Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin

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The China Trip

WELL folks.. here it is.. 8 pages of a word document.. my trip to China. If you read the whole thing I'd be really startled..but at least this way all the people who asked me about the trip and I said "I'll send out something later" can't gripe. I know it gets less and less thorough as it goes on, but c'mon, it took me a long time and I got tired at the end. Also, I apologize for the lack of pictures.. but you can always come over to my house and see the real things. Or just find them on the internet! Enjoy.

June 13 Depart Sun. United FL 837 SFO to Tokyo
11:30am – 2:25 pm

June 14 Mon. All Nippon FL 955 Tokyo to Beijing
5:25 pm – 8:05 pm

June 13, 2004

In the airport, I muse over the suddenly powerful pull to go back to one’s roots, to somehow discover a new identity. Does it fade as generations pass? Perhaps, but in me it is still strong enough to make me feel that I am about to embark on the greatest journey of my life. I feel more anxiety and anticipation for the unknown than I ever have before. Part of me thinks this trip will bring my entire existence into sudden and sharp relief, that I might understand my entire being, what my place is supposed to be in this world.

Later, on the plane, the anxiety becomes a pressing need to lose myself. Only without any associations, expectations, anchors and limitations, can I truly experience the things I must. As the plane takes off, the green hills below blur and the colors of civilization fade. How can I find myself if I do not first lose myself? I empty my head, leave everything behind, and it is good. I think I’m starting anew.

During the stopover in the Tokyo airport I try to pinpoint how I might approach China. As an anthropologist? A linguist? A journalist? As if I could do it, it might make everything easy. I’ve never had to face this before, nor care about it: the identity crisis. The question of “Who am I? What’s my nationality? Where do I fit in?” It’s unnerving. I draw into myself further. I think it is infinitely easier to visit a place in which you have no personal interest. You can consume it for its difference, love the way people and things are foreign, be a “stupid American.” But I feel I have no forgiveness there.

If all people really are connected to one another, then there must be a deeper connection to the people with whom you share closer blood ties. But if I go and only feel foreign, I have no right to call them my people. I should not expect their acceptance. I’m floating, but still glad I face this on my own with no other people to influence how I experience this. This journey is one I must take on my own. In the end, it is only me in this sea and when I emerge, I know that what remains in me will be my true self.


Population: 13.82 million
Area: 16,807.8 sq km (6,490 sq m)
Per Capita GDP: $2,700
Per Capita Income: $1,251
Automobiles: 1.58 million
Bicycles: 8 million
Exchange rate: 8.25 RMB to $1 US

June 14, 2004
In a Buick
The passport guy spoke to me in Chinese and I realized I understood. My first thought? I guess my mom and grandparents haven’t been faking me all this time after all.
We stepped out of the airport into humid air, it would have been dark, but for the brilliant glow of billboards everywhere. So this is Beijing. I don’t feel so uncomfortable. I begin thinking that China is the same as the U.S. just with a different language. Stupid. The realization that everyone speaks Chinese is yet to hit me. My language world has just been expanded tenfold.

There are construction cranes everywhere it seems, and when we hit the city, it’s a city like I’ve never seen before. There are bridges over the expressway with people standing, drinking, watching, their bodies reflect the neon around them. I have never seen brighter, more gorgeous billboards in my life. The car horn is used liberally. Green taxis everywhere, and I’m dazzled.

June 15, 2004

The Beijing morning comes sunny and polluted. The city is magnificent. I feel fluid, and fluent too; I can converse with the waitresses and the concierge.
Our guide’s name is Paul.

Tiananmen Square:
880 meters North to South
500 meters East to West

The square is bordered by the Tiananmen Gate Tower to the north, The Great Hall of the people to the east, the cultural museum to the west, and the Forbidden City to the South. In the center, the mausoleum of Chairman Mao and the Monument to the People’s Heroes.

China’s flag has five stars. The largest symbolizes the Communist Party, the four smaller stars are for the workers, the farmers, the intellectuals and the soldiers.

Paul tells us that Chairman Mao used to stand above the gate of the Forbidden City and address the thousands of people gathered in the square, and tears would stream down the faces of those watching him. The photo of Mao above the gate is the only one still publicly displayed.

The Forbidden City:
Built between 1407 and 1420, the Forbidden City served as the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The majority of the city is comprised of residences for the emperor, his concubines (of which he had hundreds) and all the government and residential officials and servants.
One of the most common theme found in all imperial building designs is the concept of the circle and the square. The emperor believed tha the world was round, but the land was square, and by representing the two in his palace, he also claimed his rule over both. In the ceiling over every throne and in each major room hangs a dragon head holding an enormous “pearl.” It was said that if anyone had intentions against the emperor, the pearl would fall onto his head and kill him. The double roofs on each building signify imperial wealth. In addition, the royal yellow and red colors of all the buildings were only allowed to be used by the imperial family. As a result, nearly all the residential buildings in the rest of Beijing are painted a drab gray color.
Though there are many sets of stairs leading up to each building, the center stairs were reserved for the emperor only. He would be carried up over the middle, while the bearers walked on separate stairs on both sides.

The Temple of Heaven:
The Temple of Heaven is smaller only than the Summer Palace. It is 4.7 million square meters, and was build in 1407 during the Ming Dynasty. There are four main buildings, all of which are connected by a long, wide bridge, the Sacred Way. The largest of these buildings is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest. Inside are four yellow inner posts to represent the four seasons, 12 posts to represent the 12 months, and 12 red posts on an outer circle the represent the 12 Shichens (2 hours) in a day. The most prevalent colors are green, for agriculture, and blue, for the heavens. At that time, 9 was a lucky number, and so around the heavenly center stone are 9 rings, and each ring’s number of stones is a multiple of 9. Inside are 350 different dishes as sacrifices, as well as some “sacrificed” bronze cows. The very center of the floor has a circular piece of marble, on which is a natural design of a dragon and a phoenix. It mirrors the much larger painting on the room. Paul, our guide, asks me whether I’m writing so much, and whether I have to go home and write a paper about it.

We have Beijing duck at the Qianmen Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant. We stuff ourselves with the flat wraps and other dishes. When we walk in, five women in red qi paos green us in unison “ni hao!” A big digital sign on the wall says the restaurant has served 1020200028 ducks. You can look into the kitchen where they’re preparing them, and in big letters across the plate class it says “Never can you find another place to enjoy the most delicious duck.” They also claim to have been making duck since 1864 and the reign of Emperor Tongzhi.

Later we go to see “Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea,” an Americanized Beijing Opera. We watched the performers putting on make-up beforehand. The show was very entertaining, with more martial arts than was probably necessary. Afterward we stopped and bought paintings from a man who had made them without a brush. Very unique and pretty.

June 16, 2004
We take the subway most of the way to the Summer Palace. It’s much cleaner, newer and smoother than the El. There aren’t any homeless people, at any rate. I’m wearing a skirt, and gym shoes “qiu xie.” I feel foreign. Everyone’s umbrella is a different color or pattern, and my black one looks drab.

The Summer Palace
97 hectares

Built in 1750 by Emperor Qianlong as a gift to his mother on her birthday. In 1860, much of the Summer Palace was destroyed when the Anglo-French Allied Forces invaded Beijing. However, the Empress Dowager Cixi embezzled funds from the Imperial Navy in 1888 and rebuilt most of the garden over a 10-year period.

3/4 of the grounds are covered by water, as there are three lakes: KunMing, West and Back Lakes. As the largest imperial garden in the world, the Summer Palace is a mseum of classical Chinese garden architecture. Everything is designed to be in harmony with the earth, with the idea that anything built by man should follow the rules set by heaven. They made sure that animals of auspicious natures (like oxen to prevent flooding, and lions to prevent evil) were placed everywhere.

One of the bridges goes to an island on the lake – it has 17 arches, and 544 stone lions. Each stone lion is different from the next – some play with balls, or with the cubs crouching underneath them, while others stare off into the distance.

The mountains on the way up were smoky and beautiful. The rise abruptly, and I think there is something familiar about their shape. Later we’re sitting in the Garden of Harmonious Interest, and it’s raining. The water catches in the wide cones of the lotus leaves that cover the pond; they wave and dip, filling and emptying, It sounds like grains of rice being poured onto a wooden floor.

After we visit the summer palace, we go to see my dad’s work facilities, and then Victor takes us out to dinner at a restaurant called South Beauty. I eat honeybees for the first time, as well as a variety of cold plates and other small dishes that I’ve never had before. After dinner, Victor takes us to get foot massages. The girls giggle at us, but the massage feels wonderful, and I sleep extraordinarily well that night.

June 17, 2004
We’ve hired a driver today to take us to the Great Wall. He’s driving a white Buick minivan, and has floppy hair. I watch the signs going by as we drive down the tollway, matching the pin yin to the characters, and try hard to remember what they are.

The mountains are green and terraced. It’s hard to concentrate on them; we’re busy watching the cars trying to change lanes on us, and passing us on the right in the shoulder of the road. Later when I look up, I see that the terraced hills are clearly manmade and it stuns me to think of the manpower that must have been necessary to terrace and reforest each of these mountains. They’re all so even, and all the trees are the same height. It looks as if someone took a giant comb across the landscape and around every peak. On one peak I can see the rock layers of the mountains – they’re slanted steeply, and I understand why the mountain sides are sloped so sharply.

The Great Wall at Badaling
Total length > 12,000 kilometers
World Heritage Site since 1987

The wall at Badaling was originally designed to protect the Juyongguan Pass, and is at the highest point of the north end of the Guan’gou gorge. It is about 70 kilometers outside of the center of Beijing city. This particular section is made of huge bar stones, some of which measure up to two meters in height, and weight hundreds of kilograms. Inside the wall are mud and stone blocks. There are signal fire platforms at the high points along the wall. These signal fires were used to communicate the size of the attacking forces – one fire meant 100 men, two fires meant 500 and three fires means more than 1,000.

You can walk two directions along the wall; we choose the shorter, steeper side – the one with fewer tourists. The vendors follow us around and won’t stop harassing Julia. Some sections are very steep, to the point where they turn into stairs. The side that faces the north has a high wall, and the entire wall curves and snakes to follow the top of the ridge. The undulation of the wall forces attackers to concentrate their efforts on a narrower section, making it easier for defenders to shoot them down.

I can follow the wall with my eye all the way to the horizon. It’s a cool day. We got lucky with the weather. The air smells fresh and sweet from the recent rain, and I imagine all the work that went into its construction. I also think about how I’d never make it as a laborer. Just walking up it makes me short of breath!

Ming Tombs

13 emperors were buried here. We visit the Dingling tomb, which is 27 meters underground. It is the mausoleum of Emperor Zhu Yijun, the thirteenth emperor of the Ming Dynasty, and his two empresses. The entire thing is made of stone. Almost all of the treasures have been taken out of the tombs. All that are left are copies of the coffins, some thrones, and a few artifacts. The doors are the most interesting – the bottom of each hinge is only a half-sphere, thereby decreasing the amount of friction. In addition, the hinge side of the door was wider than the center, allowing it to swing more easily.

Another part of the Ming Tomb complex is an entry path that they carried the emperor’s body down. It was lined with 36 big stone animals, as well as various ministers and officials – all stone of course. The animals were quite benevolent looking. In the main archway there is a giant tortoise carrying a poetry-inscribed tablet on its back. The willows hang their leaves down, there are people pulling crabgrass by hand. The view is impeccable and peaceful

We saw the Beijing acrobats tonight after a dinner of more duck. They were all so young. The acrobats begin their training when they are only 3-4 years old. They did all the acts they’re known for: the bowl toss, contortionists with real white peacocks, plate spinners, hoop tumblers, and a really wonderful dragon dance.

At night I go for a walk with Dad, Mom and Julia. Dad points out landmarks, including the former spot of the busiest McDonald’s in the world. It is immensely enjoyable.

June 19, 2004

I slept all day yesterday after we got off the bus. My brain even now is on the fritz; I’m disoriented and tired until the caffeine in the tea from breakfast kicks in.

umm, sorry I'm missing some stuff here.. I deleted it by accident and am too lazy to type it in again. It included info on the Potala Palace, and the DrePung Monastary.

June 20, 2004

Slept at 5 yesterday and missed dinner again. I woke many times during the night, stared at the walls in the grainy half-lit darkness and felt a deep sense of unrest. What is this place, anyway?

I feel 100 times better today than yesterday. It’s nice to actually enjoy oneself here!

The three hours in Barkhor were very fruitful. We bought things, and I learned how to bargain! Then we came back to the hotel, ate fruit and drank tea.

Norbulinka Palace (summer palace)
Area: 40 hectares
I like this place. Its name means “Treasure Park,” and it is indeed a treasure. Some people say that the Summer Palace was bad luck for the current DL, because he only lived in it for three yeas before fleeing to India. There are many beautiful paintings on the walls, and I soak it all in. Many people come here to have Tibetan picnics on the grounds.
Though the exterior of the summer palace is very traditional, the interiors are actually quite modern, and there is even western style plumbing and gadgets inside the 14th DL’s building.

Jokhang Temple
This spiritual center of Tibet is located right in the middle of the bustling Barkhor Street Market. Built in 647 by Songtsen Gampo and his two foreign wives, it has a history of more than 1,300 years. It was said that the Nepalese Princess Tritsun wanted to build a temple to house the image of Jowo Sakyamuni brought by Chinese Princess Wencheng. Princess Wencheng reckoned according to Chinese astrology that the temple should be built on the pool where the Jokhang is now located. She contended that the pool was a witch's heart, so the temple should be built on the pool to get rid of evils. The pool still exists under the temple.
We’re also told that so many people died in the water trying to build the temple that they used goats to carry things. As a result, there’s a goat mural on one wall.

Barkhor Market
Barkhor is the road which pilgrims tramped out around Jokhang Temple through centuries. Buddhist pilgrims walk or progress by body-lengths along the street clockwise every day into deep night. Most of Lhasa's floating population is comprised of these pilgrims. The pilgrims walk outside four columns on which colorful scripture streamers are hung, a custom which began in the Tubo period (633-877) as a way to show respect.

We have a buffet dinner at the Crazy Yak Inn, with traditional Tibetan dancing and 5 musicians. The men’s footwork was most impressive, and the women’s arms and hands movements were so graceful! I loved the men’s soft sky blue shirts, and in one dance they grasped long beige sleeves and swooped like birds.

I am beginning to like it here, but we leave tomorrow.

June 21, 2004

Leaving Lhasa…the morning is cool, with a thin cover of clouds, but most of the mountains are clear. The road to the airport is filled with slow moving blue trucks carrying cement blocks, and even slower tractors. Driving is a process of speeding up and slowing down, pulling out around a truck only to find another bearing straight down at you. Or else you pull around, honk, honk, honk and go. It is a practice in daring, in distance judgment. The river runs wide here, trees line the bank and sprout on long islands down the middle. Everything is so green and brown, and it feels peaceful, even the slow put-putting of the tractors. Somehow the low, run-down buildings even match the crumbling, scissored edges of the mountains. I find myself searching again and again for more appropriate words to describe the mountains and I come up empty every time. In the sun the river looks silver. I gaze backwards down it. The mountains now seem aged and weary, but anticipatory too. I open my window to the cold sweet air; it smells like earth, grass and drying plants. Our guide said he wanted us to leave with knowledge of Tibetan culture and people, not empty-headed like we came. As I watch the people go by, walking down the side of the road with their heavy bundles or working on their land, I feel I at least have the smallest edge of understanding with them.

We fly toward Xi’an and I watch the city coming up. It is covered in a haze, and it is heat. The buildings look like cardboard. Something quickens in me as civilization flies by. Every fiber of my being longs for the adventures I know await me. We turn sharply now, and beneath us are long rows of fields, striped sandy brown and shades of green, like a barcode. The plane drops, my stomach goes with it. Fields, fields, fields…and suddenly the runway and we’re down.
My parents were here 10 years ago, and both of them exclaim over how much the city has changed. He says it’s a whole different place, and he can’t recognize anything. I think of the city as a living being, something that was only in its beginnings 10 years ago, the seedling of what it would eventually become today. Later I discover that Xi’an is in actuality the cradle of China’s civilization, standing as the capital city for 13 dynasties between the 11th century B.C. and the 10th century A.D. In ancient times it was called “Chang An” which means “Everlasting Peace”
At the hotel, I turn on the television (after FINALLY taking a shower) and there’s a ballroom dance competition on…I nearly die from excitement.

De Fa Chang Fan Dian

Oh my goodness. This place was amazing. First off, my mom has been waiting to take my brother and me there since she first came with my dad 10 years ago. So we order a fixed menu meal, which is something like 150 RMB/person, and we end up getting like 20 kinds of dumplings, each in it’s own beautiful shape. Some are fish shaped, one was a frog, and then there were things like a walnut and a boat, and it just kept coming. Sweet dumplings. Water dumplings. Three kinds of soup – one was a hot and sour soup that represented the union of two families. Dry dumplings. A fruit plate to top it all off. Too bad we couldn’t understand all the descriptions of the dumplings that the waitresses were giving us, but it was still a very enriching eating experience!

We walked back to the hotel (though “waddled” is more like it) and did some shopping along the way.

June 22, 2004

Today we have a very full day planned. First up, the Terracotta soldiers, which I’ve been dying to see. Our guide today has nearly impeccable English, a great knowledge of the area, and a lovely English accent. Today’s temperature is going to go up to 37 degrees C. We pass a restaurant where all the employees are standing in neat rows outside, being spoken to by a man in a suit. They look so disciplined! The family is all in good spirits…we are clean and full of food and sleep.
Off to the right rises Huang Xan, yellow mountain. It is hazy, as if in a dream of watercolor.

Minivan Ride

Xi’an has seen so many dynasties that it is like a condensed history of China. 20 years ago education here used to be social welcare, costing most people only about $50. Today it is $5-$10,000, making it nearly impossible for many people to attend. About 3 million students take the college entrance exam every year, and about 55% pass. You get one chance, sometimes two. You must take the exam in order to attend a university, unless you are at the very top of your class.
In Xi’an, spring and autumn are short. Spring is in april, winter is dry and cold.
Many emperors wanted to be buried in Xi’an because the river made it easy to transport supplies.

The Tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang

Archaeologists have excavated 500 pits of terracotta soldiers. Emperors believed they would enter another life underground after they died, and that the soldiers would protect them. Xi’an was an idea location because of its “feng shui” (water and wind); it is surrounded on three sides by mountains and the fourth by a river. Today the archaeologies are focusing on preservation rather than discovery. The pits were discovered originally by 6 farmers digging a well. They were given $5 for the fragments they found. That was in 1974. I can hardly imagine what it must have been like for archaeologists in China when this was discovered…to get to work on excavating such a treasure house of Chinese history, to work on reconstructing the soldiers. They have no stopped excavations as they have found that exposure to the air destroys the color on the warriors. In the beginning it took $400 and 4 months to piece together one soldiers. Now, thanks to computer imaging, it takes half that time.

This pit holds the battle formation of the Qing dynasty… three rows of soldiers in the east, head forces in the west. There is a single row of rear guard. One line faces south, another north, and the two sides of cavalry are on the right and left wings. Down the center are the warriors, horses and chariots that make up the main body. Every single soldier has his own face, expression and hairstyle. The tallest soldier is 6’ 5”. Each weights between 150-300 kg. The chariots have decayed now, and the soldiers used to be painted. The detail of the armor is incredible. Even the bottoms of the shoes have detail. The roofing was bamboo mats to protect the soldiers from rain. These were placed over wooden bars. Each section’s bearing wall is 25 m wide, and you can still see the black charcoal traces in some places from the fires of the peasant armies that burned and looted many dynasty palaces and mausoleums after the fall of the Qing dynasty. We stop for a moment by a half-excavated section. The soldiers, pieces of them rather, emerge from the ground like swamp creatures – fragments of heads, a hand reaching up through the earth. Broken torsos and sections of leg erupting toppled and awkward out of this red dirt. A horse’s hindquarters, one man has two fingers emerging from his headless neck. All this was built in nearly 40 years, for the emperor began its construction as soon as he took the throne at the age of 13.

This chariot that was unearthed is half the size of a normal chariot. It is actually 2 sets of bronze chariots and horses. They weight 2302 kg, there are 14 kg of gold and silver, and it took 8 years to restore them. There are 3400 bronze parts, many mounting points, and even today scientists cannot figure out how the parts were welded with such beauty and precision. The 2 mm thick canopy is incredible difficult to construct.
With the emperor were buried all his concubines and the workers who knew the structure of his tomb.

Pit three is in the shape of the “Zhou” word, meaning “Ancestor.” They found animal bones used for divinations, and the figures positioning and weapons were all ceremonial.

Shaanxi Museum

Qin Xi Huang was cruel, but he also did many, many things to further the unification of China. He connected all the road together, standardized language, and made all the currencies in the different provinces the same.
Next came the Han Dynasty from 202 B.C. – 220 A.D.
Tang Dynasty from 581-907 A.D.
We learn that the words “mai dong xi” comes from the fact that Xi’an had markets on the eastern and western sides.
The Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties from 960 A.D. to 1840.
There are 72 emperors total buried in the area. The guide tells us that China’s greatest inventions were paper, the compass and the printing press. There was one more that I couldn’t remember.
I learn that the silk road ran from Afghanistan to Chang’an.

At night we go to eat at a Muslim place – lots of lamb and also a well-known dish called Pao Muo, where you crumble a flat bread into a bowl and then add soup onto it and it all expands. It was pretty good and amusing because we were sooo slow and crumbling and the waitress actually ended up crumbling a whole piece for us. Haha… we were so lazy.
Afterward we shopped a little more then walked back to Tian Yu Gloria Plaza Hotel. The city is lovely at night! It seems everyone and everything is out walking or lounging. It’s glorious even despite the fact that it’s so warm and you feel sticky and gross. I love it here. The trees, with their dusty green leaves, the rough stone streets and the people, the men walking with their shirts pulled up off their stomachs, the games of mahjongg and chess on the street, and all the dainty women in their dainty shoes.

June 23, 2004

Today we walked around on the city wall… it was so hot. We all felt like melting.
The City Wall was built by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang during the Ming Dynasty between 1380-87. It is 13 km in circumference, 12 m across the top and 15.18 m at the bottom and made of clay and quicklime. It is the best preserved city wall in China.
It was fun though, and then we did more shopping, and stopped in at a foreign language bookstore for more than an hour. Later we ate at the Sampan Seafood Restaurant to live music and extraordinarily attentive service that made me uncomfortable. Oh well. The food was delicious! Tomorrow: Shanghai!

June 24, 2004

The morning light makes Xi’an look fresh and cool. The city seems placid, calmer. Most shops aren’t open yet, or are only just opening. It’s just 7:30 in the morning. The light glows on the tree leaves, a dusty glow, yes, but things seem cleaner anyway. There are already many people on the street, biking, walking, riding to work and to school. They seem so alive, even in their daily routine and in them I see determination or peace or something that I haven’t seen in the U.S.

Shanghai and the Bund

While the city epitomizes modern, urban China, its history is one of its most intriguing features. In particular, in the 1930s and 40s, Shanghai was a paradise for adventurers.
Many buildings, constructed in various foreign styles, are well preserved in the Bund area, and western tourists will feel a sense of familiarity when strolling around the long street, which resembles those in European cities. This blending of eastern and western styles has given the Bund a reputation as a "World's Fair of Architecture." Many buildings from the 1920s and 1930s have also survived in the Old City section of Shanghai.

At night after dinner we stood out in front of the Bund and watched Pu Dong across the river. It was so full of neon lights, and yet there was a mist everywhere in the humid air. It rose so thick that it obscured the buildings, and they disappeared, leaving only the bright signs to float in the air. Boats and small dark barges roped together drifted past us. The walkway along the Bund was full of people: families, couples. We stood together in awe against the wall, just watching. Birds flew and danced on one screen. Finally we turned and walked but it had mesmerized me and I stayed in the moment.
As we walked Nan Jing road, I felt myself sliding into the crowd, feeling anonymous and suddenly delightfully lost.

June 25, 2004
It rained off and on all day, and left my father lamenting that we’d never gotten to see the city in the sun, but I liked it. We shopped too much.

Shanghai Museum

We took the subway to the Shanghai Museum and then wandered for hours.We wander for hours and I draw things. They have 120,000 works in four stories, 6 galleries and 3 exhibition halls. There were paintings and sculptures and calligraphy that was just stunning; I wished I could read it.
We took the subway there, and afterward went to a vegetarian restaurant. The fake meat was very good. It was all very good.

June 26, 2004
Today we had a huge lunch at an amazing xiao long bao place..we had like 7 kinds and each tray had 6 bao on it. Plus other food. I’m so full! I got some gifties for friends, and then we go ride the maglev.

The Maglev
The station is all blue-green and gray. It arches like a giant worm. The supports are wide, the seats silver, and it matches the car itself. The door hisses shut. “It is 30 km to the airport, and we will be there in 8 minutes,” says the attendant with a smile. We go and I am flying. The acceleration makes my head spin, we lean around the corners, it hums higher, and everything is going by like toys. We hit 431 km / hour, I feel otherworldly, like I might fly apart, and then we are slowing down and there.

We’re leaving Shanghai for Beijing tonight. It’s still overcast. I don’t regret leaving Shanghai except that it signals the end of this trip. I want to stay here, without the comfort of home, or of feeling I know where I belong.

June 27, 2004

Leaving Beijing feels as odd as coming into it last night. Just like our first flight in, we arrived at night, Sam picked us up, and we drove into the city with all its blazing billboards and lights…and it felt normal. I stayed up till 4 a.m. and went for a walk with my mom in the morning. It wasn’t good-bye at all; I already know I will return.

I am a fuller person than I have ever been before. I once thought I knew myself but only now do I see that there was always a part of me that was empty and small. Now that part feels nourished, recognized, cared for. There is a completeness to my self that I have never known before, and it gives me confidence.

Journeys are not just of the body but also of the heart. As we taxi to the runway I gaze on that hazy air, the trees and low buildings, and feel comfortable with them. My life is here, here and also in the country where I will touch down in 11 hours. This journey, in its final leg, may be drawing closed and yet there is no real closure. But perhaps this is for the best…I still have so much growing to do. I still must see where my place is in life.

The engines roar, we ascend rapidly. I feel in love with myself like never before. I understand my family through eyes that have never seen them, and with a breathtaking clarity. And between everyone and everything, it may have been the last time like that.. our family.

And so, like all things, there have been endings and beginnings. This journey ends, I continue, the summer begins. The journey ends, and my life begins.
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