Here’s my travelling adventure, starting when I woke up on Thursday at 5:30 am US time and ending around Friday at 11:00 pm China time (11:00 am on Friday for US). I wrote these passages “LIVE” at the times listed (US time). Enjoy my chaos!
8:30 am: Sitting at our gate while everyone finishes their seat claims at the desk. Had a little scare when my bag weighed in at 23lbs (about 25lbs less than when I arrived in DC), but I realized the entire bag wasn’t on the scale. I’ve never been so relieved to see my luggage hit the 50lb limit. I’m exhausted and my eyes are blurry, so this will be fun. Some of my friends went to purchase selfie sticks at one of the electronic stores by our gate, only to realize (after buying them) that they did not have buttons, and therefore did not work. Airport scam. They were returned, so we’ve had to improvise when taking pictures. Everything is being documented. I can’t turn around without seeing a phone pointed at my face, but honestly we’re all just so anxious. There’s so much left unsaid between all of us, but everyone knows we’re all terrified underneath our smiles.
9:35 am: Just sat down on my flight to Detroit. Our plane boarded late because it hit a bird and they had to clean the outside of the aircraft… Great start. Could have sworn I just saw Mr. Echo from Lost…
10:59 am: About to land in Detroit, and the plane just tipped to the right to allow me a glance over the landscape. A jigsaw puzzle. The land looks like a giant jigsaw puzzle stretching to the horizon, or maybe a huge Tetris- and turbulence… Lots of turbulence… Oh god my heart just dropped into my stomach okay deep breaths… We’re tipping really far to the left now and jeese the air is crushing me into my seat. Okay, hey! There’s the city! Alright I feel like we’re nose diving now. Gah I wish I was sleeping through this. Why are we flying around in circles… Okay now we just went up higher… And now we’re dropping. Left, right, hard left, level, down, far down, turbulence, more turbulence… So much turbulence. Oh that’s cute; the houses are like little dots peeking out from behind the trees- did they just cut the engine off? Oh, wait, there it is! And big drop… Is that an alarm? Hard right, left, level, VERY LOUD SOUND, turbulence, turbulence, turbulence, accelerating… Just land already!! Okay, I see the runway. Prepare for landing… Oof that hurt okay brake brake brake brake brake lemme off this thing. Nicely done. Whoa I didn’t realize I was holding my breath. Welcome to Detroit!
11:43 am: We’re waiting to board our flight to Beijing now. The Detroit airport is pretty cool; there’s a color changing tunnel and a train that zips by on an overpass above the left gates. Just saw our first sign in Mandarin!
12:53 pm: Well, I’m sitting in the middle aisle surrounded by other kids on my program. Mandarin is blasting through the speakers in jagged syllables; complete nonsense to our English ears. We’re flying over the pole and into Beijing. Only 13 hours to go. Oh God, what did I get myself into?
1:02 pm: And, we’re in the air. The only thing keeping me sane right now is Starlings by Elbow. As soon as we left the ground, I looked at my friend beside me and asked, “what did we get ourselves into?” She couldn’t provide an answer either.
1:04 pm: Alright, now no one is talking. We’re all just exchanging wide-eyed glances and silent offerings of comfort. There’s a family waiting for us across the ocean, and a family living without us on the ground below. I feel nauseous.
1:32 pm: So they just handed us hot towels… My friends and I exchanged some weird looks, and then observed the Chinese people around us instantly wipe their faces and hands, followed by the pull down table. So, we mimicked them. Honestly, a clean face, neck, hands and table feels fantastic. We just received our customs forms and menus. I’m watching Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
3:21 pm: Just had dinner. Some weird eggplant thing. 2 hours down, 11 more to go. They gave me a water bottle, which kinda stinks, cause now I’m responsible for it. There’s only so much stuff I can fit in my little seat.
3:31 pm: Just finished Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. I highly recommend. True story. If she can last a few years in Afghanistan, then I can last 7 weeks in China.
3:39 pm: And starting movie 2: Burnt. Just looked at the flight tracker- haven’t even left US territory yet… At least I just found the mother load of free movies hidden in the bowels of my TV menu. Shoes off, seat back, headphones on, feet up. I wonder what the seven other movies will be that I can fit into the flight time (heavy sigh).
5:26 pm: Finished Burnt. Good movie. Gonna take a nap now. 8 hours and 39 minutes to go. My water mysteriously disappeared.
6:22 pm: Mini nap. Someone made the mistake of opening a window and blinding the cabin. Based on the cruel reactions of the passengers, no one will be making that mistake again. We’re flying over the ocean now. Goodbye North America. 7 hours and 43 minutes to go. I just got out my eye mask. I miss my bed. Any bed. Any flat surface. Dad, stop saying “I told you so” or “now you know how I feel.” Good-night-sleep attempt #2 commencing…
6:28 pm: Attempt #2 failed.
7:04 pm: My friend decided to watch the Shining (obviously a fantastic idea- lets terrify ourselves before being dropped into a completely unfamiliar environment and family). HE keeps jumping in his seat every time something pops out. I’ve decided to watch When Harry Met Sally ’cause it looks cute and not as vicious.
7:29 pm: I gave up on that movie. Watching Spectre now.
8:14 pm: Just finished a nutritious breakfast of cookies and a brownie. Few more hours to go.
9:17 pm: There’s a child behind me that will not stop kicking my seat. I would say something, but the family only speaks Mandarin… So I’m out of luck. Just entered the eastern hemisphere. 4 hours and 42 minutes to go.
9:50 pm: Agh get me off of this flight I can’t sit for any longer! 4 hours… 12 minutes… 4 hours… 12 minutes… Deep breaths…
10:01 pm: Some of the NSLI-Y kids figured out how to create a multiplayer server on one of the games in the TVs, so now we’re competing in a blind maze navigation game. But, the buttons don’t work really well, so zone 3 of the plane has turned into a battle ground of kids loudly complaining about the unfairness of the game. I would say that the other Chinese people on the flight are bothered, but I can’t understand them so oh well. I can’t tell whether I’m starving or extremely full… Love airplane food (loud groan).
10:05 pm: My friend found my water bottle; I was sitting on it.
11:02 pm: Just filled out the customs card after a little nap. Still haven’t seen daylight. 3 hours left.
11:10 pm: So I was just glancing around the TV screens nearby, and noticed an older Chinese man watching a movie in which a man gave birth to a baby through his mouth, and the baby turned into an animated monster… I’m very confused, and rather concerned… Best not to question it, I suppose.
11:32 pm: Finally got up. I’m honestly surprised my legs still work after sitting all cramped into an airplane seat.
11:52 pm: Just opened up a letter (from the greatest friend ever, Jessica) that I was instructed to open on the flight to China. Thank you for making me laugh- you’re the best friend I could have ever asked for and I miss you so much already. Alright… Cue sad music as I reflect on my life before landing…
12:55 am: Well we’re over the border of Mongolia. About an hour and a half away! I can’t believe we’ve sat here for over 13 hours. Even weirder- we meet our host families in 24 hours. They’re serving more food, so they turned on the lights, which is irritating because my eyes are killing me.
1:38 am: Officially descending! Beijing here we come! My ears are popping like crazy.
1:41 am: So we’ve all been staring helplessly through the incredibly bright window, only to realize that it’s not because we’re in the clouds or the sun is near by; it’s so bright because of the pollution. It’s mid day and the smog is so thick the entire window is just… White. You can’t see any land.
2:02 am: WE’RE IN BEIJING!!!
3:49 am: Alright so we all have our luggage, and exchanged money. However, we are not allowing to check in for another half hour, so we’re all sitting on our oversized suitcases to wait for our boarding passes. After conversing with the rest of the group, most people had stomach issues during the flight. A few people actually did get sick a few times, but most (like me) just had chest and/or stomach discomfort. Despite the time difference, I’m feeling pretty good. I mean, I desperately need a bed and a shower, but it doesn’t feel like 3:53 am (which it is at home for me). We passed by a fast food restaurant that only sells duck. It’s prepared differently to form each dish, and is fairly popular in Beijing and Xi’an (so I’m told). My head kinda hurts and I’m dehydrated (and probably lacking most nutrients), but other than that I’m great.
5:08 am: A LOT JUST HAPPENED. So they finally started letting us check in, but they cancelled our original flight which boarded at 7. Instead, the only available flight from Beijing to Xi’an started boarding in a half hour, and none of our bags were checked, none of us had boarding passes, and we still had not gone through security. So, we all passed in our passports and frantically waited for them to create boarding passes, distribute them and the passports back to all 23 of us so we could check out bags, and then run through security. The thing is, security, despite the short line, took forever. They checked each bag and item three times, and often unpacked bags. So, it took 20 minutes for us to all check our bags, and an additional 20 to get through security. On top of that, our Department Leader and two Chinese partner leaders were whisked through security ahead of all of us, and went to the gate. So, the rest of us students were alone, without interpreters, running through security and without guidance to our gate (which was making its last call). Sprinting to our gate, only the woman at the desk was present, and she did not speak any English. So as I was trying to explain that the rest of our group was coming, she only smiled grimly and mumbled something about the ramp or whatever. Then, only to add to our anxiety, we did not recognize anyone on our flight. We could not find anyone from our group. But, I spotted a familiar face at the back of the plane- our RD. Relieved, we collapsed into our seats (I’m surrounded by non-English-speaking Chinese) and waited anxiously for the rest of our group to arrive (which they just did). My head hurts, my eyes are stinging, my feet are burning, and my heart is racing. I’m listening to Don’t Panic by Coldplay. Hopefully the next two hours will be uneventful. Welcome to Beijing, I’ll see you in Xi’an.
5:27 am: The woman next to me just raised her hands in prayer before the flight is taking off… Should I be concerned? I’m getting concerned…
6:59 am: It’s so mountainous. Hills and valleys and little passageways of water cutting through the rocky terrain, dividing the land into strips of green and clay. Even the clouds look neatly swept into their fluffy pockets. Plateaus peak through pockets of thick, gray air. It’s magnificent. I feel as if I’m staring at a traditional Chinese painting with carefully curled clouds and dense, majestic fog that collects below a ridge. I would take pictures, but unfortunately I am in the middle seat, and the man next to me does not seem too thrilled with the idea of having an American teenager lean over him to snap a picture of the foggy window. We’ll be landing soon.
7:09 am: I can see the city! It pops out of the horizon so clearly; the towers resemble little, stacked, toy blocks, surrounded by dots for houses and neighborhoods. It’s incredible how such giant buildings can seem so small and feeble from an airplane window. My host family is waiting down there for me somewhere. Oh- there’s the landing gear sound.
7:17 am: Just snuck a few pictures and a video of the landing. Welcome to Xi’an! Finally. There’s my travel day. Woke up at 5:30 and ended at 7:17 am US time the next day. Feels like a week ago I had my PDO.
7:26 am: The man next to me was just practicing drawing Chinese characters with his finger on an airport napkin. I find this fascinating for some reason.
7:44 am: We’ve officially switched to all Mandarin. There’s no English anywhere in the airport… It smells like gasoline, windex and glue.
7:50 am: First squat toilet… That was an experience
8:21 am: Some of us stopped for food while we’re waiting for our bus. My body is awake, but I’m so brain dead. Need a shower… And a toothbrush.
8:34 am: The night air is beautiful. Getting off the plane was rough, but the breezy, placid evening is heavenly. Little noise, and just the soft embrace of the warm weather. It’s incredibly serene and beautiful and I’m completely overwhelmed by the culture. I cannot wait for tomorrow.
9:15 am: Just saw a Chinese IKEA!
Hour bus ride/orientation/extreme Chinese Karaoke, then shower and sleep. Our hotel/dorms don’t have elevators, so we all had to lug 50lb bags up 4 flights of stairs (some Chinese guy immediately helped me though, which made the trip much easier and faster). More tomorrow! Welcome to China, everyone.