Stephen Chan

The Late Home-coming Prodigal Son – Chapter 17

A translation from ‘遊子遲遲歸’

Chapter Seventeen                   Down to Leshan

We went downhill after reaching the top of Mount Suo-Yi. There were no trails, merely rocky slopes, with some occasional piled up stony steps for reposition. The steps were made even more difficult in drizzling rain. I discovered for the first time that going downhill was more strenuous than climbing up hill. The stony steps were not even in height, and sometimes we had to slide down along the streams for a shorter route. Every step on this rugged terrain was a shearing shock to my knees. I could hardly move and was extremely exhausted by evening. A Chinese poet said ‘To climb the mountain of Xichuan is as hard as climbing up to heaven’, but I would say now, ‘Going downhill from a mountain, is as painful as going down to hell’.

We walked through mountain trails, sometimes through main road. We had to pass through two places, that is, the bridge of Tie Suo Qiao (铁索桥) to cross over Da Du River (大渡河), and the Death Valley (死亡谷). Big Brother Liu told us no traveller would dared to pass through these two places at night. These two places were popular for bandits. Once you were on the bridge, there was no way to escape. As for the Death Valley, it was a U-shape edge on the main road with a cliff down to a deep valley. The area was always misty and cloudy, and throwing the body of murdered victim down the Death Valley was an excellent and easy way of destroying evidence.

We continued downhill for two to three days before entering the urban highway. Many times I fell behind. I knew I must follow closely; otherwise I would die in the mountain. So I made sure that I still could see the last person ahead. I was the youngest in the group and was lagging behind. No one would stop to wait for me. Big Brother Liu would not stop at all, and everyone had to follow him closely because none of us knew the route. Mr. Liu was small and agile, very familiar with this route. He often received energizers (opium puffs) from every opium station along the route, rested and had a cup of tea. When the rest of us got near, he started walking again. This was my first experience traveling long distance on foot. Early in the morning with only a light breakfast, we would start our journey. Other than a short lunch break, I practically walked all day. I often missed the little breaks in between because I was already lagging behind with very sore knees. In retrospect, I could not believe how I was able to stay with the group and continued the journey till I arrived at Leshan. I believed it was my heavenly Father who strengthened me along the way so I would not be left in the mountain.

As soon as we arrived at Leshan, we went our separate ways. My knees were inflamed and so swollen that I could not move. I had to stay at Leshan. I stayed in a hostel to save money. There was a big room where each person had his own space with a mat on the floor as bed. The money that I got from the sales of my belongings sustained me for a few days, but I could not stay there too long, otherwise I would have no money to travel to Chongqing (重庆).

Two weeks later, I took the river route to Chongqing (重庆) by myself. The ferry was a special tugboat. In the upstream of Yangtze River (长江), the water was shallow and swift. It was too shallow for swim, and too dangerous to wade through. There were many sharp edges, swamps, slippery rocks on the river beds, and many whirling currents. To cross the river, the helmsman usually had about ten strong men towed the boat upstream, and then release the rope to let the boat sweep downstream to the destination. The diagonal distance was always accurately calculated. When the vessel slid near the destination spot on the other side of the river, the helmsman would use a long bamboo stick to guide the vessel and dock. Those helmsmen were all very experienced, but it was extremely petrifying for the onboard passengers. I went through three of such passes and finally arrived at Chongqing (重庆).

When I reached Chongqing, I had only a few garments, some books, and money for one day of food and lodging. I came to a similar situation in Kunming, I was completely broke again. Before I went to Xichang, I prayed fervently to God; but when I left Xichang, I did not seek God’s help. I was fully aware of my impoverishment, I was too ashamed and too stubborn to pray and ask God for help, still confident that I could survive with a no-turning-back mindset, and hope for the best at Chongqing.

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