So, I made it!
After handing over more than 1500RMB to 'Mama' of Mama's guest house (no, that's not a knocking shop either!) I'm one overnight bus ticket to Ruili and one air ticket to Guangzhou better off.
This post reaches you from the town of Ruili - it's just started torrential raining here and the shop across teh street has blacked out, so not sure how far I'll get with this...
Ruili, a 'has been' border town with Burma. Has been the best place to mix with gangsters, trade in Green Gold (Jade), hard drugs, gambling and prostitution. Now about all that remains are the hookers (none of which I've seen yet, but arriving here at 07.00, they must've had a pretty bad night to still be 'open for business' if you'll pardon the pun). Tonight doesn't look any better for them given the weather!
So, I took an 18hour sleeper BUS from Lijiang to Ruili. It was actually better than I thought. The best way I can describe it is as a mobile prison (but a nice one) - silver bars everywhere to stop one rolling around, and the bus doesn't have seats, just individual berths. It's three berths across with two walkways and about six or seven deep (long). You can lie down fully or prop yourself up on the pillow and duvet provided atop the soft matress for a seat.
Views our of Lijian were amazing as we came through the hills (we must've taken a different route in, as that journey was unremarkable). Three hours saw us back to Dali where grandad had visited and a stop for dinner. I get pointed in the direction of a street and given the chinese sign for eating (it's not the knife and fork action you'd do at home, rather a hold the bowl in the left hand and chopsticks in the right type mime) so after a wander, I'm invited to join two of my fellow travellers for dinner. Very kind of them and they ordered so much food for two women! They wouldn't let me pay and didn't speak english, but it's that sort of hospitality that I think is really nice of the chinese - would that happen in England?
Dusk saw us driving into the rolling hills and I slept surprisingly well, waking up only at Baoshan (another stop for grandad) in the middle of the night and then again, 10 minutes before rolling into Ruili.
Today saw a pointless taxi ride out to a hostel and guidebook recommended hostel that's now just a pile of rubble, so I decided to chance it and hopped on the local minibus to the border town of Wanding. This IS where the official crossing is and where grandad would've crossed too. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about getting here (and was having a bit of an emotional downer on the bus last night too - what's the point? What have I achieved? etc) but on arrival it was great. The place isn't special particularly (it's just a bridge across a 20m wide river with a load of official buildings on the China side!) but it's special to me. I didn't cross (but I thought about it) and there's a place further downstream where I filmed the locals just wading across after rolling their trousers/local burmese sarong type garments up. I felt elated to have made it here and have enjoyed recreating a trip that my ancestors travelled in much harder, harsher times. I did it in five weeks, about the same amount of time as grandad, but I had four days at the TLG and was sightseeing, whereas he was with his buddies and travelling across a much worse infrastructure than I have been privvy to.
The two countries have changed almost beyond recognition since those days, but the scenery is the same and this has taken my breath away. It's funny he was in the navy as it's the seas and waters that have felt the most 'real' places for me. We can build so much on land, knock buildings down, lay freeways through mountain tunnels and erect skyscrapers, but it's those rivers he crossed and travelled, those same seas he sailed where I have felt closest to him.
I'm glad I've made this trip. I've had ups and downs, laughs and homesickness too - all emotions he would've experienced, but I guess his were in more extreme circumstances. I feel I've made some discoveries of the places he saw and also some blind wanderings in places that have changed beyond recognition. I feel closer to him yes, and I wish he was still alive as I have so many questions I'd love to ask him! It's taught me more about making the most of life when you have the chance, and to listen to people when they talk. Really listen.
I wish I'd video'd grandad on that day in the summer when he told me his life story, and had known more and been more interested than a normal 15yr old grandson that day back in 1993. I've opened a can of worms now and have so many more questions now that I've scratched the surface a little.
So, is it the end?
Are you kidding? Contacting any surviving members is now my number one priority as soon as I get back and then there's the trip back out here in 2009. Add to that the RAS journal, the book, the movie etc, and I think I'm going to be quite busy for a few years to come yet!