I said I didn't have any expectations. That's a lie. I did. I was hoping for something more Chinese than Chinese, bigger, better, badder, redder . . . Coming to China held the promise of dragon's heads, acrobatics, shouting waiters, brothels and mah-jong. That was the Asia I'd seen in films.
But all these images slid apart like magnets repelling each other when my eyes hit Beijing for the first time. There were no beauties scampering down streets with umbrellas. There were no Chinese Clark Gables smoking in doorways. There was a loud, dirty, busy city made all the more blurry by the fact that we were speeding along at 120 kilometres per hour.'
In this country of 1.3 billion people, James West talks to the next generation about politics and about the China they will create for themselves, without shying away from issues such as homosexuality and capital punishment.
Against a backdrop of the changing seasons in Beijing, a city he grows to love, he enters a brave new world of bloggers, gaming addicts and internet dating. He also shares his own longings, insights and lessons as an expat travelling away from all the comforts of home in a famously idiosyncratic country at one of the great turns of the global historical tide.