Well the time has come to return home. We had coffee with some friends at a Beijing Starbucks. But the hour flew by and we needed to head out to the airport.
It took longer than we thought and again we were lost trying to figure out where we were supposed to go to pickup a flight to U.S.A. There were signs for Hong Kong, Korea, and other Asian destinations. Just a small sign that said "Int'l" gave us a clue.
Getting through security took a long time too. Stamping VISAs and Passports, checking IDs, stripping before the security scan and then reassembling myself afterwards took more time than we calculated. We made the gate with about 30 minutes to spare. I couldn't bear the 12 hours of flight without a book to read so I ran back to a bookstore and picked up a small paperback for a mere $18. That's 125 yuan. That's what I paid in China for my North Face jacket! It's robbery. I gulped when the woman scanned the book and loudly announced the cost I'd have to pay for these few sheets of paper with some ink on them. I also bought one for Ruth and she nearly fainted at hearing the cost.
We boarded the plane and sat behind a woman who coughed the entire 12 hours. With every breath, she hacked. I thought she's pass out just from the exhaustion of it all. I finally put the ear plugs in and started my book.
Later in flight we watched our Chinese DVD movie: Turn Right Turn Left on my iBook. A little sappy but on the whole a good romance story.
We landed in Chicago at 4:30, about 10 minutes late. I was unprepared for what lay ahead.
First we had to fill out a declaration form, then go through customs, then claim our baggage, then recheck our baggage, then go through security (shoes off, laptop out, etc.), then catch a tram to our terminal, and eventually find the gate (it wasn't listed on the boarding pass).
The customs guy was a little chatty. "Oh, you were traveling with your wife to China? How was the trip? What are your occupations?" I kept thinking: "I'd love to chat and all but please just stamp the passports, we've got another plane to catch. I'll give you the blog address. You can read all about it after work." But I just smiled and said: "Yes, we had a great time. Software Architect and Medical Transcriptionist. Thanks."
We went through security but had to take our shoes off, empty our pockets, remove our belts, and separate the notebook. At the other end we had to reassemble again. It was 5:30 and our flight to Atlanta was to leave at 5:45 p.m.
Our boarding passes didn't have the gate number so we had to locate one of those TV screens and look it up. It was way down the end of the NEXT wing. This meant running down stairs, under the tarmac and then back up some stairs, and then down to the end of the wing. Ruth was running in her socks but finally put her shoes on while we were riding one of those people movers, you know, the flat escalator. She didn't have time to tie her laces and we ran on to the end of the wing, loose laces whipping behind. People gawking.
The boarding agent had just closed the door. It was 5:45 and the flight was scheduled to take off right then. But she opened it for the two sweaty bodies that begged on bended knee.
The flight to Atlanta from Chicago was bumpy. One man gave us his seat so that we could sit together in the back. I got some sleep on the previous flight from Beijing but Ruth didn't and the lack of sleep was wearing on her.
Maiko picked us up and drove us home. It was nice to see folks driving in lanes again. The cats were fine. The house was intact. Maiko took good care of things for us.
The hot shower felt good, the pressure was strong, and I didn't have to duck under the shower head. The toilet was Western. We didn't have to squat over an Asian porcelain hole in the floor. We could throw the toilet paper in the toilet and not in a waste bin beside it. And there is actually a toilet roll on the wall, we didn't have to bring our own.
Even the blow dryer cord was long enough. At our last hotel they put the foldable blow dryer in a drawer, drilled a hole for the cord in the drawer bottom, wired the plug on the end, and plugged it into the wall. They felt this was a good way to keep the dryer in place. Trouble was, I had to sit at the desk and bend over to reach the back of my head.
But those are just cosmetic things.
Ruth says she misses the childlike curiosity towards weiguoren. The Chinese people are truly curious about us, in anything we do. When we bought some flutes from a street vendor, two other guys came by to see what we were doing. In the West people would walk by and ignore us. Ruth asked the men if they were friends of the vendor. No, they were just interested in what was happening.
We also miss the people we met, their kindnesses, helpfulness, and generosity. While living in a foreign country we learned that communication is critical for daily needs. We realize that lodging, food and water were all we really needed. That and a xishoujian (clean-hand-room, the bathroom). We miss the simple view of life. Everything else is superfluous. Everything is borrowed. We can collect stuff all our life but in the end, stuff decays, breaks, rusts, gets taken, or rots. Things matter little. Memories matter. People matter. Relationships matter. Our Creator matters.
And that's the thing that struck me the most. Everyone is afraid of what is not like themselves. As I stood in the long Customs line in both China and the U.S. I think how crazy this world is. Each country distrusting the next. Blocking entry and making border crossing unpleasant, difficult, and in some cases impossible. Blue counters as far as the eye can see, stamping, checking, scanning, and filtering people of every shape and size. But we are all really the same. We all have families, relatives, friends, and companions. We are all trying to feed ourselves and our families. Sure, we love the land of their birth, who doesn't? But we don't care where a political power puts a line in the sand. I think how much different things will be when the political borders are removed and people will be allowed to freely go from country to country and get to know each other at a more personal level.
Yes, there are monsters. There are people that will not change. They feel it is their duty to destroy another's peace. But no country's blue counter or border checkpoint will be able to stop them. No government has been able to do so in the past. Why would we expect they could do it in the future?
I talked to my buddy in China. I expressed concern for China after the Olympics of 2008. Will China still be open to the West? Or will it swing back the other way? 'The horses have already left the barn' was his general feeling. Too much has occurred and China is relying on the developed nations to help it improve it's economy. China is just trying to control the rate of change. Unlike Russia, China wants to make sure the growth is more controlled. That's a good thing.
And even though I was frustrated that the hosting stie for this blog was blocked. (It was a pain to have to double post to travelblog.org so that I could observe the finished entry.) Still, I wish the U.S. would do some filtering too. For example, place restrictions on porno and violent sites. And make it harder for our young people to become entangled in trash on the Net. China is attempting to do just that. It's true, they may be heavy handed at times, blocking an entire hosting service (like blogspot.com), but in some ways I wish the West would follow.
There is much more to assess from our trip. It'll take months for us to digest it all. We look forward to returning here to review and remember all our experiences. But it's time to catch up on our sleep.
We left Beijing at 4:20 p.m. on Saturday the 29th. We flew for 12 hours and arrived in Chicago at 4:20 p.m. on Saturday the 29th. The clocks say we are in the same day, in the same hour, but our bodies tell us differently.
The bed was soft. The air was clear. The noise was gone. We slept well.
My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there. -Charles F. Kettering