I'm writing this circa 30000 feet above China, on the flight from Beijing to Chongqing. The ground scrolling under us is the biggest expanse of mountain range Ive ever seen, snowdusted. The inflight TV is showing tourist friendly footage of Beijing, the colours so pumped it looks like old technicolour. I havent slept for 24 hours and my perceptions feel skewed - I keep flaking out and just at the point of sleep the adrenalin jags me again and Im staring out of the cabin window once more.
In Beijing the air was cold and the airport vast, lit by the early sun. As we came into the customs area we encountered a line of officials in uniform, many wearing flu masks, each standing under a sign saying FOREIGNERS. I wandered the airport, dazed by lack of sleep and in a shock of the newness of my surroundings. My Chinese has confused everyone Ive spoken to and I in turn was confused by a grumpy customs officer shouting at me through her mask. But smiling seems to work the world over. Outside, the snow pretties the runways. The snowfall was made by firing rockets up into the atmosphere. And the newpapers say that the people are sad because the Father of the Chinese Space Programme has just died, after an exemplary life.
On the connection to Chongqing, my lunch companion is a businessman from Beijing who has kindly tolerated my mispronounced Mandarin, tho we end by speaking English. We talk about the mountains: as we fly over, he names the ranges for me, writes the characters on a sick bag for me. We end up chitchatting about ourselves and what we do. He outlines his day (a meeting and flight back) and then asks me about my plans for the time in Chongqing. "Why are you here?"
I stumble an answer. The truth is I don't exactly know why I'm here, what solid reason can I give? This is a stepping beyond oneself and the point is that it's into unknown.
Three years ago when I was in the midst of wrecking and remaking my life, someone mentioned an aphorism to me (it's what we all reach for at crisis times) which stuck. 'You have to lose sight of the shore before you can find new land.' China is literally new land for me. I'm here by myself (Julia will come over to explore with me later) and that doesnt hold as much fear for me as it once did. But what WILL this new land hold for me? Seeing it 000s of feet below, smudged with mist, it feels huge and completely unknown. Even the voices around me give me only tiny fragments to hold onto - the language is so utterly new.
The mist is thicker now, great ribbons of it lit sheer white by the sun. I cant see snow gathered in the valleys anymore. It's getting hotter, we're headed south to Chongqing.