Monday, January 14, 2008

Yangtze Stories

When we got on board the Victories Star with the indispensible help of Jolin Cheng (with whom we booked the cruise), and after the initial relief and relaxation had worn off, I started to have some regrets about including three days cruise in the itinerary. We were moving from being independant travellers to packaged tourists. We were amongst the youngest passengers aboard, and I was starting to hear English accents around me - atheir familiar ring reminding that we were not so adventurous after all. Letizia told me that I was actually being rude to some of the people we met - I thought at the time that I was merely being distant.

I don't like being rude to people who aren't being rude to me, so I copped myself on and started to engage a little. Two English ladies in or around retirement age shared their stories with me and I'm glad I got out of travel-snob mode, because teh stories were facinating:

Wendy's next step after the cruise, like our own, was Shanghai. She was going to track down the church where her parents had wed, one month after they met on a ship to that city. Wendy's mother was American, and only 21 years of age. By the time Japanese bombs started falling on Shanghai, she had given birth to Wendy's oldest sister, and both mother and baby were evacuated back to London, followed eventually by Wendy's father. Of course this wasn't much of an escape as within a short space of time, German bombs wre raining down on London. I tried to imagine life for the 21-year-old American girl, caught up first in a coup-de-foudre, then bombed out of Shanghai with baby in arms, to the cold comfort of wartime Britain, without her husband, who was presumably her only connection to that place. Wendy's mother died last June, though apparently her memories of such an extraordinary episode in history died many years before.

Marian used to cycle around England as a teenager, going from hostel to hostel. When she maried a Turkish man who had no interest in travel and adventure, she left behind all ambitions to see the world. She eventually split from her husband, and had to bring up her children on her own and in financial hardship. Now her children are grown up - one is living in Shanghai, the other in Spain. Marian now owns her own property in England, which she rents out occasionally to students to fund her worldwide travels. She spends at least four months a year on the road, usually staying in hostels (like us, the cruise was something of an exception for her) and basing her travel plans on such excellent logic as sticking to one 'language zone' at a time, travelling slowly, and leaving places nearer to Britain to later year - when she might not be so mobile (she already had both hips replaced). And yet she feels she is always working against the Big Clock. "If I put it off till next year, will I still be alive to do it?"

Marian - the same logic applies to the rest of us.

1 comment:

Silvia said...

I litterally had goose bumps reading those stories, thanks for sharing !