By Carol Dyer

Thomas Bird left the UK in 2005 with an undergraduate degree in English Literature and a desire to travel and work in East Asia. After teaching English as a foreign language for two and a half years, he undertook a Master’s degree in Chinese Studies at SOAS, University of London. On returning to China in 2008, he moved into publishing and by 2010 he was the Shenzhen Editor of an entertainment and listings magazine in Southern China. Material for the magazine wasn’t at times easy to come by, but his burgeoning interest in China’s expanding railroad infrastructure was something he could fall back on. From 2008, when China opened its first high-speed railway, onwards there was always a new station or line being opened somewhere and Bird could depict it with genuine passion.

Bird quickly came to recognize that while it was the new high-speed first-tier inter-city services that the Chinese government wished to promote as a mark of achievement (after which the book itself is titled), it was the humbler, dirtier and slower old “green trains” which were the more colourful and got you to the more unexplored and interesting places of the Middle Kingdom. Eventually leaving his job in Shenzhen in 2013, Bird began criss-crossing China by train over a period of several years, conversing freely with the innumerable people he met. He concluded his odyssey in Tibet where thirty years earlier travel writer Paul Theroux had also finished up in Riding the Iron Rooster.

Last week, in the convivial surroundings of the AWA Hong Kong offices, WiPS members and guests were able to hear Thomas Bird in conversation with committee member Lesley Hobbs talking about his highlighted book Harmony Express. Bird is an engaging and sympathetic storyteller both on and off the page and the AWA audience couldn’t help but vicariously relive this vividly told pre-Covid travelogue as he shared photos and read extracts. WiPS was fortunate to have secured such a compelling and well-informed writer for one of its author events.