Sunday, October 10, 2010

China - a View from the back of the bus - Day Eight

Bus #3, Passenger #68
By Missy Schmidt (Chinese name: “Sweet Lioness” Mandarin naming 蜜狮 Pronounced mee-shee)

Traveling to China is a lot like “Amazing Race” with a little “Survivor” thrown in for good measure. The following is a recount of our adventures, a once in a lifetime experience with the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.

Day Eight (the end, almost)
Ah, the early morning bus-ride to the airport. You’d think one would become accustomed. Nope.

Getting back to the States was an adventure itself. We had to fly to Shanghai to get back to Beijing for the only flight of the day back to NYC. Not a good idea on any overseas trip, we now know. Be in your final departure city the night before! We sat on the plane in Shanghai for a long time before Air China finally decided the plane had a mechanical problem that could not be fixed, and they didn’t have another plane. Better to find out on the ground, I say.

We had a very short connection window for the Beijing flight. We’d never make it, even if we could find another flight to get us out of Shanghai. At this point, I’m envisioning sleeping on the floor of the airport. No worries, I had a pillow and blanket with me.

Now, Bert and I are at the back of the plane. By the time we had got through the jet way, the Chinese, other travelers and our group had crowded the gate ten or more people-deep. It brought to mind the craziness of New York Stock Exchange traders, so I stepped back and put in my iPod’s ear buds. After some harried negotiation via mobile phone between the President of the Hampton Roads Chamber, Jack Hornbeck, and the tour company, our group was divided up and given boarding passes to three different flights to Beijing. Run. They were ready to go. Luckily, our Chamber group was so large, the Beijing to NYC flight was held up for us to arrive.

So, after arriving in JFK several hours later than expected, we flew through U.S. Customs with ease despite what appeared to be a very long line, then boarded the bus – the last one I hope to ride on for a while – for the final trip home.

Our driver took us through New York’s Chinatown as we left JFK for the trip which would take us down the Eastern Shore. The entire bus chuckled. We’d just left that all behind. The driver seemed to take forever. He was Chinese and told us he couldn’t drive in China anymore. Too fast for him.

While Bert enjoyed taking pictures of me wearing my mask on the plane, I was the ONLY person on the bus ride home NOT hacking and coughing the entire way. We arrived home in Norfolk at 2:30am on Thursday. I slept, was showered and back to work by 11:30am, swollen feet and all. Bert took a long weekend.

After this trip, I think there are two Chinas. One is the China of my grade school history books with ornate gardens, pagodas and pavilions, gates and walls, farmland growing tea, dynasties and privileged emperors. The other is the China of today, fused somewhere between capitalism and communism, a people ready to embrace the dream of middle-class and to throw open the national doors to invite in shoppers of all race, color and creed. While I may never go back, I am certainly glad we did go. Not because the trip was not memorable. It was that, and more. I am glad I traveled to Japan first. I may have never gone, if not, based on this Asian experience. Just proves that one cannot judge an entire continent by one country, or even one city or person. We’re all different.

And there are just so many more places Bert and I want to explore. Suggestions?

Slideshow on Flickr

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