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Passing the Point Of No Return 不能反悔的关键点

Today’s post is short, because, well, it’s been a tough week of rough roads, high altitudes, low spirits, mechanical problems and illness. For the poor old campervan and for us it seems like everything that could possibly go wrong, has – the brakes, the watertank, the windscreen wipers, the heating, the plumbing, our plumbing. 

But today is an important day as far as The Great China Road Trip goes.

Years ago I watched Pole to Pole, a documentary in which the irrepressible Michael Palin, born-again traveller, is adventuring from the North to South Poles, a hell of an achievement. In the final leg of the journey he must reach Antarctica by airplane from South America in a fifty year old lumbering Douglas DC-6 without cabin service, luggage holds or other such niceties, built to withstand the rugged flight and ice landing.

这似乎是一趟可怕的飞行,气流颠簸很厉害,为数不多的几位乘客在没有座位的机舱内颠来倒去。帕林对着镜头说:飞行员说我们正在踏上不能反悔的道路!那就是一条无法回头的路——我们的燃料不够了,所以我们只能一直向前!"他仍旧很开心,但我们这些电视机前的人很想知道,要坐着一架老旧的飞机横跨广阔的南太平洋,并且深知不论天气多糟糕,引擎有无故障除了向前飞别无他选,因为绝不可能返航,这到底是什么样的感觉。

数年前我曾看过一部记录片,开心但急躁的迈克尔帕林,改过自新后成为了一名旅行者,他从南美搭飞机到南极。他乘坐的是既没有座位也没有其它舒适设备的货机,飞机隆隆作响,航程颇为艰辛。


Some hours into the turbulent flight Palin says:

“We’ve reached what the pilot drily refers to as P.N.R.”

Just as we’re all wondering what that means he continues cheerfully –

“That’s the Point Of No Return – we no longer have enough fuel to get us back to Chile.”

It’s a rather sobering thought, even from the position of a comfortable armchair, as those of us at home wonder what it must feel like to fly in an aging aircraft over the vast expanse of the Southern Ocean, knowing you have no choice but to go forwards through violent storms or engine trouble, because turning back is simply impossible.

That comment has stuck with me for many years, because it applies to so much in our lives – points at which we must take a brave leap forward and continue, because there is no option to reverse our steps.

We reached our own P.O.N.R. this last week – or rather, several points of no return, when after weeks of journeying further and further west in China we reached the westernmost point of our travels, a small Kyrgyz village on the Karakoram Highway. I didn’t really mark it with much thought at the time, being too busy dealing with the high altitude and the practicalities of travel, but I have given it more thought today as we pass the exact halfway mark of our travels, three months and more than 17,000km after setting out.

在我们一路向西的数周后,我们抵达了我们的不能反悔的关键点,在上周我们到了我们行程的最西部喀喇昆仑高速上的柯尔克孜小镇,随后我们会掉头往东,往南进发。在当时,我忙于旅途的诸多杂事,所以并没有真正意识到这点,但是在最近的这周我对此进行了不少反思。

For us it’s nowhere near as dramatic as for Palin – we have abundant fuel, and we could turn back at any time, just park the van by the side of the road and take ourselves off to the nearest airport for flights home. In less than eight hours I could be back in my living room in Shanghai, watching TV, and calling Mr Chen to let him know where to send someone to collect the van. 

And yet…even during the hard weeks like this one, the difficult times, there has always been some unseen force pushing us forward to complete the journey as intended. Partly it’s a wish not to fail, not to admit defeat, but mostly it’s because the travel – as well as being fascinating and wonderful – feels transformative: a test of character, a building of patience and endurance, a revealing of strengths. Not just for me, but for all of us. The gains are too great to turn back now. 

This week we’ve seen what I think is the most beautiful part of China yet – the Amdo region, an area spanning Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan, and peopled by ethnic Tibetans, most of whom are practicing Buddhists.

信众每天绕着当地的佛教寺庙的朝圣小道步行一周,在今生为来世积功德。你可以在一天中的任何时间从环路的任意一点开始或结束。我曾看过那些人们——年轻人,老年人,病人,残疾人——不分四季,从早到晚,在绕行,在祈祷,在思考,在转着祈福轮。显然,他们的祈祷之路没有终点,只是一种纯粹的信仰。这个星期我们看到了我认为是至今为止中国最美的地区——安多地区,她横跨青海,甘肃和四川三省,居民大都是身体力行信奉佛教的藏民。
Every day the faithful walk a kora – a circular pilgrim path around their local monastery to generate merit in this life for the next. You may begin and end the path anywhere along the circle, but once you’ve begun you must continue until the circle is completed. 


I’ve watched them – the young, the very old, the sick, the disabled – from dawn until dark, in all kinds of weather, walking the circle, praying, thinking, spinning prayer wheels. Ultimately, their long pilgrim path has no destination, but is simply an act of faith and a kind ambulant meditation.


I’ve come to see our circular journey around China as a kind of moving meditation too. I’m learning to let go of the questions I constantly ask myself like ‘Where are we going next?’ and ‘Why are we doing this? What is the purpose?’ There is no definite destination. There is no particular purpose. 
There is only the act of moving forwards, not backwards, of looking ahead, not behind, of keeping an open mind, of time to think and reflect. Of being brave enough to pass the point of no return, and not regret a minute.

我开始反思我们犹如朝圣之路的的逆时针环中国游。没有特别的目的地,也没有特别的目的,尽管路上有不期而遇的困难和生活的挫折,我们的旅程都是一路向前而非后退,我们都抱有积极而非消极的想法去面对,都在思索和应对度过,都勇往直前毫不迟疑地走过我们不能反悔的关键点。