After three weeks of pondering and waiting it's finally time to leave. I walk to the bus stop with C. to buy the ticket because the lady behind the counter cannot read Latin letters. Not even my translation app helps. I can get information to her, but she not to me. So I return to her counter with C. I get a ticket that doesn't take me all the way to Luang Prabang, but at least across the border into Laos, to the next largest city, Oudomxay.
On the morning of my departure, I sneak out of the apartment and wave for a taxi. People are not used to European tourists and as a consequence give me the regular price. That always surprises me. At the bus station, I find the right bus. It's a minibus with little space for luggage. My backpack is in the hallway and blocks the entry and exit. Slowly we make our way to the south. We stop only once or twice to pack the roof.
I can't wait to move on and get out of China, even though it's such an exciting country. Being one step closer to Australia feels terrific. Now comes the easy part. In its ease lies the difficulty: fully developed tourist destinations, which are sold as paradise at home, never hold up to reality. Some cultures are so used to the onslaught of tourism that they have built themselves a protective wall, where 99% of tourists flow past. It's easy to get from A to B, as the infrastructure on the main route is designed for us. It's very different from China. I will miss that.
China was a challenge. It's one of the cultures, stubbornly resisting Western influence. It seems immune to it. The culture is so far away from me that I'm sure I've made some mistakes that have gone unnoticed. I have to accept that. That's what it's all about, after all. China will remain a mystery to me for a long time to come. Maybe someday I'll start reading books about this country or learn a few signs. But probably not. It impresses me how far I had to travel until I really couldn't communicate with people anymore because the people I meet are not used to interacting with sign language. If I can't say or write it, I usually remain unheard.
With a backpack full of tea, Tiger Balm and other remedies, I slowly crawl to the border 150 km away. With much anticipation and some sadness, I shoulder my heavy luggage and hurry from concrete to gold painted border post. BUBEDIBYE China and off to Laos.
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