When I was young (in the 1970s) my mother, Jane Thomas, used to say to us that, when she retired, she wanted to move to a small rural village in China and write novels. Whilst this may have seemed an unlikely and far-fetched idea to most people, in her case this was entirely possible as she was known for travelling to mysterious countries which were politically charged and hard to access, and China was high on her list. I certainly believed her!
I got to take her on her first visit to China in September 1989 when we both travelled from Hong Kong to Beijing for the very first time. Looking back it was like arriving on a different planet. Our first glimpse of Beijing in 1989 was from the window of the taxi from the airport to our hotel near Tiananmen Square as we drove along wide roads passing rows of fast moving bicycles. The only sound was the gentle tinkle of bicycle bells as everyone went about their business not noticing two foreigners busily studying their maps and travel guides!
Under blue skies and warm sunshine, we visited all the popular tourist attractions virtually on our own, walking through the Forbidden City as the young Emperor would have done and smiling at the odd American with camera and checked trousers doing the same thing. But her favourite site was the Great Hall of the People which was the only place I could persuade her to pose for a photo (see below).
My Mum died peacefully in the UK on 9th May 2020 and the story of her life was beautifully captured by my brother Dan earlier this week in The Guardian (see link below). She never made it to that rural village in China but, as you can see from her obituary, she lived a pretty amazing life.