Born in Sichuan, Ceci grew up in Mianyang city: a very normal Chinese city, she says. Her parent’s Government jobs are confidential, and prevent them from ever going abroad. Unlike many Chinese, their 21-year-old daughter couldn’t be less interested in following in their footsteps for the sake of financial security. With ease, she says, ‘they are traditional Chinese. They don’t understand what I do.’
Somehow, beatnik abandon found its way to this one, lone soul. Hiking and camping in the wilds nearby her University with a friend, she eventually soloed to Tibet, and stayed with local families for a month and a half.
“In Tibet, just knock on the door, you can stay all the night! I do this many time. You can give something to drivers, even money or expensive things, tell them name of the person in another village, and if they already going there, they are taking it to him. They are deliver it!” she says. “You don’t pay. Not in Tibet. They are trusts each other, and it very amazing. You must, must go. But very hard for you getting into Tibet, I think.”
Her eyes and fleeting smile pair with her Mandarin accent and broken English, the overall effect being weightlessness, jarringly sweet.
No one understands Ceci’s abandon, her desire to take the floor out from underneath, reappearing months later. Her friends and family warn her of China’s organ thieves. They’ve got a point, she admits. But apparently, so does she.
Ceci’s first boat was up one of the longest rivers in Asia, what Ginsberg would call the ‘holy holy holy’ Mekong, five days back to China. She later adds an unlikely triviality: they stopped on the border to Cambodia where she spent a few weeks teaching Mandarin and English at a needy orphanage. Memories of this place bring her close to tears, and she hops up and down on her toes.
Being an accountant is obviously a fallback and a burden that’s not through with Ceci, yet. Her young features cringe, and she changes the subject. She’s on her way to New Zealand with a working visa from a one-in-a-thousand draw. She doesn’t know what she’ll do there, but she hopes it’s not related to her economics major.
In Bali, we make a watercolour poster in my living room: ‘SKILLED, EXPERIENCED TRAVELLER SEEKING PASSAGE NEAR OR FAR’. Then she hitched to the harbour and tacked it up.
Passed lazing tropical cows, stray dogs, vendors and huts, in her militant work boots with laces loose and tongues flapping, Ceci is just a little girl in tight work pants with a broad and hurried step. All of her features convey a polite intensity, bubbling away just under the surface, gently contained, yet honing in on its release. Her wound-up nature sometimes shows; she hops up and down a few times when I mention the distant islands of Vanuatu, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Micronesia, Christmas Island. When dragged out to a party on the beach, Ceci endures for hours without cracking. She stands around with a virgin cranberry juice, drunkards caving in around her, but to me it’s clear: the only equal for this girl’s intensity is the pure adrenaline of motion, change, vessels, sea.
In September of 2012, she hopped a cargo boat from China to Korea, crossed the northern peninsula to Busan, and shipped herself to Japan. Flying to Singapore, she took a Pelni boat to Medan, Sumatra, hitched the hot red roads passed Padang and Bukittinggi to Jakarta. Failing to find a ship in Tanjung Priok, she jumped a few vehicles to Bali. Coming from Surabaya, the truck suddenly veered off the dark main road. She asked the driver where he was headed, and he responded by grabbing at her, tearing her clothes. Ceci screamed at a motorcyclist who drove in front of the truck and forced it to slow to a stop.
“But you can fight…right?” I’d asked, mimicking some karate. “Right?”
Her features flare in amusement; her eyes widen, and she strikes a pose, one hand vertical, the other set back and angled. As a challenge, she winces at me.
Seriousness ends there.
Ceci unties and pushes off in a boat with two Australian yachters one morning while I’m in the office. I say more than one prayer for Little Miss Improbable, cringing as I hope to hell this world can pass the test of a virgin’s naivety.