Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Day 207: Escape From Beijing (For A Week)

I'd expected this entry to be a downbeat one. For five weeks, Burness and I have been held prisoner in Beijing by his eye condition. Every week the news was "one more week", and every week our stalled travels looked more and more broken down. But yet, we kept hope. Burness's improvement from his return from North Korea has been huge, but for obvious reasons until the doctor gave him the go ahead to travel again, we couldn't go anywhere. Health is more important that visiting World Wonders (so some would argue, at any rate) so the doctor's orders were paramount. Our hopes remained... until now. Five weeks delayed, we realised we'd reached a point where any further delays would make these travels pointless. There's only one month left until we're due to return home, so why spend that month in Beijing doing nothing? We agreed before yesterday's visit to the doctor that with any further delays, that would be it. Burness would fly home and I... what would I do? I didn't know.

Despite having travelled a fair amount over the years, I'm not a particularly good solo traveller. I don't enjoy it. I like having someone around to have a pint with, or go out to eat with. Someone to bounce ideas off, as well as reflecting upon and anticipating the travels. Of course, you can meet people while travelling, but this isn't a guarantee, and depends very much on where you are. Nonetheless, in normal situations this wouldn't have been cause for me to fly home too. But these travels are very focussed on visiting and assessing potential World Wonders, and part of this conceived project involves having a second opinion.

Having a second opinion, for me, is crucial to the assessment. Alone, I can visit a Wonder, take it in, then dwell upon it; with someone else I can do all this but, additionally, discuss. Sometimes, no doubt, at more length than Burness would prefer, but this discussion is highly useful to how I form an opinion. Occasionally we disagree; usually we're in agreement. I have invested quite heavily in each Wonder and know what to expect, to some degree, but Burness often has very little idea. His often instant judgement is more reactive and in some senses more pure than mine. I want to be impressed by everything I see, Burness simply sees it and says what he thinks. Of course, he has expectations too, but generally they are influenced by his general knowledge and what he has heard about the Wonder over his lifetime rather than having deliberately having sat down to learn about it. Although, in my biased view, my assessment is more considered, I think Burness's is more reflective of what others might think. As it happens, generally the two overlap greatly.

So, to have continued over the next month alone would have felt just a little hollow. It would have been less fun, less interesting, and I wouldn't have felt any judgement on Wonders would have been so rounded. If the news was bad and Burness went home, what would I do? There are still ten Wonders left to see in this trip. Would it be worth rushing to see them, even if it felt like my assessment was missing something vital? I really didn't know.

And fortunately - I don't think I'll have to. Because the news was good.

The engine of our travels has been jumpstarted. We're not fully underway, as there's another check-up next Thursday, but for the first time the doctor has given the ok to travel and after a dark cloud of a month, there's some medical silver lining. If you had asked either of us yesterday what we expected the news to be, we'd have both said "grim". I was fully prepared for the travels to be ended early. Thus, I am greatly relieved, and delighted.

There will be a few casualties in terms of Wonders. The Thousand Buddha Caves near Dunhuang were ruled out some time ago, as they are a bit of a detour, and would take about a week of our time. And sadly, Potala Palace in Tibet has to be ruled out, to do the altitude, at the doctor's advice. Likely too, the Spring Temple Buddha in central China is out, as we don't quite have the time. There'll be another time. But the Leshan Big Buddha and the Three Gorges Dam are in. And, depending on the doctor's word next week and if travels can fully commence, our trip to Japan and it's four Wonders, and Taiwan's one (not to mention about ten days in South Korea) will still be happening.

And so that's it. Upon hearing the news, we immediately had a beer to celebrate, and booked a flight to Chengdu. Chengdu is a big city kind of in the south-west, and is our staging point for a visit to Leshan, and for a four-day river cruise down the Yangtze, for Burness to convalesce, which culminates in the Three Gorges Dam. We've escaped from Beijing - for a week. The travels are back on.


  1. Congratulations and glad to hear Burness is ready to go again.

    I recently read Simon Winchester's River at the Centre of the World, a trip from mouth to source of the Yangtze. It was a really interesting insight into this river from a sinophile and fluent Chinese speaker, and strongly illustrated why this river is almost the nerve centre and spiritual and economic spine of the country. It will be interesting to see what you make of it from a four-day cruise.

  2. Ta, I'll look into that, it sounds interesting.


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