When I met Atom, the petite drummer from the Beijing punk band Hedgehog, I was immediately impressed by the sheer power in her four foot something frame. She might have appeared doll-like at first glance but as soon as you saw the determination in her eyes you realised she was someone with whom you should not trifle.
As we ate gorgeous food in a Beijing restaurant, Atom said something that caused everyone else to burst into fits of laughter. I prodded Poppy, my superb guide and interpreter, and asked what was going on. I should point out that just before the laughter I was feeling rather pleased with myself. I had managed to reach across the table and pick up a spicy green bean with my chopsticks. And the reason for the laughter? Atom had just said, “he uses his chopsticks just like a baby!”
The photograph appeared beside an interview with Matthew Niederhauser on CNNGO website.
My time in China – spent looking for the wonderfully named Hugh’s Hedgehog (there is chapter of my book dedicated to this, so don’t think you are going to get too much of the story here!) – smashed many of my prejudices I had about the country. I thought I would struggle, yet I loved it. The vegetarian food was some of the best food I have ever eaten, and there was one night in a Yunnan style restaurant that I had a series of dishes that left me tingling from spice and pleasure. I might add the list later – it was wonderful.
And another prejudice that was broken – not all animals are treated as snacks – and hedgehogs are, at least around Beijing, one of a small few sacred animals. They are revered. How about that – at two of the extremes of their range – UK and China – the hedgehog is a much more significant animal than we at first think. Is hedgehog-love a universal thing?