practice a few words of English.
Changsha is a city most people skip on their trip through China. They head straight for Zhangjiajie or Guilin and at most, travellers might switch trains in Hunan’s capital or use its airport. I had only ended up in Changsha, because somewhere online, Brendan and I had spotted a photo of a gigantic Mao head and we decided that this was enough of a curiosity, that it warranted a night or two in the city.
We eventually found the statue in the middle of the Xian River, on the 5 km long Orange Island. The island, named after its many orange trees, is a surprisingly idyllic park in a city of 7 million, which is otherwise best known for its sea of identical concrete apartment buildings, congested roads and pollution. At one end of the island, among the trees and fragrant flowers, sits the massive bust of Mao Zedong, the communist revolutionary and founding father of the People’s Republic of China. He apparently spent much of his youth in Changsha and it was here that he first got into communist thinking. Accordingly, contrary to most other depictions showing the statesman as an older man, Mao is portrayed as a young student – a dashing figure with hair blowing in the wind and the perfect symmetrical features only a statue could have. Of course, the Mao head isn’t without critics, as many thought the 300 million spent on excessive hero worship could have been better used elsewhere.
Excessive or not, the statue of Mao Zedong is worth a visit and the rest of Orange Island is perfect for a stroll or day out as well. Inside the huge park area full of walking paths, flower beds, ponds and cafés, there is also a free cultural area with a pagoda and a Buddhist temple. If you have the time, stay a night or two in Changsha and check out this really cool attraction.