We have been in China for more than a month – which also means that I have lapsed horrendously in updating the bloglet. The good news (inter alia) is that Stoffel and I are still alive and very happy.
China has been overwhelmingly wonderful: a country with so many tastes and sounds and sights and contrasts seems hard to imagine. Certainly, I have never visited any place that compares.
We have nearly completed a (rough-ish) arc of the Chinese countryside. Our first week was spent in amazing Beijing – a city that is now firmly amongst StofnSara’s favourite world cities.* We could not get enough of Beijing: from exciting modern architecture to hidden hutong lanes, from fabulous nightlife to world famous landmarks. From Beijing we travelled west to the ancient sites of Pingyao and Xi’an (terracotta warriors). We then pushed northwest to spend a week in the mountains of Chinese Tibet – the Amdo region which does not fall within the disputed Tibetan Autonomous Region and therefore can be visited without a permit. When we’d tired of the mountains and monks (both physically – we did a great hike to the top of a Buddhist holy mountain – and conceptually), we dropped south to Sichuan. We enjoyed a couple of days in Chengdu (pandas!), climbed another holy mountain (Emei Shan), gazed at an enormous Buddha carved into a rock face, and soaked up the beauty of a bamboo forest so vast it’s called the Bamboo Sea. At this point we arced southeast towards Kaili where we spent nearly a week visiting minority Miao and Dong villages and appreciating their spectacular settings. We are currently in Guilin – in the heart of the area of China famed for it’s dramatic karst mountains that rise from the landscape rather like, erm, phalluses. We’re giving ourselves a good few days to relax in this area. Traveling does not mean being on holiday and we are in need of a bit of down time** before we catch our final bus southeast to Guanzhou – the city formerly known to the world as Canton and one of the centres of Chinese manufacturing. In Guanzhou we will shop til we drop and visit some enormous factories. And then finally we will board a ferry to Hong Kong for a last few days before we board our plane home.
Home?! But whatever happened to the plans of meandering down the Pacific coast of the Americas? That plan changed.
The most dramatic change occurred while we were skiing in April: Stoffel’s oldest sister and her husband arrived with news that they had purchased the property behind their house so that they could increase their plot size. Their plan was then to put the other house on the market and sell it on. We were curious: from their description, the house was an old Victorian home that was in need of renovation and love. It’s set on a large plot in a good area – certainly an area that we would not ordinarily be able to afford to purchase in. With the siblings paying a portion occasioned by the land they wish to incorporate into their property, the property all of a sudden became affordable for us. So we sent some spies to look at the house and took the first step of our new crazy adventure: we bought a house. That we have never seen. Awesome.
So, a new door has opened. Instead of heading back across the Pacific Ocean from China (by airplane, not boat) to the Americas, we will be flying back to our Mother City to start a new life / resume our old lives. We are a touch saddened by the missed opportunities of the places we still have to visit. Places that we’d hoped to see on this particular journey, but places where we shall have to dream of visiting another time: dreams that hopefully will keep us excited to travel more in the future.
So we will return to a mortgage (and thus) jobs and (hopefully) the opportunity to grow our little Hillratt family. We are so excited! Perhaps disproportionately so – who becomes excited about the prospect of responsibility and routine? We think that our travels have given us many gifts. Experiences and memories are two obvious such gifts. We have also learnt so much about each other and ourselves as we have delved into our marriage. But travel has also whet our appetite for life – surely one of the most important benefit we could have hoped for.
If it feels like there are considerable gaps in the account of our trip, you are correct. There will be many photographs and anecdotes to catch up on when we return home and have the benefit of regular internet, a more rigid routine, and less distractions in the form of a world of new experiences.
* As opposed to, say, Cape Town, which is our favourite city. Fullstop. A world city is one where everything is enormous and cosmopolitan and it feels like life Happens there with a push and a shove. Unlike CT, where it feels like life just rolls onward.
** For example, yesterday we forked out 50 yuan each, not to visit any of the numerous sites around Guilin, but to just hang out for four hours in 37 degree heat in the pool at the Sheraton.