You probably thought you had seen the end of my China e-mails, but for the sake of completeness I couldn’t leave out my last few days in China .
As a quick recap, my last e-mail was sent from Luding, the scene of a famous Communist victory during the Long March. I was in a pretty foul mood having arrived at the bus station 12 hours early following a mix up over am and pm. As the day went on, things improved. I climbed over the dam that marks the top end of the town, and set off through the dense undergrowth that guarded the dried up river bed beyond. This entertained the locals no end, and fortunately I couldn’t read the do not enter signs that were dotted around. A brief scramble up a cliff gave some spectacular views over the town, and up the river that flows through, although unfortunately determination not to miss a bus that I had been twelve hours early for cut the adventure short. On the way down I found a fantastic black and yellow spider, sat in it’s web, where it dwarfed it’s husband.
The bus journey from Luding to Ya’an marked the end of the mountains, and after the 20 th journey where I spent most of the time convinced I was about to fall off a cliff, not a moment too soon. Fortunately Luding had the only bus station in the area that had bothered to adjust departure times to take account of the tunnel through Erlang Shan, currently open for 12 hours in either direction, meaning that we got to Ya’an at a reasonably sensible time. An unusually large contingent of local hotel owners met me as I stepped off the bus, so after choosing to stay with the person who both shouted loudest and smiled most, I spent the night in a dirty little hotel hidden down an alley near the bus station. Fortunately I was so tired that I would have slept anywhere.
The next morning saw me on a bus to Leshan for my last sightseeing before returning to Chongqing . The journey from the bus station to the city centre was by rickshaw, which was a lot of fun, especially once we started weaving through the backstreets, constantly dodging the market sellers and the goods that they lay all over the road. I was doubly impressed after I had a go at pedalling the rickshaw and started flying towards a parked car.
Leshans big attraction is the huge Buddha, carved into the cliff face to protect boats travelling over the dangerous rapids below. At 71m tall, it’s apparently the largest Buddhist sculpture in the world, and whether this is true or not it is undoubtedly hugely impressive. Built in 713, the monk Haitong blinded himself to convince the authorities of the importance of building the sculpture. After completion a group of temples sprang up around the Buddha’s head. The statue itself has been heavily restored, with the soft sandstone of the cliffs easily weathered, and the temple that had once protected the statue long destroyed. It is nonetheless spectacular for it, although the ‘Important Cultural Relic – Don’t Climb Up!’ signs at the bottom made me laugh.
I returned to Chongqing the next day, although I was unfortunately 3p short of the bus fare. They were good enough to let me on anyway, although it did mean that I had t walk home from the bus station in Chongqing . The locals thought I was mad, and even the bam bam men (porters) were offering to lend me money for the bus. Te exercise was probably good for me, and it gave me a chance to see areas of the city that I had never been to before. I still remember how good it was to get back to the flat, and feel settled for a bit. The journey I had completed looked pretty tiny on the map, but there had been barely a day when I stayed in one place, and knowing that I had a few days to relax was fantastic. A leaving party was arranged for me, and we had a great night trawling around the cities bars and clubs. I was a little disturbed to find that one of our regular haunts had been shut down after two people were killed, and it was strange to see Chongqing ‘s first Irish Pub opening up. At £4 for a can of Boddingtons who wouldn’t go there?
Leaving places that have become home is always sad, and saying goodbye to Chongqing was no exception, made worse by the fact that I know it is unlikely I will be returning for many years. A delayed flight saw me arrive in Beijing late at night, and staying in a hostel with big groups of westerners my own age came as a real shock. Not least when one of them was wearing a watermelon on his head.
The weather in Beijing was fantastic, and perfect for the walk I went on along the top of the Great Wall. The tri was arranged by the hostel, so there were lots of people to talk to, but I spent most of the walk on my own as I adjusted to a new way of life. Walking along the top of the wall, it’s sides crumbling away under the light footsteps of hunting lizards, with every watchtower invaded by souvenir sellers left me with memories that I will never forget.
The two nights and one day that I spent in Beijing were fantastic, with the westernised feel of the city and typical backpackers hostel providing the most pure fun that I had during my whole time in China . I didn’t have time to get anything other than fleeting glances of Tiannamen Square and the Forbidden City , but with so much of China left for me to explore I am sure that in time I will return to visit them.
Returning to England was completely surreal for the first half hour, and then everything started to feel normal again. This reality came at the expense of my time in China , which seemed like a dream for several months after I got back.
It is only in the past couple of weeks that I have been able to think of it as a real event, with earlier attempts at writing this epilogue failing as I struggled to connect the things that I had seen and experienced with reality. I suppose in a way it will always remain slightly dreamlike, as the culture that I became immersed in is built on such different principles and beliefs to the West’s. On return to Britain , it’s familiar customs quickly diluted much of what I had learnt over the summer. Even so, it was without any doubt a life changing experience. At times exciting, sometimes terrifying, rarely fun but often enjoyable and constantly exhilarating, I can’t wait to see which of my future experiences will live up to it!