US scholar Deborah Brautigam once said that people in China know too little about Africa. That’s hard to deny, since most popular travel books focus on Europe and the Americas.
African culture and history tends to remain a mystery.
Chinese psychologist and writer Bi Shumin hopes to change that with 30,000 Miles of Africa, a new book that offers a glimpse into everyday life on the massive continent.
The 250,000-word book records Bi’s 56-day trip through Africa by way of the Rovos Rail, one of the 10 most luxurious trains rated by the National Geographic.
Bi describes the Rovos Rail as a miniature United Nations that brings together people from all walks of life. While passengers of the train are largely the rich and powerful people from the upper class, the train passes through impoverished slums of underdeveloped African regions. Bi observed the contrasting classes to understand Africa’s huge wealth gap.
Starting from South Africa and following the Cape of Good Hope, the train passes by Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania and travels straight to northern Africa.
Unlike common travel guides about Africa, the “spiritual mentor of Chinese-speaking world” wrote the book mainly from the perspective of African history and culture. The book is composed of 28 chapters, each with a short story about what Bi sees and hears.
For example, she describes her visit to local museums, her immersion into the African natural environment, local governments’ disruptive actions, her astonishment when hearing about the notorious Atlantic Slave Trade and her admiration for the life achievements of Nelson Mandela.
One highlight of the book is Bi’s visit to Soweto in South Africa, the world’s largest slum. As a former military doctor, Bi risked her life to see the most unprivileged population in the area with Africa’s highest crime rate.
Aside from slums, Bi also recorded how many in the African middleclass understand China. Most African people, in Bi’s words, lacks a basic understanding of China’s development and still dream of making money by trading touchtone phones in China.