Saturday, July 14, 2007

Back in the Jing

So now I’m back in Beijing after a few weeks in the motherland. It was good to be back. I enjoyed the hot but otherwise beautiful weather, staring at the clear blue skies, and being surrounded by trees. I came to enjoy the civility of things, what with people waiting in line and opening doors for each other. I loved the fast, unblocked internet and the tasty, fattening American pastries. To say the very least, I made the most of my trip back.

The funny thing is, it didn’t really hit me until I got off the plane. Though traveling always sucks, my escape was one of the smoothest ever, everything neatly laid out before me and proceeding in an orderly fashion. I even managed to score a whole row of empty seats in economy plus. I spent the better part of my thirteen hour journey horizontal, and the last time I did that was just after 911, when no one in their right minds would want to fly (except me).

It all began as we started getting off the plane. I could see the overseas Chinese around me going through a mental transition, steeling themselves for the ordeal lying ahead. We were all doing it, reawakening our China selves, the personas that are discomforting to think about in the aura of happy-go-lucky America.

Ahead of us lay the long sweaty customs lines, the long wait at baggage, and then the gateway. Once you get to the gateway, there’s no turning back. The people, bags in hand, flow together towards the claim exit and face the massive. Even before the line reaches it, people are beginning to complete their transformation, beginning to jostle for a strategic position ahead. Out there you can already hear the massive, the throngs of people swarming around the exit, waiting for loved ones, clients and tour groups. Their numbers are so strong that we have to fight our way past them.

And there I am, tensely steering my overloaded baggage cart between clusters of people stopping to stand in the most inopportune places, and playing chicken with other oncoming travelers. The crowd there, the likes of which are only seen in America during big summer gatherings like Independence Day, is just business as usual at the Beijing airport.

The next step in the back-in-Beijing ritual is to park the cart by the door and grab a smoke. It’s not nearly as hot as I expected it to be, but the dirty humid air gives me a sticky embrace right away. It’s mid-afternoon, but the sky looks like evening in winter. Everything is gray and dim, the sun blotted out by clouds and smog.

After my dose of nicotine, I’m ready for the next part of the ordeal. I get in line behind a few hundred people to wait for a taxi. I swerve my cart side to side as the line progresses to cut off the people wanting to sneak ahead of me. I hold my elbows out as far as I can to let everyone know that I’ve played this game before. We all move forward in tense staccato steps to hold formation and finally I’m assigned a cab. Now the rest of my journey becomes passive, as it’s the driver’s job to deal with identical conditions on the roads.

My driver’s good at that, though scary as hell. He zips around buses and into the emergency shoulder (which is just as packed as all the other lanes), blaring his fancy reverb-effect horn as he fights his way to the fourth ring road. Of course, I’m already back into China-self, and I hardly take notice of the chaos outside as I glance up from my book (High Fidelity by Nick Hornby today).

Last night, or at least the last time it was dark for me, about 36 hours ago, I had a bunch of my friends out to a local bar. I was psyched to have them all together before leaving, and many of them, all old friends, had never met each other before. One question they asked a few times was whether I was excited to go back ‘home’. I drew a blank at first, because the last two weeks had so utterly ripped me from the China setting that the whole China thing seemed like a dream. Even though I was about to leave in a few hours, I hadn’t really put any direct thought into it. One of the few perks about running all over the place is that you can slip into a new setting right away, and let your consciousness get absorbed in the surrounding reality. I knew that I’d have to get back to China to know what I thought about going back to China. And now here I am.

The Beijing welcome was so typical and complete that I’m right back in the zone. It’s nothing to be excited or nonplussed about, it just is. It’s going back to my life, picking up what I put on pause and continuing like nothing ever happened. Besides, I was only gone for two weeks.

The Beijing welcome, as harrying as it was, is just a part of what makes Beijing whole. You can’t just take the most enjoyable and stimulating things about it in isolation. None of it would be complete without the blunt force that its reality applies to your head at every turn. Though I often have feelings like “if I have to live in a big city, why can’t it be a nice clean one with lots of trees”, I want to keep riding this Beijing thing for a while and see where it takes me. I still have lots of fun to have yet, and this last trip once again affirmed for me that I haven’t become utterly dislocated from the US.

No comments:


Web Page Counter
XBox Online Game Rentals