February 23, 2008
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Filed Under (Life, Travelog) by justin

Thus begins a series of notes about my recent travels. I didn’t post them earlier because they were mostly written as notes or based on notes scribbled in free moments in cafés, restaurants, train stations or buses. I have tried to modify them only enough to make sense of them, not to make them read-worthy.


I woke up this morning and felt scared for the first time. Scared about this trip I think I’m going to make, I mean. It was a little encouraging, because it seemed I should be struggling with it at least a little bit, and I really wasn’t. Others’ success has somehow morphed into an easy time for me.

The feeling just kept building.

All morning, I was double-checking to make sure I had money and identification. Those seem to be the items most essential for emergency provisions. I was really woefully unprepared for this little excursion. I realized last night that I’m taking my computer, with my entire life aboard, into who knows what situations, and I didn’t have a single byte backed up. If I lost some of this, I might as well start prostituting my soul on the street because I really have nothing left. Fortunately, I was confronted with the need to make some such provisions in time. I also grabbed up just about all my cash, with no idea how much I’ll spend or how to do so most effectively. I think I’m going to transfer it to my US account, but I’m not sure if that’s the best idea. Or, really, how to do it.

So as I walked into the airport alone and needing to figure things out, I felt a little overwhelmed. Cute Chinese faces smiled at me from all sides as I frantically scanned the little board I assumed told me where to go. It did. In English. I would have found it sooner if I had looked at my flight arrangements in advance at all. I didn’t even know what airline I was flying. Things quickly came together, though, and I was impressed at the level of English. My only previous domestic Chinese flight had been, well, frightening. I don’t know if six months in China had informed my expectations or if the situation had actually improved, but I was comfortable and informed.

James, the English speaker and head of the household I’m joining in Beijing, had a business appointment, so he send a student to collect me at the airport. After a slightly frustrating game of electronic, bilingual Marco Polo, we connected and grabbed a taxi. Actually, Evander had only ever passed through Beijing on his train rides to and from school. With my knowledge of airports and his knowledge of Mandarin, we made it safely on our way. The only problem was that we didn’t know exactly what way we needed. Long story short, our taxi ride ended with my paying a mutually agreed on price (since we’d stopped the meter kilometers ago) while Evander and the driver exchanged apologies for misdirecting and ignorance of our destination.

Evander left shortly thereafter to start a twenty-hour train ride home. I sat and played with Samuel, James and Elsie’s son who has figured out the first level of a rubix cube and liked my computer. Whoever thought widgets would be handy quick-reference applications was one of those simultaneous genius/moron people. Widgets are remarkably handy, and they provided the mainstay
 of our afternoon. Particularly the translation widget. 

When our minimal knowledge of each other’s language failed us, we turned to gestures and sound effects. As a last resort, we took turns typing a sentence in our language, letting it translate it into the others’ language, then re-translating it to laugh at how mistranslated it was. And taking pictures. If you thought middle-aged folks were suckers for Photo Booth, you were right. But so are unusually bright, bored, eight-year-old Chinese boys. We let the Apple and rubix cube fill the afternoon and Elsie’s savory kitchenwork flank it.

Not a particularly daring beginning, but it was enjoyable.(16 Jan 08 | Beijing) 


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