Friday, June 7, 2013
Our last day in China has arrived. It’s hard to believe two weeks went by so quickly. Instead of having classes scheduled this morning, we mostly had free time to complete our packing. Breakfast was at the usual time in the cafeteria at 7:30am, after which we said farewell to Emily who had to leave BSU at 8am to catch an earlier flight back home. We then had the opportunity to observe the women’s rhythmic gymnastics team practice, who are training for a national competition. I find the flexibility of these athletes amazing, and marvel that they can kick their legs past their head and sit comfortably in a hyperabducted split position. I was also impressed with the overall balance and coordination such a sport entails, because in addition to executing impressive full body movements, they also have equipment to manipulate at the same time, whether it is a ribbon, baton, or ball.
With our remaining free time at BSU, some students went off campus to make some last-minute purchases, while others stopped at the campus market for some snacks for the plane ride. Our last lunch at BSU was a bittersweet one. Although many of us are happy to return to the comforts of home, especially certain American foods and softer beds, we have all thoroughly enjoyed our stay in China and have learned more than we could have expected in such a short time. Sadly, only nine of us are returning to the US, as Hongwei (Papa Guan) is staying in China for a bit longer to spend time with family and friends. Speaking of friends, we’ve made lifelong friendships on this trip, despite the language and cultural differences. Hopefully, WeChat will work at home so we can stay in touch with our friends in China, but if not, there’s always email.
Our bus ride to the Beijing airport went smoothly. Surprisingly, there was not much traffic around noon today, an unusual occurrence around Beijing, so we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to check in and go through customs. Speaking of security, the airport checkpoints were different than what I have encountered for other international travel. After checking our bags, we went through a security checkpoint that was fairly similar to those in the US, minus the shoe removal. I ended up setting off the metal detector for whatever reason (perhaps my watch or the metal plate in my foot), so I got the pat down. But, per usual, the security officers wanted a closer look in my backpack, and it turns out that my bag of electronic cables was the potentially suspicious culprit. But Nick was lucky (perhaps unlucky) enough to get the full treatment from security, who emptied all his bags and questioned him about the contents. The most different part of security was the addition of a checkpoint between the boarding gate and the plane, after our boarding passes had been scanned. At this checkpoint there were two rows of security officials standing at tables. Each passenger had to show their boarding pass and ID as well as take out their liquids again and have their bags searched. The problem with this was that we still could not have liquids more than the one-quart ziploc bag with containers of no more than 3 oz. This meant no water in water bottles, which was a shock to me. I had filled my water bottle in the airport with the expectation that I could take it on the plane full in order to stay hydrated for the 12+ hour flight. Unfortunately, I had to dump all my water before going through this last checkpoint, which meant I did not have any water for the plane. So, as soon as I got settled in my seat, I went to ask a flight attendant for some water, who happily filled my water bottle.
While Nick was sleeping in first/business class in a lie-flat bed, the rest of us spent our time near the back of the plane in coach. We passed the time either sleeping, watching movies or TV shows, listening to music, or reading. The food was Chinese style, but nothing in comparison to the authentic Chinese food we had been eating regularly on the trip. Interestingly during the flight, many Chinese people, at least near my seat, did not regularly sit in their seats, but either congregated in the back to chat or walked the aisles.
Upon arrival in Newark, we followed the crowd to collect our checked bags and go through customs. Here we said goodbye to Sam and Ariel, who lived nearby and were being picked up by their parents at the Newark airport. Then the rest of us got back in line for another security checkpoint in order to enter the domestic terminals for our flights back to Ithaca (or Maine, in Emma’s case). After eating Chinese food for two weeks, we were excited to have some American food again, including burgers, fries, and desserts. Unfortunately, now that we were back in the USA, there’s no more bargaining, so we were required to pay the inflated airport prices for food and other items. Additionally, we no longer had to wonder if the toilets in the bathroom would be “squatty potties,” as they were all full size sit-down toilets complete with toilet paper that could be flushed without getting clogged. Before boarding the plane for Ithaca, we caught a moment for a quick video chat with Hongwei back in China, where it was already Tuesday morning.
When the remaining five from our group (Sarah, Amanda, Christy, Coty, and Nick) landed in Ithaca, we were greeted by friends and family who welcomed us home from our long trip. For me, it was a relief to be in a small airport without many people around and only one baggage claim as compared to the crowds we experienced many places in China. After collecting our bags, we took our last group picture before parting ways. Walking out the doors from the Ithaca airport, the air was crisp and cool, and the sky was clear with bright stars in the sky. Our 36-hour Monday was almost done, and our China trip had come to a close. We have had experiences and made memories that will last a lifetime, and met people who we will never forget.
zàijiàn zhōngguó (Goodbye China)!