The Return From China   Leave a comment

It’s been a couple weeks now, but I’m more or less settled back into being back from China.  I also have gotten back to a “normal” sleep schedule, which I’ve not had in many months (normal for me being an incredible drowsiness that hits me between 1:30 AM and 2:30 AM which convinces me to go to bed.)  Going to China was an incredible experience, though not for a lot of the reasons I expected.  I didn’t get to do many touristy things (or as my sister put it, I didn’t get to do many “China things”), but I did get to see a sort of “normal” day in China.

I went to China because some of my sister’s coworkers thought that it’d be fun for me to show up in China over Christmas as a kind of present to her, and I thought it sounded like a lot of fun.  We didn’t get to have the ridiculous surprise we wanted (me just sort of “being there” at the breakfast table on Christmas morning without any real explanation) but we the upshot is that I was able to help out a bit as their small English-school transferred everyone from one building to another’s housing.

Getting to China was exhausting because I didn’t know all that went into getting a Visa.  I’d been told that a lot of these things are hard to acquire if you don’t go through an agency to handle the paperwork for you, but I found it to be more or less straightforward.  All the waiting to see if I’d been approved, though, took its toll.  After getting a passport and visa for the first time in my life, though, I felt stronger for it.  And then came the plane trip.

Douglas Adams wrote in The Long, Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul that no language on Earth had ever produced the phrase “as pretty as an airport”, and I had that expression in my mind a lot while I went through the process of getting into O’Hare in Chicago and out of Pudong in Shanghai.  In their defense, these airports actually weren’t that bad, It’s just that this is a business centered entirely around getting people to far away places really quickly.  There’s some natural tension to be had.  After carefully packing my one bag and one carry-on bag the night before, I reached O’Hare and learned that the ratios of the bags were unusually proportioned and that I’d be better off switching them.  So I did.

This led to an amusing search of my bag by a TSA official, since a number of items in my new carry on were containers for liquids or gels that were in quantities of greater than three ounces.  She quickly determined that they were all innocent enough, though, and let me off with a friendly reminder about the policy.

The actual plane ride over was severely overbooked, probably related to the fact that this was a few days before Christmas.  I was by an aisle, though, and as such had the ability to stand and walk whenever I felt like it.  It was just a bit too cramped for me to easily use my laptop, so I settled on watching the films aboard the flight.

Eventually the 14 hour plane ride ended, and I met up with Sara and her coworker Joe.  After a bus trip and a quick meal, I was treated to a three hour ride on what I think was a bullet train.  (The image above is actually from my last day in China, not my first, but it works well enough.  Also, I’ll hotlink from Sara’s blog.  You should go read it there, I linked it above.)

Sara’s company teaches English as a second language, and mixes that with American traditions and cultural lessons, so the week I was there I got to witness a number of American Christmas Parties being held.  I wasn’t a teacher, but I was invited to sort of be around during the classes.  True to form, Sara and I instantly created a character for me to play in the event of anyone questioning my presence at the Christmas party lessons.  We decided I was basically a hobo who kept coming up with really shady excuses for being around and stealing food (or possibly I was the personification of the holiday season, but really bad at phrasing things.  “I’m the, uh… Spirit of Christmas.  Don’t talk to me or I’ll leave.”)  For the last couple days of these parties, I helped by watching the baking of cookies, which was a nice, laid back way to help out.

While I didn’t get many chances to do much sightseeing, I did enjoy seeing what these other Americans considered to be normal days in China.  Plus they took me out to eat at a few memorable places, like the Chinese take on Pizza Hut (they serve pumpkin-shrimp soup there), and a delightful location called Hot Pot.  I caught myself wanting some of the lotus roots from Hot Pot today, actually.

On Christmas Eve, Sara and I held a little family tradition involving the nativity set (complete with rhino), some Bible readings, and carol singing.  It’s a little thing our family does.  We invited some of Sara’s coworkers, and since they came Sara hit on the idea of also incorporating a House Church tradition involving communion.  “Wherever two or more gather”, after all.

I was sad to leave China and my sister, but the trip did have to end eventually.  I’d like to go back some day, but for now it’s a fun collection of memories.

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