Thursday 13 May 2010

Sitting in a rather humid lounge at Hong Kong airport 09:20 in transit to Kunming.

I am returning, several months late, to try to salvage something of the various projects that I had been in discussion with, or proposed to environmental NGOs when I was last in Yunnan province. It has been a long and trying absence, with events in England testing my emotional range and resilience to limits I would have preferred not to experience.

I had curtailed my travels through Asia in December, returning to England following my elderly mother’s admission to hospital. After extensive research, which involved visiting 10 residential homes, we moved my mother out of hospital, but she was not well and became increasingly confused and frightened. She had no short-term memory to speak of, so no amount of reassurance lasted longer than the moment. Anyone who has left their mother, or someone they love, in similar circumstances, will understand the feelings of extreme impotence that this renders.

She returned to hospital early February and was moved several times over a period of weeks, exacerbating the bewilderment she felt. Then she was transferred to another hospital but the ward was immediately closed because of an outbreak of norovirus.  She died eight days later. We had not seen her for a week.

We held an intimate, family burial at a little chapel in a hamlet outside the City. We did everything ourselves – apart from digging the grave: it was  extraordinary, beautiful and very moving, culminating with a rendition of “Summertime” – a favourite of hers – and some rather expensive champagne.

Then, just three weeks later, and two days before the public celebration of my mother’s life at the church she had attended for over 50 years, my eldest sister died. Suddenly, unexpectedly, tragically.

The family dynamic changed for ever;  the top two layers stripped away roughly, leaving us feeling raw, exposed and bewildered.

My plans to return to China mid-March to work on a Flower Trail Guide had shifted several times. But if I was to rescue anything of the project I could not delay much longer, and I negotiated to return early May, having initiated the process of winding up my mother’s estate.

I will stay in Kunming for a few days – returning to Cloudland International Youth Hostel where I was “incarcerated” after discovering my visa had expired last year – so at least will be on familiar territory!

And the weather looks set to be “fair” with a low of 17C and a high of 29C. That’s 62 and 84 in “old money”.

Then the plan is to head up to Lijiang, where I have stayed on several occasions while traveling up and down Yunnan so again familiar territory, where I aim to connect up with the Laojunshan National Park and explore the exact nature of the project I have returned to achieve. If it proceeds as originally discussed, I will remain during the flowering season and return in the Autumn.

My siblings and I will struggle to move things forward and resolve family affairs during this time, but at least my previous experiences in China indicate that I should have good access to communications through wifi and skype despite the 8-hour time difference.