Shave the best for last

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2012, 12:00am


We're home. Finally. In the past six months, myself and my cameraman Leon McCarron have walked 5,000 kilometres from Mongolia to Hong Kong.

Last Saturday, we arrived at my home in Mui Wo, joined by my wife Christine and friends who walked the last seven kilometres with us.

With all the talk of foreign investment in China, I had expected that we would see quite a few Westerners during the adventure. However, aside from the tourist hot spots of Xian, home of the terracotta warriors, and Guilin/Yangshuo, we have seen a mere three: two in Datong city (Shanxi) and one in Enshi city (Hubei).

There must have also been a few intrepid entrepreneurs and English teachers kicking around, but we never saw them in the mountains, valleys, towns and cities we passed. And so it seems the interior regions of China are still quite sheltered from the outside world.

But this changed two weekends ago when we finally arrived in Guangzhou, a city I had never visited before. I was pleased to discover it had a heart and soul, criss-crossed as it was by the Pearl River Delta.

Our first stop in town was the American International School, where we had been invited to give a talk. The children were happy to see us arriving drenched in rain and carrying huge rucksacks, and with heavy beards.

As a former geography teacher, I enjoy giving talks to schools when in the middle of a giant expedition. It's a fun chance to introduce children to the lands, places and people of the world, and to encourage them to take life by the horns.

I'm not a fan of the cliche that if you follow your dreams they'll come true. But I do believe we are capable of more than we think, and a lack of confidence stops many youngsters from striving for an interesting and fulfilling life, and makes them settle for something 'safe'.

The following day, the American Chamber of Commerce arranged for us to film at a member's production facilities - the Fortunique factories, where we saw at first-hand the mass production of 'medical draping solutions' (sterilised covers and containers for hospitals).

Hundreds of workers were busy sewing, sticking, stamping or folding the products along the whole production line. They worked in good conditions, and because they were paid per item, worked incredibly hard and fast. The finished products were placed in boxes, which were then put in containers leaving for the four corners of the world.

It was a fascinating learning experience, because I know so little about the source of the thousands of products I use, except that they are mostly made in China.

That same afternoon, we also went shopping for some smart and clean clothes, because we were invited to be the guests of honour at the AmCham annual spring ball that evening. We scrubbed ourselves up (but did not shave off our beards) and headed out for a night of eating, drinking and dancing in a ballroom full of millionaires.

It certainly made quite a contrast to our previous six months of sleeping in deserts and fields, and eating instant noodles.

But then it was time to walk onwards again - so we set off on our final 200-kilometre walk to Shenzhen, and then Hong Kong.

If you have been reading this column in the past six months, please join us for our welcome home party tomorrow in Wan Chai. The details are on our website. We hope to see you there.

Rob Lilwall's previous expedition, Cycling Home From Siberia, became the subject of an acclaimed motivational talk, a book, and a National Geographic TV series. For the past six months in Health Post he has written about the progress of his new expedition, Walking Home From Mongolia, which is in support of the children's charity Viva.