Stephen Chan

The Late Home-coming Prodigal Son – Chapter 16

A translation from ‘遊子遲遲歸’

Chapter Sixteen                   En Route to Le-Chang Highway


The Le-Chang Highway was well known for its treachery. Most of it was sand and mud, except for some small tarred sections. The highway meandered around cliffs with many sharp turns. The truck kept going up hills and down hills. On rainy days, the road became slippery and muddy. We certainly went through many petrifying experiences. Landslides could easily occur in this type of weather to obstruct the traffic, sometimes even demolished the roadway.


The rain started shortly after we left Xichang (西昌). Our truck moved very slowly because we were going uphill most of the way. The next evening, the truck came to a complete standstill. Our driver was informed that a mile ahead, the road had collapsed with a large section of damaged roadbed, and it would take at least a month to repair. We were all very apprehensive, and I was at loss again. The driver was willing to take us back to Xichang (西昌) free of charge, but I felt ashamed to return to face my schoolmates. Besides, I had terminated my residency with the school. Now any money I had left, certainly not enough to last for a month till the traffic could resume, and then of course it would be too late for application to any university at Chongqing (重庆).


That night I slept under the truck by the roadside. The next morning we walked for several miles to a small village. Among us, there was Mr. Liu (刘). He was a gangster of Sichuan (四川) called ‘big brother Liu’. He used to trade illegally with the Yi tribe (夷人) by selling them long guns to exchange for their opium. He promised to lead us through shortcuts to Leshan. He estimated it would be a five-day journey on foot, from dawn to dusk every day. Three other passengers and I decided to follow him. That day, I spread out some of my belongings to sell. Items such as toothpaste, clothes, soaps, medicine for treating malaria, etc. which were very rare in that district. They were gifts from my relatives when I was in Chengdu. I made more than a thousand franc, and my luggage became much lighter. On daybreak the next morning, we each ate three big bowls of rice and started our journey. We planned to climb uphill to the top of mount Suo-Yi Ling(簑衣岭) for 2 days which was over 8000 feet above sea level, then we would travel downhill via small trails to Leshan. If all went well, we could arrive in Leshan in about five days.


When we almost reached the mountain top, I could still follow right behind our Big Brother, ahead of the others. It was in the hot summer of June, but the mountain peak was chilly. We went into a small hut nearby to start a fire for warmth, and waited for the others who were about a mile behind. Then, we heard gun fires and animals howling, and discovered that our three friends were surrounded by a group of over ten tribal people with rifles, bows and arrows, and spears.


In China, citizens were not allowed to carry weapon except the tribal people in Xichang. The government allowed them to carry guns for protection. So I was used to see the tribal people with rifles during my two years in Xichang. They got rifles from merchants by trading opium with them. These tribal people belong to the Yi tribe (夷人) who lived on the mountain areas along the LeChang Highway (乐昌公路). The Yi tribes were hostile people, always fight and kill for vengeance. They usually scattered on the hill sides, a very arrogant native who considered themselves superior than the Hans. The Han’s travelling along the route were very much afraid of them because the Yi bandits often not only attacked them but also took them hostage, sometimes sold them to the noble Yi as slaves. Only one army colonel named Yang Qing-Quan (羊清全) who had their loyal submission. Our Big Brother showed them Colonel Yang’s name card which I did not know how he managed to obtain one. Immediately they released our friends when they saw the name card.


Looking back now, I wondered how I could have had the courage to travel with a stranger, a gangster, going across hills and mountains, to a foreign city, Chongqing (重庆), where I had no acquaintance at all. Those three travelers became my only companies. When I decided to go to Xikang (西康), I prayed to God fervently for His guidance. But I had not prayed again ever since the demise of our medical school. My disappointment had distracted me. I chose my own way, sought my own decision without coming to Him. I was reckless once again, pursuing aimlessly for my own goal!

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