May 7, our next to last flight left Shanghai in the afternoon for Guang Zhou and soon we were back in the Grand Continental Hotel, our very first hotel in China.
The next day, we awoke with no agenda. We wandered through the pedestrian mall on Beijing Avenue, confident enough to do a little shopping in the Unbook Store. And yes the name was in English! Later we strolled down the walkway that followed the Pearl River and watched men fishing from the bank and seniors doing Tai Chi on the path. It had been quite wonderful to feel comfortable enough to spend nearly the whole afternoon on our own in a country where we couldn’t read the road signs, speak the language or explain ourselves to most passersby.
That evening, we were treated to one last supper by Brother Number 1. We were complimented on our stamina to survive such an adventure and still have a smile on our faces. (I never dared to admit that there were a few days when I thought I would collapse from mental overstimulation and physical exhaustion but I was too proud to admit defeat.)
After this last supper in China, Wen, Sharon, Paul and I strolled through the neighbourhood surrounding the hotel on a mission in search of the famous ginger milk.
Eventually we found an open air restaurant that served the drink. The air was hot and humid and soon we were enjoying a delicious, very, very spicy drink that made us all break out in a sweat. I found myself feeling the camaraderie that comes from sharing an extraordinary experience in a person’s life. I knew at that point that it would take many months to sort out my feelings, insights and thoughts about Southeast Asia.
I was missing Canada very much and I just knew that I would see my country with expanded vision and appreciation. At the same time, I also knew I would carry an affection for the people of China, Vietnam and Cambodia.
They were real to me now and nothing would take that away. I had seen evidence of their history with its suffering, endurance and fortitude as well as the energy infusing their lives.
The next morning, after a surprise dim sum Mother’s Day meal hosted this time by Sharon’s youngest brother, we were on our way by bus to leave mainland China and enter Hong Kong. There we would board our plane for home, taking thirteen hours to cross the Pacific Ocean again and experience another complete sunrise and sunset.
When we arrived in Vancouver on Mother’s Day (again) it was sunny and warm. The sky was clear and it felt as if there was hardly any traffic. It was surreal. I felt as if I had been awakened from the most extraordinary dream. The airport terminal was quiet and even though three hundred people had disembarked with us, the place felt empty. The customs officer wanted to know if I liked China and what I had seen. She sounded as if she would like to travel there. She spoke English! If I hadn’t been afraid to look like an idiot, I would have kissed the green Canadian lawn outside the building.
It took us nearly two weeks to get over jet lag. I kept craving Chinese food. I lost eighteen pounds that summer because I had gotten out of the habit of eating sugar.
Paul came home with a deep appreciation for Canada and our government realizing that we need to exercise our responsibilities as citizens. He formed an enormous admiration for a people who work so hard to make things better for the generations to follow.
Would I recommend travel to Asia? You bet! I realize that we were very blessed and privileged to have seven weeks and wonderful, knowledgeable friends to guide us. A guided tour would be excellent too. Remember to take your spirit of adventure and a willingness to have your mind opened and you will be blessed!