There are many memorable events in my life, but because I am in China, I will describe something that happened in Zhong Guo. In 1993 I first came to China. I taught in Kunming, Yunnan Province, which is in southwest China. I was working at Yunnan University [Yun Da] and I wanted to visit Dali, the famed city that was the terminus of the Burma Road. It was built in 1940 to allow supplies to cross into China from British occupied Burma. The supplies were desperately needed to fight against the Japanese who were in Manchuria, as it was known then.
Rumor had it that all the truck drivers who were hired to transport goods on the Burma Road were paid in gold for the amount of material that they brought. It was extremely dangerous work and those hired were told beforehand, “at your own risk” Yesterday was my birthday. From then on, I am 25 years old. To think I did all that for the past 25 years, there were many memorable events, I caught the bus in Kunming, going only by myself. I paid the bus fair and waited for the bus to fill up with passengers.
I sat in the back of the bus. Almost immediately there were some locals who were interested in where I came from and why I was alone and how old I was. I guess they were curious about the sole white fellow sitting in a bus to Dali. Fortunately there was a Chinese fellow who spoke some English. The countryside from Kunming to Dali was spectacular. On the side of the road were tobacco plants ready for harvest. The roads were hair-pin turns that threaded their way up the mountains.
The bus engine strained up every mountain, however, when we were at the top the driver was careful not to apply the brakes too often in order to avoid overheating. Rather, the bus driver geared down the ancient bus transmission in order to negotiate each turn. As we turned, one could see a shear cliff on one side – one error by the driver and it would have been fatal for all the passengers. But the driver seemed to be confident of his ability to wheel the large vehicle.
After a while I could not bear looking at the sharp drops, so I spent my time laughing with fellow travelers. We exchanged jokes, language informalities, songs [particularly “Country Road” which seemed to be in vogue at the time] and some local stories. I was disappointed when the bus finally arrived in Dali. It was thirteen hours of intense cultural exchange – a memory still vivid after all these years. I have heard from students that the old road has been revamped and now is a modern expressway that barely resembles what the real Burma Road was like.