20 Summer Days In China by Betty Blunden (1974)

3 September

We left the hotel straight after breakfast and were driven to the Peking Airport. Our hosts from the previous night were there to say goodbye. It was a crowded departure lounge and our party gathered in one corner. Someone suggested that Young Mr. Wang should sing for us. Up to now all his singing had been impromptu and informal. He was extremely shy and embarrassed at the idea of singing in front of such a crowd. But he was persuaded and sang ‘Ode to Peking’. This was really Goodbye to China for me and from then on I was on my way home. Outside the departure lounge the people from the China Travel Service and our Mr. Piao, Mrs Jar and the two Mr. Wangs lined up to shake our hands. Photographs were taken and we filed off to our aircraft. From here on I took no notes in my diary. I was absolutely saturated with all the new things that I had seen and heard and my mind was mostly turned in on itself. My memories of our last day in Kwangchow, the trip to the border and the few days in Hong Kong are few but very vivid. There was a shortage of rooms at the hotel and Marje shared with Charlotte and me. After lunch we were taken to the Martyrs memorial Gardens. Beautiful gardens with symmetrical paths, steps, a lake and a pavilion. When the lake was being excavated after liberation the workmen came on a mass grave of people killed in 1927 during one of the uprisings in old Canton. The bones were collected and re-buried, a great earth mound now acting as a memorial and the gardens were named to commemorate these dead.

Then we were taken shopping to a Friendship Shop and a nearby department store. One of the nicest things about the stop over in Kwangchow was meeting the charming little Miss Wong again and have her share the interpreting with Miss Chi. Miss Chi was in charge of our group right up to the border. In the Friendship Shop Miss Wong offered to help me find the things I wanted to buy. I had decided on Cloisonne ashtrays for my sisters and a few friends. Cloisonne was a traditional craft, the designs were very beautiful, they were unbreakable and took up virtually no room in my suitcase. Miss Wong found the ashtrays for me. Then I told her that I wanted to buy a flute. A friend had asked me to buy him a traditional Chinese musical instrument and a flute, like the ashtrays was unbreakable and easy to pack. Miss Wong took me to a fruit shop. 1 was mystified and asked again for ‘A flute?’ She said “Yes, fruit” I couldn’t believe it was happening. The classical mistake. Miss Wong, whose English was perfect was used to translating an “l” into an “r” I mimed a flute and said ‘music, music’ and with much laughter she said FLUTE and took me off to the music department. I bought two flutes, just to celebrate and some records, The Ode to Peking and a collection of folk songs that included the shepherds flute song.

It was a little cooler in Kwangchow than on our way through and that night the temperature was perfect. After dinner about a half dozen of us including Kay went for a long walk through the city. Many of the houses were very small, two rooms opening on to the street. Often dinner was being cooked on a brazier on the footpath. We passed a mother bathing her toddler in a small bath outside her front door. We bought icecreams in a shop open to the street, and walked and walked. It was our last night in China and we all felt the urgency of SEEING everything and remembering it all.