| Alfred C. Snider | April 15-16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 2001| Other Journals | Debate Central |
I awaken and work on my journal a bit, sort my belongings for the big pack, I drop down for breakfast a few minutes early and it is already going on. The schedule for the day is breakfast, pack, meeting, departure for airport (lunch on the way), do the airport routine, and then fly to the USA -- arriving in Chicago in the late afternoon and in Burlington, Vermont by 12:15 AM the next day.
AN IN DEPTH LOOK AT THE BEIJING GRAND BREAKFAST (FOR THOSE WHO ARE INTERESTED)
Soups, etc. | Steamed breads
Trays of goodies | More strange but delicious goodies
I was determined to save my strength on this day. There is a temptation to run off and do some exploring and leave packing and departure prep to the last minute, but I know that the airplane ride itself will be very difficult, so I decide to play it cool.
I felt like I was playing some strange version of Tetris as I tried to get everything inside my bags, and in a spot where it might not become broken. Jim and I have a jolly time together packing and sorting through all of our things, reliving the experience which brought each item into contact with us. I get word from downstairs that people want to leave early, which I dismiss as callous optimism. I'll be there a few minutes before departure and I am sure I will not be the last one.
I watch Chinese television as I pack. No nudity, very little sexual content, the violence is usually offscreen or kung fu style. I could sense a strong nationalist current, specifically in the historical dramas about China's past exploitation by colonial powers. I hear an excellent discussion on China Central Television news about the spy plane incident, containing many sides of the issue and going into detail about future China-USA relations, which they stress must be based on equality of treatment, but which they all state is very important to China. Still, I miss a more diverse media.
I check my room for any lost belongings, I scoop up some "Beijing Grand Hotel" shampoo and a comb or so, and head downstairs for the final load in. At the bus we form a chain and pass bags so that we start stacking them all the way at the back. Soon everything is in. We seem a jolly crew, we American educators, as we prepare to depart. People start talking about what to do during our long lay over in Chicago, and a plan is hatched to sneak out to a great Chicago pizza place. Somehow I know I won't be on that run.
The final packing crisis | The final briefing by Juefei
We rumble aboard the bus and we are off our return trip has begun. We stop not far from the airport for lunch. It is a delightful meal, the kind of meal I will remember so fondly about China -- full of surprises, differences, and variables. Mr. Liang told me in Hohhot that a good meal should have a variety of flavors, textures, colors and smells. He mentioned this while commenting that he was concerned the meal he had ordered for us was "too hard." Interesting. I was told that Chinese food should have a beautiful presentation, a delightful smell, and a good taste. This meal had lots of that. Back to my high protein diet once I get back to the USA. I wondered how much weight I had gained, since I had been eating as much of anything I wanted since I arrived. People in my party who had weighed themselves indicated they had eaten lots but lost a few pounds. Juefei told me that I will be ten pounds lighter when I return to Vermont. I doubt it. We shall see!
After lunch we get aboard the buss and head off for the Beijing Airport. We pull up to a curbside drop off near international departures and we get everyone off so our luggage chain can now work in reverse. I anchor the chain this time from inside, so I get to feel how heavy everyone's bags are. Yes, they have all packed pretty tightly. Slowly the luggage makes its way out into a pile on the sidewalk. We sort it out and each of us takes a small luggage cart (absolutely free) and piles our own stuff on it.
We block traffic briefly as we parade through the cross walk and into the terminal. The terminal is packed and we gather near a bright map to have a final meeting with Juefei, who will not be accompanying us but will follow on the next day. He briefs us on how to get our tickets, check our bags, go through customs, meet with the security officials at border control, and then make our way into the part of the terminal where we can wait. We agree to stop and regroup after each stage of the process to make sure we are all appropriately on our way.
Beijing Airport | Our flight to the USA
We get tickets, check bags (one of mine is odd size so I have to take it to another spot), go through customs, pay our 90 Yuan airport tax, and then make our way through security -- the last checkpoint. At that last spot I play a hunch and get in the line with mostly foreigners, and sure enough it moves much faster. The process is not as difficult for a foreigner to leave China as it is a Chinese citizen, or at least is slower. On the other side I am asked by my friends why my line moved so fast, and I just smile.
On the other side we locate our gate and go to set up shop to wait for departure. We establish a base camp at the gate and then we are free to wander while some guard the camp. Not a good idea to leave any bag alone in any airport.
This is the opportunity I have been waiting for to do some shopping. I know it will be a bit more expensive here, but I am trapped here so shopping isn't trading off with other activities. I end up buying a lot of silk clothing as gifts as well as a jade pendant for my daughter.
Our flight is delayed for 25 minutes, but then does board and we make our way to our seats. I am on the side in a window seat with one other person next to me in the aisle seat. As we take off I notice how hazy it is once again. Beijing does have an air pollution problem.
None of the four movies interest me. That's bad for a 13 hour trip. I do enjoy watching several of the Discovery Channel shows, however. What I really want is a copy of the New York Times. I try to sleep a little, I read my newest Doctor Who paperback (Prime Time, with Doctor #7 and Ace), I sample the food and snacks offered by United Airlines, but mostly I just sit and think about my now rapidly ending adventure.
The flight contains 10 small children who are on their way to America with their new parents. They don't cry very much.
The "Map Channel" which shows your progress around the globe is nice, but it is so explicit with time and distance that it seems to make things go even slower. I start ignoring it and read more of my book.
We arrive in Chicago and we get through US Customs and Border Control pretty easily, again a lot more quickly than those on the flight coming from China. We take a train to the other terminal and find our gate. Now we have about four hours to wait. Now I do the New York Times (bothering people with my exclamations) and some other news materials I grab for. I plug in my PowerBook and co9ntinue working on my journal as well as my upcoming UDL presentations in Atlanta.
We move to another gate. People are looking a bit tired, including me. We board our flight for Burlington and it is full of a large high school field trip from Vermont, with very energetic and excited young people. Ahem.
We land in Burlington and, as if by magic, all of our bags appear. I dash outside into a taxi and make my way to my humble abode on Clark Street. I get all my stuff upstairs in one trip (a final burst of energy). I fall into my soft easy chair and turn on the news.
My sense of time is shattered. My normal sleep pattern is many days away from me. On the other hand, I am stunned to realize that any part of the globe is only one day away for me, and my trip of that day has proven it. It doesn't get much longer than that.
As I fall asleep in (hooray!) my own bed, I start wondering what Chile will be like!