After a 4 a.m. wake up, Kate and I picked Tanner up and drove to the airport. Our first flight, to Denver, left at 7 a.m. We did some ‘light reading’ on water filtration before takeoff; it made the flight go quickly. Tanner and I talked the entire second flight to San Francisco, catching up on each others lives and such. Because I set my watch back two hours, my alarm for Kate’s birthday (10:13) went off twice. Lucky girl.
The pan-Pacific flight was quite long, but we had been building up to it on the Italy trip. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to sit together. I sat behind Tanner, next to a man whose wife and kids were seated behind us. They kept kicking our seats the whole way, and he spent much of the time perched on his arm rest, talking to them over his seat back. In addition, a baby with the world’s most impressive lung capacity was on our flight – he managed to cry the entire eleven and a half hours. I was half impressed, but mostly just wanted to throw the baby out the window.
I started the Little Flowers of St. Francis while watching The Pursuit of Happyness. I can’t believe people thought that movie was inspiring, moving, sad, or good in any way! It really contrasted with what I was reading, about a man who pursued Holy Poverty with his entire life. A more apt name would have been Pursuit of Money. The main character was not noble or even likable! I couldn’t make myself be sympathetic every time something bad happened to him, because he hurt other people – lying, cheating, etc. It was like the parable of the generous master who forgave the servant’s debt, only to have the servant collect on his debts even when they begged for mercy. I was pretty much disgusted. Afterwards I took a nap, missing Siberia apparently.
We also crossed the International Date Line. It was nothing like traveling to Italy, with a mere 7 hour difference. We left the US Tuesday afternoon, and didn’t arrive in China until Wednesday afternoon – but the flight was only 11 hours or so. We did Tuesday Morning and Evening Prayer, and Wednesday Morning and Evening Prayer all in about 18 hours. It was ridiculous. I just couldn’t bring myself to do Tuesday Night Prayer on the plane because I couldn’t really convince myself that Tuesday night had passed.
The only other thing of note about the international flight was the woman who looked freakishly like Michael Jackson. No joke.
We landed in Beijing, got our bags, went through customs, and still had a few hours before our flight left. We spenta little while exploring the airport. Olympic stuff is everywhere, including an enormous countdown, standing at 443 days and some change. We saw some people playing mah jongg on the floor, and a guy who was totally straight thuggin’ in the four o’clock hour (to get his picture, I practiced the technique known as “taking pictures of Tanner”. And of course, by “taking pictures of Tanner”, I really mean “Taking pictures of things over Tanner’s shoulder without their knowledge or express consent.” It proved to be quite useful when photographing Chinese soldiers. Our favorite thing was the Sunbird Digital Relaxation Harbor upstairs – a room crammed with people totally intent on their laptop screens. Stuff like that made us smile. Some other observations: pointy-toed shoes are all the rage for Chinese men, apparently. And most of the airport employees don’t have names on their nametags, only numbers.
We exchanged money – $100 got us 750 yeun (also known as RMB or quai). Then we sat down to our first genuine Chinese meal. We quickly learned to eat fairly well with chopsticks, because that was all there was. We ordered the only thing that looked normal on the menu – steamed beef. It was from the Sichuan province, which we now know means, loosely: HOT. We weren’t sure what all the vegetables were, leading to this quote by Tanner:
“That potato-looking thing? It was not a potato. I was upset.”
The Beijing airport was very frustrating. We couldn’t find out our gate number until about a half hour before our flight. When we finally got there, we met up with Amanda and found out that her luggage had been lost. The last flight was very short and I slept the entire way. When we got off the plane in Yanji, there were soldiers standing on both sides of the doorway. But at the bottom of the escalator, there were two women dressed in traditional clothing, bowing to everyone who came down. It was funny because the three of us were the only ‘mei guo ren’ (Americans, or literally, ‘People from the Beautiful Country) on the plane, so they were pretty much just there for us. Just beyond, we saw Jesse, the grad student who was leading the trip, and Timothy, the head of the farm. We had an hour and a half van ride to the farm, but it was dark so we couldn’t see what we were driving through.
When we got to the house, we had to take off our shoes and put on house slippers. Mine said ‘I <3 you’, but there was a pair that said ‘I love you / you love I’. We were amused.
We slept on the second floor of the training center; the family lived below us. Amanda and I shared a room, sleeping on mattresses on the floor. It was plain but very comfortable. Also, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that we would have access to the internet, even though it was very slow.
Finally, after 30 or so hours of travel, we went to sleep in China!