Paul Merton in China

Five offers a welcome second chance to catch Paul Merton’s tour of China, following its recent BAFTA nomination for Best Factual Series. In this episode, Paul heads to futuristic Shanghai, where he plays golf, meets match-making parents, dines with socialites and visits a bizarre recreation of an English town.

The last leg of Paul’s journey sees him enjoying some new experiences – the first of which is a trip on the fastest train in the world: the $1.2 billion rail link from Shanghai’s airport. The train reaches 270mph during its eight-minute journey, and Paul is astonished by the quiet, smooth ride: “It’s wonderful – exhilarating,” he says.

Shanghai has developed more than any other city in China: 20 years ago, there was just one skyscraper; now there are over 300. Paul’s hotel is the tallest in the world and his room is over 80 storeys up – not ideal considering that he is afraid of heights, and cannot even go near the balcony that overlooks the vast central shaft of the building.

“Money is what Shanghai does best,” Paul says, before meeting Rupert Hoogewerf, author of China’s Rich List. Rupert describes modern China as an example of “raw capitalism”. With no inherited wealth, there is a first generation of rich people who are enjoying the economic boom. Shanghai is at the heart of this new wealth: “It’s a city on steroids,” Rupert says. Paul sees this firsthand when he joins a businessman on one of the city’s top golf courses. This is another first for Paul, never having played the game before, and he hacks away a good bit of the course before finally sinking the first hole in a mere 74 shots.

Elsewhere in Shanghai, Paul finds parents busily engaged in match-making their children in the People’s Park. His translator Emma soon becomes involved in finding him a mate, and encourages a bemused Paul to lower his age and talk up his prospects to potential parents-in-law: “I’m going to end up married by the end of day, just by accident!” he says.

Paul’s string of firsts continues as he is fitted for his first ever tailor-made suit by the ludicrously happy Tailor Lee. Then he explores the nostalgic side of Shanghai by visiting a 1930s dance hall, where a dance instructor named Lina gives him a taste of ballroom dancing. Later, Lina takes him to an antiques market and encourages him to pose with her in a photo – in 1930s period costume. Lina is clearly smitten with Paul: “He is very gentleman,” she titters.

Paul’s “brief encounter” with Lina is followed by dinner with a group of wealthy female socialites, who wax lyrical about the freedoms they enjoy in modern China. Host Vivian Chow surprises Paul with her views of the exaggeration of the western press: “To tell you the truth, I don’t think China even has any political prisoners,” she says.

And Paul’s six-week tour is wrapped up with a homecoming – of a sort. His last stop is a bizarre, half-finished recreation of Britain called Thames Town, complete with Gothic cathedral, shops and pubs – all of them mere façades. The site is popular with couples who want their wedding photos taken against English backdrops, and Paul is even more bemused to learn that most of the houses are empty because they have been bought as investments rather than homes. “It’s very Chinese,” he says. “It’s all for show.”

As Paul looks back on his trip, he finds it difficult to choose a highlight: “I’ve experienced so much, it’s hard to take it all in,” he says. But he is enormously grateful for having had the chance to experience China in all its many aspects.

Five offers a welcome second chance to catch
Paul Merton’s tour of China, following its recent
BAFTA nomination for Best Factual Series. In this
episode, Paul sees a Chinese opera, travels down
the Li River through some of the most spectacular
scenery in the world, and heads to Guangzhou,
where he meets some Chinese Christians.
The journey resumes with Paul still in Chengdu,
where he is having what he calls “an off day”. His
Chinese translator Emma takes him to an opera to
cheer him up. Things start promisingly, with a
remarkable performance of ‘face-changing’,
whereby the actors’ masks change colour with
the flick of a fan. But Paul is less impressed with
the singing. As the epic performance proceeds,
he and several other audience members nod off,
before he loses patience and walks out. “I don’t want to be rude about somebody else’s culture,” Paul says, “but it’s horrendous.”
Troubled by an upset stomach, Paul visits Chengdu’s Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, where an English-speaking nurse named Piggy helps him through a consultation.
After describing his symptoms in intimate detail, Paul is prescribed a potent tea and subjected to a full body massage by a dedicated team.
Pounded back to health, Paul heads to Guilin, famed for its extraordinary mountainside rice terraces. From there, he travels up the Li River through incredible gorges. The boat deposits Paul in Yangshuo, a “modern, rather brash resort”, and he checks into a hotel named Fawlty Towers, where staff answer to the names of Basil, Sybil and Manuel. “This has to be the bizarrest example yet of the Chinese giving themselves English names,” Paul says.
Paul ventures out into the unspoilt countryside on a bike. “Incredibly, only half an hour’s bike ride from Yangshuo and I seem to have cycled back 100 years,” he says. That night, he witnesses traditional cormorant fishing, where fishermen use cormorants to catch fish in the river. “It’s such an incredibly good idea!” Paul declares.
From the heart of countryside, Paul travels to Guangzhou, formerly Canton. Located near Hong Kong, the city is home to a thriving international community and has been referred to as the modern ‘workshop of the world’, with the region’s heavy industry accounting for 40 per cent of China’s exports. Paul is quite taken by Guangzhou, especially the waterfront at night, where brilliantly lit boats pass in front of a skyline reminiscent of “a cleaned-up version of Blade Runner”.
Church bells on a Sunday morning draw Paul’s attention to the city’s large Christian population. Now the fastest growing religion in China, Christianity is cautiously tolerated by the government, who nonethless censor services. Paul visits an ‘underground’ church where 82- year-old Samuel Lamb preaches to a huge congregation in his house. Such is the size of the crowd that the service is played on TV screens in different rooms. Mr Lamb has spent over 20 years in prison for his insistence on preaching “everything in the Bible”. “We are not against the government,” he says. “The government is against us.”
Elsewhere in Guangzhou, Paul joins a running club for westerners, which turns out to be more of a ‘pick-up joint’ for Chinese women to shop for Western husbands. He also meets westerners who are adopting unwanted Chinese babies. Paul is intrigued by this “rather extreme example of the Chinese takeaway”, and talks to the mothers-to-be to find out more.

Five offers a welcome second chance to catch
Paul Merton’s tour of China, following its recent
BAFTA nomination for Best Factual Series. In
this episode, Paul tries his hand at kung fu, visits a
Tibetan monastery and takes in two of the most
populous cities in China.
In search of some spiritual relaxation, Paul heads
for the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province, famed
as the birthplace of Zen Buddhism. Sitting on the
temple’s steps, Paul reflects on his interest in
Buddhism and the afterlife: “I’ve had my spiritual
moments,” he says. “I have meditated in the past.”
The Shaolin Temple is also a centre of kung fu
training, and when Paul checks in for some
meditation classes, he ends up on a kung fu
course instead. A 5km dawn run is followed by a
gruelling exercise regime, and Paul finds that the
boot-camp mentality goes against all his instincts:
“I’ve never felt less like an individual in my life!” he says. When he watches a fellow trainee receive a sharp jab in the stomach, he calls a premature end to his kung fu career. Fortunately, a ‘showbiz’
version of kung fu is happening nearby, and Paul gets to play a cameo role in a TV movie. With a little help from his stunt double, he trounces a gang of thugs.
Still in search of spiritual enlightenment, Paul takes a trip to one of the most politically sensitive areas in China: eastern Tibet. Under the watchful eyes of his Chinese minders, Paul and his local guide, Wandhi, embark on a ten-hour trip over rough mountain roads to the Tibetan monastery of Labrang. Founded in 1707, this centre of pilgrimage belongs to the yellow-hat sect of Buddhism, and Paul is visibly moved by the sight of over 1,000 monks chanting together.
In the town, Paul meets Wandhi’s Dutch wife, Clary, who talks about life in this remote part of China. When she first visited 12 years ago, Labrang reminded her of a “Wild West town”.
Now Clary worries that new roads will open up the region and damage the local way of life. It is a fear shared by the nomadic families living on the grasslands. Paul meets friends of Wandhi in their tent and shares a lunch of lamb meat cooked in the animal’s own stomach. He has fun playing with the nomads’ children, introducing them to their first balloon, and is shocked to hear that the government plans to build an airport nearby: “I feel fortunate to have seen this place before it’s too late,” he says.
From one of the emptiest areas of China, Paul travels to the most populous: Chongqing, the fastest-growing metropolis in the world with 30 million people. Heavy industry has created a haze of pollution over the city, but British resident David Foster is enthusiastic about the government’s efforts to stimulate the economy: “It’s a city where you get a really close feel for what’s happening in China,” he says. At night, Paul joins in the mass line dancing in the People’s Square. Although he railed against this sort of uniform activity in the kung fu college, Paul finds the dancing “strangely compulsive”. “Maybe China’s beginning to rub off on me,” he reflects.
Before boarding a train to Chengdu, Paul makes an impulse buy of two fighting crickets, which he swiftly names Tony and Gordon – only for them to make a bid for freedom on the train. More oddity lies in store in Chengdu, where Paul meets a businessman with a chain of dog-grooming parlours. And, whilst searching for a place to eat, he witnesses a very different example of the Chinese fondness for man’s best friend.

paul merton in china (4/4)
21.00–22.00

Comedian Paul Merton concludes his six-week tour of China for Five. Tonight, Paul heads to futuristic Shanghai, where he plays golf, meets match-making parents, dines with socialites and visits a bizarre recreation of an English town.

The last leg of Paul’s journey sees him enjoying some new experiences – the first of which is a trip on the fastest train in the world: the $1.2 billion rail link from Shanghai’s airport. The train reaches 270mph during its eight-minute journey, and Paul is astonished by the quiet, smooth ride: “It’s wonderful – exhilarating,” he says.

Shanghai has developed more than any other city in China: 20 years ago, there was just one skyscraper; now there are over 300. Paul’s hotel is the tallest in the world and his room is over 80 storeys up – not ideal considering that he is afraid of heights, and cannot even go near the balcony that overlooks the vast central shaft of the building.

“Money is what Shanghai does best,” Paul says, before meeting Rupert Hoogewerf, author of China’s Rich List. Rupert describes modern China as an example of “raw capitalism”. With no inherited wealth, there is a first generation of rich people who are enjoying the economic boom. Shanghai is at the heart of this new wealth: “It’s a city on steroids,” Rupert says. Paul sees this firsthand when he joins a businessman on one of the city’s top golf courses. This is another first for Paul, never having played the game before, and he hacks away a good bit of the course before finally sinking the first hole in a mere 74 shots.

Elsewhere in Shanghai, Paul finds parents busily engaged in match-making their children in the People’s Park. His translator Emma soon becomes involved in finding him a mate, and encourages a bemused Paul to lower his age and talk up his prospects to potential parents-in-law: “I’m going to end up married by the end of day, just by accident!” he says.

Paul’s string of firsts continues as he is fitted for his first ever tailor-made suit by the ludicrously happy Tailor Lee. Then he explores the nostalgic side of Shanghai by visiting a 1930s dance hall, where a dance instructor named Lina gives him his first taste of ballroom dancing. Later, Lina takes him to an antiques market and encourages him to pose with her in a photo – in 1930s period costume. Lina is clearly smitten with Paul: “He is very gentleman,” she titters.

Paul’s “brief encounter” with Lina is followed by dinner with a group of wealthy female socialites, who wax lyrical about the freedoms they enjoy in modern China. Host Vivian Chow surprises Paul with her views of the exaggerations of the western press: “To tell you the truth, I don’t think China even has any political prisoners,” she says.

And Paul’s six-week tour is wrapped up with a homecoming – of a sort. His last stop is a bizarre, half-finished recreation of Britain called Thames Town, complete with Gothic cathedral, shops and pubs – all of them mere facades. The site is popular with couples who want their wedding photos taken against English backdrops, and Paul is even more bemused to learn that most of the houses are empty because they have been bought as investments rather than homes. “It’s very Chinese,” he says. “It’s all for show.”

As Paul looks back on his trip, he finds it difficult to choose a highlight: “I’ve experienced so much, it’s hard to take it all in,” he says. But he is enormously grateful for having had the chance to experience China in all its many aspects.

paul merton in china (3/4)
21.00–22.00

Comedian Paul Merton continues his six-week tour of China for Five. Paul’s trip takes in the major cities as well as some of the most remote backwaters this vast country has to offer. Tonight, Paul sees a Chinese opera, travels down the Li River through some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, and heads to Guangzhou, where he meets some Chinese Christians.

The journey resumes with Paul still in Chengdu, where he is having an “off day”. His Chinese translator Emma takes him to an opera to cheer him up. Things start promisingly, with a remarkable performance of ‘face-changing’, whereby the actors’ masks change colour with the flick of a fan. But Paul is less impressed with the singing. As the epic performance proceeds, he and several other audience members nod off, before he can take no more and walks out. “I don’t want to be rude about somebody else’s culture,” Paul says, “but it’s horrendous.”

Troubled by an upset stomach, Paul visits Chengdu’s Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, where an English-speaking nurse named ‘Piggy’ helps him through a consultation. After describing his symptoms in intimate detail, Paul is prescribed a potent tea and subjected to a full body massage by a dedicated team.

Pounded back to health, Paul heads to Guilin, famed for its extraordinary mountainside rice terraces. From there, he travels up the Li River through incredible gorges. The boat deposits Paul in Yangshuo, a “modern, rather brash resort”, and he checks into a hotel named Fawlty Towers, where staff answer to the names of ‘Basil’, ‘Sybil’ and ‘Manuel’. “This has to be the bizarrest example yet of the Chinese giving themselves English names,” Paul says.

Paul ventures out into the unspoilt countryside on a bike. “Incredibly, only half an hour’s bike ride from Yangshuo and I seem to have cycled back 100 years,” he says. That night, he witnesses traditional cormorant fishing, where fishermen use birds to catch fish in the river. Cords are tied around the cormorants’ necks as they dive for fish so that they regurgitate the larger fish for the fishermen to collect. “It’s such an incredibly good idea!” Paul declares.

From the heart of countryside, Paul travels to Guangzhou, formerly Canton. Located near Hong Kong, the city is home to a thriving international community and has been referred to as the modern “workshop of the world”, with the region’s heavy industry accounting for 40 per cent of China’s exports. Paul is rather taken by Guangzhou, especially the waterfront at night, where brilliantly lit “camp boats” pass in front of a skyline reminiscent of a “cleaned-up version of Blade Runner”.

Church bells on a Sunday morning draw Paul’s attention to the city’s large Christian population. Now the fastest growing religion in China, Christianity is cautiously tolerated by the government, who nonethless censor services. Paul visits an ‘underground’ church where 82year-old Samuel Lamb preaches to a huge congregation in his house. Such is the size of the crowd that the service is played on TV screens in different rooms. Mr Lamb has spent over 20 years in prison for his insistence on preaching “everything in the Bible”. “We are not against the government,” he says. “The government is against us.”

Elsewhere in Guangzhou, Paul joins a running club for westerners, which turns out to be more of a “pick-up joint” for Chinese women to shop for Western husbands. He also meets westerners who are adopting unwanted Chinese babies. Paul is intrigued by this “rather extreme example of the Chinese takeaway”, and talks to the mothers-to-be to find out more.

paul merton in china (2/4)
21.00–22.00

Comedian Paul Merton continues his six-week tour of China for Five. Paul’s trip will take in the major cities of China, as well as some of the most remote backwaters that this vast country has to offer. In tonight’s episode, Paul tries his hand at kung fu, visits a Tibetan monastery, and takes in two of the most populous cities in China.

In search of some spiritual relaxation, Paul heads for the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province, famed as the birthplace of Zen Buddhism. Sitting on the temple’s steps, Paul reflects on his interest in Buddhism and the afterlife: “I’ve had my spiritual moments,” he says. “I have meditated in the past.”

The Shaolin Temple is also a centre of kung fu training, and when Paul checks in for some meditation classes, he ends up on a kung fu course instead. A 5km dawn run is followed by arduous exercises, and Paul finds that the boot camp mentality goes against all his instincts: “I’ve never felt less like an individual in my life!” he says. When he watches a fellow trainee receive a sharp jab in the stomach, he calls a premature end to his kung fu career. Fortunately, a “showbiz” version of kung fu is happening nearby, and Paul gets to play a cameo role in a TV movie. With a little help from his stunt double, he trounces a gang of thugs.

Still in search of spiritual enlightenment, Paul takes a trip to one of the most politically sensitive areas in China: eastern Tibet. Under the watchful eyes of his Chinese minders, Paul and his local guide, Wandhi, embark on a ten-hour trip over rough mountain roads to the Tibetan monastery of Labrang. Founded in 1707, this centre of pilgrimage belongs to the yellow hat sect of Buddhism, and Paul is visibly moved by the sight of over 1,000 monks chanting together.

In the town, Paul meets Wandhi’s Dutch wife, Clary, who talks about life in this remote part of China. When she first visited 12 years ago, Labrang reminded her of a “Wild West town”. Now Clary fears that new roads will open up the region and damage the local way of life. It is a fear shared by the nomadic families living on the grasslands. Paul meets friends of Wandhi in their tent and shares a lunch of lamb meat cooked in the animal’s own stomach. He has fun playing with the nomads’ children, introducing them to their first balloon, and is shocked to hear that the government plans to build an airport nearby: “I feel fortunate to have seen this place before it’s too late,” he says.

From one of the emptiest areas of China, Paul travels to the most populous: Chongqing, the fastest-growing metropolis in the world, with 30 million people. Heavy industry has created a haze of pollution over the city, but British resident David Foster is enthusiastic about the government’s efforts to stimulate the economy: “It’s a city where you get a really close feel for what’s happening in China,” he says. At night, Paul joins in the mass line dancing in the People’s square. Although he railed against this sort of uniform activity in the kung fu college, Paul finds the dancing “strangely compulsive”. “Maybe China’s beginning to rub off on me,” he reflects.

Before boarding a train to Chengdu, Paul makes an impulse buy of two fighting crickets, which he swiftly names Tony and Gordon –only for them to make a bid for freedom on the train. More oddity lies in store in Chengdu,where Paul meets a businessman with a chain of dog grooming parlours. And, whilst searching for a place to eat, Paul sees a rather different example of the Chinese fondness for man’s best friend.

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