The 1,300-year-old Fenghuang (Phoenix Town), home of the Miao ethnic group, has never lost its charm. Alan Simon
Doing justice to nature with a 'point-and-shoot'
It is a fact of life, not necessarily to be applauded, that the world is largely an English-speaking place and that most people abuse this when traveling overseas.
Wherever people are (with the exception of France, perhaps!), the natives are often ready and willing to hold a passable conversation with them, especially if they are in a service industry or trying to sell them something.
It would be all too easy to spend one's life in such blissful ignorance of any other language, were it not for the occasional mishap that occurs when one finds oneself in uncharted waters.
So it is in modern China, where its people's magnificent obsession with learning English has not yet reached those places which are for the first time opening their doors and hearts to foreigners.
One such place is Zhangjiajie in western Hunan, one of the jewels in China's tourism crown.
Blessed with the chance to explore this land of spectacular scenery, my first discovery was most unwelcome: Nobody on my media tour bus, including the guides, spoke any English and these were to be my companions for the next week.
It is a frustrating and lonely experience when everything is explained in a foreign language to people who all around are absorbing a wealth of information, chatting and generally making merry, and when even media hand-outs and maps are also in Chinese and make no sense to the rest of the group.
With my ears likely to be of limited use in the days ahead, I resolved to open my eyes instead and the visual treats all around began to penetrate my resistance, for this is truly a place where you can gaze in awe at the finest scenery imaginable.