Feature: A family at home on the road

By Yuan Quan (Xinhua) 10:30, October 25, 2022

BEIJING, Oct. 25 (Xinhua) -- Sunhats, backpacks, sneakers and trekking poles - these are the day-to-day accessories of the family of William Lindesay and Wu Qi.

This East-meets-West family started traveling while their younger son was still in nappies in 2003. To many, they are a dazzling sight in their own right: a black-haired Chinese wife, a blue-eyed British husband, with two mixed-race boys, talking back and forth in Chinese and English.

Most of their trips seem rigorous: a heritage study in the Mongolian deserts; a 53-km hiking tour of New Zealand; a one-day climb of three English summits; a six-day train ride from Beijing to Moscow.... This international family believes in one old Chinese saying: it is better to travel 10,000 miles than to read 10,000 books.

Their passion began at the Great Wall. Born in 1956 in Liverpool, Lindesay became enamored with China's Great Wall. In 1987, he made headlines by spending 78 days walking the Great Wall across northern China. He met Wu, who became his wife, and they settled in Beijing.

Villagers living at the foot of the heritage site often see the tall, silver-haired foreigner collecting plastic bottles and garbage along the Wall. He has devoted more than 30 years to walking, photographing, studying, and protecting the structure.

Most of their destinations are not hot spots recommended by travel guidebooks; instead, they prefer places such as the Explorers Club in San Francisco, Hadrian's Wall in Britain, and the uninhabited areas along the China-Mongolia border.

Many assume the Lindesay family are super wealthy, but they are not. Lindesay said they just chose to spend money on travel rather than luxuries. Where possible they eschew cars in favor of exploring places by foot, bike or public transport. They never stay in five-star hotels or dine out lavishly.

"Real travel may be hard, uncertain, uncomfortable, but there's a feel-good factor when you pass a test of some kind," Lindesay wrote in the family's newly published travel memoir Pages of Discovery.

He cites a trip to Moscow as an example. Instead of taking a taxi from the railway station to the hotel, they managed to negotiate the Moscow Metro. "We crossed the city for a few rubles, mingled with ordinary people, and saw they are not 'aliens' but people just like us, everywhere. We arrived at our destination feeling comfortable, confident, and not timid," said Lindesay.

However, their journeys, which can last weeks or months, have sometimes been incompatible with their children's schooling. Wu recalled when Lindesay let their elder son ask for leave from his primary school so they could go to New York for a 45-day Great Wall lecture tour. The son missed the final exam, which upset Wu: "The family had a strong smell of 'gunpowder' at that time."

Lindesay, conversely, attaches importance to learning out of the classroom, saying that children might score well in school tests, but experience of the world outside, in distant lands, with different languages, scripts, political structures, and religious beliefs, is the real testing ground.

"You can only get street-wise out on the street. you can only get worldly wise when seeing the world," he said.

Years ago, such thinking was ahead of most Chinese parents who put their children's classroom study first and worried that too much travel would delay schoolwork and lower grades.

Children in this international family did not have the pressure of school tests, but they had "homework" on the road, too.

Wu asked her sons to write travel diaries, collect tickets, draw maps and summarize travel tips. She said these habits, though they might not directly improve their test scores, will pay dividends in later life.

These experiences have certainly shaped their sons' characters and influenced their chosen study at university, with one reading world history and the other international relations.

Another obvious payoff of their travels is that their two grown-up sons also share an interest in the Great Wall. More than four years after graduating from university, the elder son Jimmy has a portfolio of video work about heritage protection, some of which was broadcast on BBC and Chinese state media. He and 21-year-old brother Tommy are now following in their father's footsteps with a new 4,500-km hike on the Great Wall.

"My parents view the world as a big classroom, and my brother and I are the biggest beneficiaries in this classroom," Jimmy said.

(Web editor: Cai Hairuo, Du Mingming)


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