I am sitting in the air, just a few hundred meters above the top of Mount Everest. I am not just sitting, I am moving, approaching my dream at about 900 km/hr. It feels good to live in our day and age. A thousand years ago, it would’ve taken me a few years to reach China, with roughly once chance out of two of perishing in the attempt to do it. A hundred years ago, it would be much safer, but it would still take a couple months of railroad and steamer and another railroad and then a horse driven carriage. Now, it takes twelve hours of sitting in a chair to reach my dream.
I’ve dreamed this dream for years, and I pushed a bunch of people around me pretty hard to achieve it. See, I wanted to have a cake and eat it. The problem was that I didn’t want to quit my job; I happen to like it. But they can’t just let me go for a few months; surprisingly enough they actually need me to do what I do. So, I spent a while finding a temporary replacement, my postdoc colleague and friend Ivan and persuading him to work at my position; – that was an easy part. I also had to persuade my management to go for it and that was a bit harder. But I told them, “Guys, one Russian biophysicist, another Russian biophysicist – who is going to notice the difference?” Wonderfully, they agreed.
To make things more exciting, our trip suddenly turned from a two body problem into a three body problem, since little Embryona decided to join us. Oh well, people make plans and God laughs.
Well, I’ll just have to lug both backpacks around, we decided, and Yvonne would take care of a few extra cells furiously and purposefully, multiplying inside her uterus. This is how Embryona looked a week before we flew. She does have my noble profile, doesn’t she?
As I am dreaming in the chair, a hacking cough next to me jerks me out of my reverie. Yvonne’s three week old cold has turned into a bad bronchitis and she still hasn’t snapped out of it. She is coughing her lungs out, shaking in the chair and, every time she coughs, I cringe.
Our plane lands in Beijing and we get out for a transfer flight – we’ve visited the city before and we are not planning to spend any time here.
Seven years ago, we came to China for a couple of weeks and I learned my lesson the hard way – when in China, avoid the big cities, go towards the countryside. This is where the real beauty of China lies; it is hidden in the rural areas, among little villages, sleepy towns, mountains and lakes.
Chinese artists have always known it. Just look at their scroll paintings. The vertical landscapes with eight immortal sages cooling in the shade of gnarled trees next to the mountain streams flowing down karst cliffs connected by fragile looking hanging bridges are not illustrations for imaginary fairytales. It is a hard core realism; well, except for the immortal sages.
The only key difference between us and the immortal sages is that we will travel in winter. We don’t have much of a choice with Embryona’s timing. But it’s not as bad as it seems. In fact, it’s a great time to travel. The weather is a bit on the cold side but sunny and dry. Also, a few hundred million of Chinese tourists are waiting for the spring to start traveling. The whole countryside will belong to us – we don’t have to share it with ubiquitous tour buses and guides barking into megaphones. Every store, restaurant and hotel will want us. Every person will be happy to chat to us since there is not much else to do.
Linguistics makes it tricky for most people to travel in rural China – very few people speak English. But we are better off – we armed with Yvonne’s somewhat passable knowledge of oral Mandarin. She can’t read and write but she can speak. Hopefully we can make our way through.
So, we are planning to skip Beijing entirely and to transfer for a flight to Yunnan, a Southern China province. However, God laughs at us again. A storm is rolling for thousands of kilometers all the way from Szechuan to Yunnan and all the flights are cancelled. So, Beijing it will be.