One thing about my life I regret is that I didn't churn out some sprogs in the 80s, when I had the chance. I wouldn't have had many, just enough for a card game whenever I felt like it.
So, two children, assuming that I also had a husband.
But wait! Because I'm me, perhaps I wouldn't have been able to hang on to the husband for - arrrggh! - up to 30 years. So I'd have needed three children to ensure the ready possibility of said card game. But if I had only the two, I could have commandeered them to go with me to the only Chinese province I haven't yet visited, Heilongjiang ("black dragon river"). Three sprogs on such a trip would veer into the unmanageable.
My two children could have carried my things and been of use in general. Now, without children, I must go to Heilongjiang and its famous capital, Harbin, and I must go by train. Solo. You'd be surprised at how few people want to travel through the entire China by train nowadays.
"But you can go by yourself!" people chirp. "That'll be fun."
Er … not really. But it still beats flying.
In 2009, I had arranged to travel from Hong Kong to the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region with S, an American archaeologist. He had heard that the Chinese government was planning to raze the old city of Kashgar "for the people's own safety" and wanted to hurry up and get there before it was all gone. We spent the next two months planning the not inconsiderable journey - then S pulled out five days before departure, because he had to go somewhere with his boyfriend.
To say I was vexed is like saying that Hong Kong to Kashgar by train is akin to taking the MTR from Central to Causeway Bay. But I had invested so much in this trip - tickets, for example - that I decided to do it anyway.
That summer Kashgar and other majority Muslim towns in Xinjiang were rocked by riots, so Beijing, in its time-honoured style, decided to shut down the entire region. I couldn't send or receive emails or make phone calls. Tourists stayed away but, instead of treating the few still there (me) extra well so we would spend more money in the hotels and restaurants, I was glared at by guards with undisguised suspicion. And the old city of Kashgar lay in ruins.
Fortunately, melons were in season so I survived.
Those two weeks were the least enjoyable I've ever spent in normally wonderful China, and I thought how I should have had with me two children and a husband. Then again, if I had had them in the 80s, maybe I would never have come to China in the first place.