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Like for anyone who grew up in the West in the 1960s, China was a huge enigma, a vast country of unknowns

It's time to confess. In

the 55 years since I first set foot on a plane (a propeller-driven Vickers Vanguard operated by British European Airways), I've traveled and worked all over the world. But I've never been to Beijing - until now.

In a few weeks, this column and I will be packing our bags and heading off to China's teeming capital; and to be honest, I just can't wait.

I'm one of those weird people who actually enjoy the mechanics of air travel, that sublime moment after all the hassle of check-in and the associated security procedures when you sink back in your seat and contemplate the first gin and tonic before supper.

It's probably only fair to say that I haven't a clue what to expect.

My first and most sustained contact with China was in the late 1980s, when I lived and worked in Hong Kong and took the occasional trip to Guangzhou, Guangdong province. I retain a sort of kaleidoscopic image of thousands of people, an inordinate number of bicycles, and a goat at the local zoo that ate my camera case.

Added to that mix is the image of tens of thousands of geese being herded over the rice paddies as we all peered down from Lok Ma Chau, then the observation post in Hong Kong's New Territories for those unable to get visas.

Well, I know for fact that all that has changed. A friend recently showed me an image he'd snapped from that same spot a few weeks back and all you can see are gleaming steel and glass towers and major four-lane highways - with not a goose or a rice paddy in sight.

In the meantime, all efforts are focused on my upcoming Beijing trip, meeting old friends and colleagues, and encountering new ones.

In terms of the physical look of Beijing, all I can find out is that there are an awful lot of towering modern buildings in a city dominated by the internal combustion engine.

One of the pleasures of my job here at China Daily UK in London is the fascination, and indeed privilege, of writing and editing stories that tell of the extraordinary transformation of China over the past 20 years or so. A transformation that is still going on, its latest phase being the switch from "made in China" to "branded in China".

Like for anyone who grew up in the West in the 1960s, China was a huge enigma, a vast country of unknowns presided over by a man who gave his name to a particular brand of socialism. Our understanding was limited to the insights offered by the few Western newspaper reporters living and working in Beijing - insights that, with hindsight, were of necessity limited. Any contact we had was cautious and restricted.

Now, the best analogy I can give is that China and its people have blossomed, like a flower that's been waiting for spring and the sunshine.

At the risk of sounding like an old gramophone record (one of those vinyl things you played on a turntable), I'm still in awe of a country that can change from an inward-looking, puzzling entity into a bright, vibrant country, a dominating force in the geopolitical world with an economy that is on track to become the world's biggest.

Spending three weeks in Beijing is going to allow me to put flesh on the bones, and get rid of the stereotypes.

But before I head off, there's the small matter of my first-ever visit to West Africa, to spend Easter with my youngest daughter, Mai-Anh, who is now working in Dakar, Senegal. That should give me yet another way of contrasting my world with the new.

This column will, I hope, give you my reflections of Beijing as I find it.

The author is managing editor of China Daily Europe, based in London. Contact the writer at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

(China Daily 03/04/2016 page11)