April 30, 2012

China: Revisited

I've been missing China recently. To be honest, part of my heart is always missing China. I fall asleep at night dreaming of the day that I will get to go back someday, but I feel like little details are slipping my memory faster than they can put me to sleep.

Another confession: I feel pretty bad about not blogging while in China. How could I have neglected to chronicle such an obviously important part of my life? How can I sit and not try to squeeze everything out of my memory, that still resides there, and put it into words?

My answer is this. I know I don't blog as often as I should. But once a week, I am going to sit down and write. I am going to write about China day by day, no matter how boring and monotonous it may be, and I won't stop until I hit the day when I stepped back onto US soil. I just can't sacrifice those memories! They are WAYYYYY more important than sitting around loafing or surfing FB. So without further ado, here is Day 1.

I could hardly sleep that night. We stayed at a nice-enough hotel next to the airport and I could hear the planes taking off. It was almost frustrating to hear the jets roar to life, knowing that our chance to leave was hours away.
After waking up, I hurried to get dressed in my "traveling casual" which meant a nice sweater and sweats. We then went down to eat breakfast from the free continental buffet served by the hotel. The room was crowded with several Cardinal fans and a few business men waking up for their early meetings. They seemed so focused on their little worlds. I wanted someone to come and talk to us, to ask us where we were headed, just so that I could say, "We're going to China!" It seemed like a very important event to me.

One that should have been heralded by angels and declared from the rooftops.

We left with little more than a wave goodbye. Our uncle Joe was the chauffer of the day. We squeezed into our little vehicle and I crouched with half of my body hanging off the seat. There was so much luggage, too many people, and there certainly was a lack of room. I couldn't possibly imagine how we could fit an extra four-year-old into the car on the ride home. That wasn't important at the time. Our car was buzzing with tension and excitement. Surprisingly, there were only a few squabbles on the way to the airport. (Believe me, that is a miracle in the Blau car).

The journey through airport security was pretty laid back. There were no pat downs, no irregular bag checks, and no terrorist threats. In fact, I think that the security guards were pretty relaxed when it came to checking our bags. Maybe they pitied us. After all, six kids trying to get through American security is no joke. We also boarded the plane with few hiccups.

The plane was small. We couldn't even fit our small luggage! We were spread out and I volunteered to share a row with a girl that was flying to some northern state to visit her family. The girl was shy (I don't blame her -- she was almost ten years younger than me!), so she and I didn't talk much. It was a pretty lovely hour.

We then connected our flight at O'Hare. This airport was scary for me. There were so many different people and I was afraid that we would get swept off into the crowd. I clutched to my luggage and to my Vera Bradley side bag. Off course, there was nothing to be worried about. We arrived at our terminal safely and with no missing children. As we sat and waited for the plane to arrive, I couldn't help but "people-watch" those that were walking to and from their destinations. In our terminal, there were so many Chinese citizens. It was the first time in my life I really felt like a minority. I tried to listen in to their conversations, but I couldn't understand their fast Chinese. Perhaps my knowledge of Chinese children songs wouldn't be so impressive after all. I watched with fascination as the Chinese women finger knitted. After a while, I got so overwhelmed that I just tried to focus on my Harry Potter book. That was much simpler than trying to process my first experience with culture shock.

When the plane finally arrived, I found myself worrying. I worried about the flight. I worried that we would arrive and become total aliens. As suddenly as those feelings came, they left. I felt nothing but excitement. I was excited to be sharing seats with Savannah. Those fifteen hours seemed like nothing. It was only four movies and four hour-length TV shows. The flight attendants called out our class and away we went.

Our luggage posed such a problem on the plane. The suitcases were just wide enough that they were impossible to pull through the aisles. Another Chinese woman was struggling in front of us, and when we reached our seats, I went to help her. She offered her thanks in perfect English and then went to find her seat. As luck would have it, her seat was in the same row as mine. I was expecting to sit just with Savannah and an empty seat, so I was a little disappointed that this lady had the audacity to book a ticket next to mine, but I quickly changed my opinion of sweet Juan (pronounced Shee-an). She told me of her family that lives in China. She also talked about her trek to America that she took in order to have a better life for her daughter. When the conversation lulled, she pulled out a notebook and then taught me how to say and write some Chinese characters. I tried to fall asleep thirty minutes into the flight, and she covered me with her plane blanket. When the hours between meals seemed to drag, Juan offered me sunflower seeds. I really grew to love that woman in the short time I knew her.

The time flew and we flew. It was beautiful to look at the clouds from the perspective of the sky. I dozed off and on. I listened to the airplane's classical music channel (which only played four or five really popular songs over and over). The fifteen hours that had seemed so doable to me before seemed to drag on and on. Finally, we started to descend. Although it was three AM in America, there was no way that I was going to shut my eyes. I wanted to experience everything. There were little villages that I could make out at points, but most of the view was cloudy. I couldn't imagine that the rumors of smog were true, so I leaned over and asked Juan. She seemed to think that it was just cloudy all of the time. That it was just the weather. She said that there used to be a time when China's sky was beautiful, but now it was always gray. It seemed a tad bit depressing to me, but that didn't bar me from drinking in the sights.

When we touched down, there were a ton of planes that were taxiing. I stared at the Chinese characters that marked the different terminals. I couldn't help but the grandness of it all. For a small town girl, this was an incredible sight. There must have been thousands of people that were in this singular building. I loved China from the books and documentaries that I had seen, but I didn't realize how much actually landing on the country would intensify that love. I find that even now when I try to describe my love for China to friends, I can't find the words to say. I have such a respect for the culture and tradition that exists there. I love the kind people like Juan that were always willing to share a simple "Ni Hao" with me.
For me, China is love.
By the time we had made it to our taxi that would take us to our hotel, I was so tired that much of the anticipation and wonder had melted into a blur of emotions. I found myself staring out the window at the crazy traffic and not even caring. Our taxi driver kept asking us if we were from New York, and I found myself nodding my head in agreement. I just wanted to get into bed and not wake up for a long time. I was amazed to see the posh car stores amidst the run down, cheap souvenir stores. Beijing seemed gray. The streets, the sidewalks, and the buildings all ran into the same color. The smell was distinct. I can't describe it, but there always seemed to be a scent of mystery meat and smog. We finally pulled into our hotel, and I found relief bubbling to the surface of my emotions. I'm sure there was some struggle to get a good hotel room, but my mind was still focused on the lovely bed that I was sure awaited me.

We went and found our rooms and collapsed. Sooner than I would have liked, there was some noise about going out to get some food. I wasn't really interested in exploring, but dad insisted, so we got our shoes on and started walking. After we passed some promising shops, my dad turned into an alley way. There was a little restaurant to the left, and to the right was its mother ship. The owner seemed to spot white people from a mile away, because they were ready to quickly grab us in and pulled us up to the top room. I thought for a moment about how funny it would be to be fattened up in this top room and then slaughtered and put on display. (That might prove how loopy I was by the end of the day. Sleep and I are very good friends. It's beneficial to the world that I get enough). Everything seemed funny to me in that little restaurant. The portions were huge, my dad was trying to speak Spanglish to the Chinese waitress, everyone else was struggling with chopsticks. It was just too funny. I'm sure that there was a lot of giggling from the servers and cooks. The food was so good. I loved the greens. I loved the mushrooms with meat. Everything was so different from our Chinese buffets at home. There was a distinct flavor that I couldn't pinpoint that made everything's flavor stand out. When we were full of this delicious Chinese food and Coke, our journey home seemed to go much quicker.

The beauty of it all didn't escape me. I kept thinking to myself things like, "This is real. I'm in a different country. I'm in China." I was so grateful to be walking the streets with my family. I was so grateful for the opportunity. I was also so grateful for the long day to be over.

1 comment:

  1. You know, every time I was in China town in San Francisco it was similar. Waitresses and restaurant owners stand outside and just pull you into their places, you almost have no choice but to eat there.

    And when I was in Chinese class (for two years for the army) there was an RM from Costa Rica who always spoke Spanish on accident before he could separate languages in his head. It was too funny.



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