My flight gets into Heathrow on Monday 14 December. It’s not going to be a pleasant journey, with an overnight 12-hour stop-over at Beijing airport, followed by an 11-hour flight, so I hope I can sleep on the plane, although it’ll be daylight all the way.

Continuing my travels through Asia wasn’t an option. There are important decisions to be made about Mum’s care, and I need to contribute what I can to the process. Christmas is not my favourite time of year to be in England; I had planned to be spending it with friends in Melbourne. But it’s the right thing to do and Asia will still be here next year.

Part of me feels that I should be cramming in the activities, with just a few days left, but my heart isn’t in it. I feel lethargic about painting, and even taking the bus to Menglun to visit the extensive Botanical Gardens. I wish, now, that I could have managed to get a flight back sooner but there must be a reason I’m biding my time here – I’m just not sure what it is yet.

It occurs to me I had a similar thought when I arrived some 10 days ago: “And now I’m wondering what it is I’m meant to be doing here, resting up, after such a long time stuck in Kunming.”

It became clear to me a few days later when the news of Mum’s fall and ill health reached me. Had I travelled down to Laos as intended, communication would have been much more difficult – my China Mobile wouldn’t have worked, and I might not have managed to install a new SIM card. I don’t know how easy it would be, either, to pick up e-mails. I had intended to go eco-trekking, and to make contact with the Botanical Gardens at Pha Tad Ke which are still in the early stages of creation.

(Interestingly, BGCI – Botanical Gardens Conservation International – is currently advertising for a “young and energetic gardener with passion, a sense of adventure and creativity” who will work their way up there into the position of Head Gardener. What an exciting opportunity, to be involved with such a creative project right at the beginning. Anyone interested? Check out Deadline 25 February 2010.)

Either way, I may well have been out of contact for a week or so, and it would have been much more difficult to get back to England. The mandatory port of return on my airline ticket is Beijing, and it just happens that there’s one direct flight a day from Xishuangbanna. I managed to secure one of only four tickets left.

Thinking now about being back in England (which is something I haven’t done for almost five months), it’s hard to know what I’ve really missed. I’ve stayed in touch with several friends, and in some cases we’ve become closer. But I do miss some of the comforts and conveniences – soaking in a bath, reading a good book by candle light; wearing other than grungy travel clothes in the evening; some western products you can buy over the counter at Boots – Savlon, Neurofen, and Nice’N’Easy 101 to touch up those disastrously long roots… Lemon’s pretty good as a hair lightener, but I haven’t seen a single one in all my travels throughout China – other citrus but no lemons. I wonder where they grow – and when?
A little research, and hey presto!

“Lemons are considered the most useful of all fruits and thought to have originated in northern India. They were introduced into Assyria, where they were discovered by soldiers serving Alexander the Great, who took them back to Greece. The lemon later reached the Mediterranean after the Romans discovered a direct sea route from the southern end of the Red Sea to India. The Arabs were largely responsible for the cultivation of the fruit in the Mediterranean region. By the beginning of the 4th century CE, a fully indigenous orchard production had been established in southern Europe. The lemon flourished in Sicily, Spain, and parts of northern Africa, as well as the Mediterranean, which are still the main sources of the fruit for Europe. Some believe that this Mediterranean lemon may actually be a hybrid of the citron, India lime, and pummelo.”

Not common in Asia then…