Forever Young' on Her Journey
When she was a little girl, Jiang Ling, a native of Daliangshan (a mountainous region in southwestern Sichuan Province, in Southwest China), thought metropolises, such as Beijing and Shanghai, were too far away to visit. But after she grew up, she had enough courage to leave her hometown, and to start taking interesting journeys on her own. Jiang traveled twice along the famous Route 66, in the United States; the first time in 2015, and the second time a year later. Besides Route 66, she also traveled to several cities in the US. The 4,000 kilometers she traveled, each time, allowed her to visit valleys, deserts, hills and wild lands. She was impressed by the marvelous landscapes, across the ocean from her home, and she enjoyed meeting the many interesting people during her journey.
Jiang was born on July 24, 1985. She majored in English when she was an undergraduate at the School of Foreign Languages of Xihua University, in Sichuan. She completed her master's degree at Shanghai Film Academy, under Shanghai University, and then she returned to Sichuan to complete her Ph.D. in journalism (at Sichuan University). While she was studying for her Ph.D., she went to the University of Missouri, in the US, as an exchange student. Now, she teaches new-media studies at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology.
Jiang began her first journey along Route 66, as well as to some other cities, on July 5, 2015. She recorded stories about the interesting people she met as she traveled the long road, from Chicago, in Illinois, to Santa Monica, in California. She said she felt lucky to be able to "touch" the culture and civilization of Route 66 through the stories of those people.
Initially, Jiang simply wanted to complete a self-guided journey. But as she traveled, she constantly met people who impressed her with their experiences. "There was a Swiss tourist, who transported his Harley Davidson by air to Chicago, and then rode it to Los Angeles. There was a young air force soldier, who dreamed of becoming the US president one day. There was a craftsman, who gave up his master's program, but chose to sell crafts by the street." Jiang said the stories about those people enriched her journey.
She mentioned one particular encounter, with a young woman named Cat A Strophoea. "When I visited Wilmington, in Delaware, I was attracted by an 8.5-meter-tall, glass-fiber-made figure, which stood near the highway. I stopped to take a photo of the figure. I saw a young woman, with short, red hair, also get out of her car to take a photo. To my surprise, she did not pose for a photo with the figure by herself, but she placed her rubber chicken (a toy) by the figure and took a photo of the toy. She asked me to call her by her first name, Cat." She told Jiang she had been to 29 states across the US. Each time she arrived in a state, she added a tattoo of a flower on her body. "It was her way to commemorate her journey. Cat said she cherished all the experiences she had during her journey, be they happy, sorrowful, sweet or even threatening," Jiang recalled.
On July 22, 2015, two days before Jiang turned 30, she decided to try parachuting to celebrate her birthday. She chose a place near Columbia, the state capital of South Carolina. As the plane rose to more than 3,900 meters above sea level, Jiang felt her breath becoming fast and her face becoming stiff. To help her relax, her coach sang "Happy Birthday." Said Jiang: "My coach encouraged me to move close to the edge of the aircraft. He counted down the numbers, from three to one, and then he held me so I could jump with him. I took a deep breath and tried my best to open my eyes, so I wouldn't miss the beautiful scenes as I looked down from the upper air."
With the help of her coach, Jiang experienced the feeling of flying like a bird, and she landed safe and sound. She was grateful that she had a wonderful memory as part of her 30th birthday celebration.
One year later, Jiang returned to the US and started another self-guided journey in October that year. She hoped to meet more interesting people.
Besides traveling abroad, Jiang has also completed a long drive, along the 5,476-kilometer, No. 318 national highway in China. She started her journey in Shanghai, and she traveled through the provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Hubei and Sichuan, and Chongqing Municipality, until she arrived in Tibet Autonomous Region.
She notes American writer Jack Kerouac once said, "We are forever young and forever have tears in our eyes when we are on the road." Jiang hopes to record the beautiful scenes and cultures she witnesses on her journeys. That, she believes, will help to keep her mind "forever young."
(Source: Women of China English Monthly May 2018 issue)