By Maggie

So after the longest plane ride, the longest wait in an airport, the longest car ride, and certainly the longest dinner of my life, we have all arrived safe and sound in China and after all of that strenuous, exhausting work, I’m awake at two in the morning in Beijing writing this (it’s about one o’clock on a balmy saturday afternoon for Wichitans).

First of all, clearing customs at Wichita was a heartache. Half of my carry-on stuff was thrown away by a grumpy TSA lady wearing gloves and orthopedic shoes. After that, we got on the tiniest plane to Chicago – so tiny that we had to walk out of the airport and up those super tiny stairs to board it. We had a four hour layover in O’Hare, which was nice because it took an entire hour just to walk to our connection flight’s terminal (which if you’ve ever walked to or from terminal C in O’Hare, it is the weirdest feeling ever: there was this futuristic new age xylophony music playing, and it was really really dim with ceiling lights that were different colors and the walls are frosted mirrors and there were floor-alators – like escalators but flat and I’m sure there’s a technical term).

The flight to Beijing was so long. They showed three sitcoms, one Discovery channel show, and about four movies plus a lot of tourist ads about Beijing and Shanghai. The flight attendants, keeping in sync with the brusque TSA encounter I had earlier, wouldn’t let us look out the window because people wanted to sleep on the plane, or the sun (which was constantly shining) would cause glare and no one would be able to see Paul Giamatti teach some kid life lessons in three different languages and subtitles on the thirty different screens. So we had to sit there and not look at the amazing land and clouds as we flew over the north pole. Okay, we didn’t fly over the north pole directly…but that’s what I’m going to maintain. SANTA!

Once we landed, the airport was empty. Seriously. As busy as O’Hare is and even Mid-Continent, this place was a ghost town. And it was so hot. Wichita had triple digit heat when we left and Beijing was only eighty-some degrees, but it’s so humid. On another note, never ever ever get a black samsonite luggage set. Yes, your luggage will all match and you’ll feel very put together. It will also match every other piece of luggage imaginable. Return flight, I’m dipping my set in kryptonite or something.

Finally we found all the other people that generally frequent airports: well wishers, people with signs (we had people with signs!), and what have you. Our contacts had to wait two hours for us, but that’s because our flight was delayed four hours because the vents weren’t working. I get it – no ventilation on the biggest plane in the world would be a problem…but four hours? Really?

Also, everyone, by my count, drives an Audi, a BMW, or a Mazda in Beijing. And if you don’t think thirteen pieces of luggage and five human beings can fit in a BMW, you’re wrong. Oh how they can. Which is for the best because if we had to make two trips, I might have died. Why? Because there are no speed limit signs, no stop signs, and only a handful of traffic lights on the way from the Beijing Airport to my mom’s flat (a trip of an hour). There were some signs along the road, but from what I could make out, they were saying that it was bad to have cars catch on fire, according to the picture. Which is sensible…but unnecessary, I feel. Speaking of unnecessary, apparently lane demarcations are superfluous in Beijing. People don’t even stay in lanes here. They drive in the shoulders, they drive on the other side of the road to get past really big, green buses. Honking is a must in their driving culture.

Well, finally we made it to where my mom will be staying; it’s on floor 26 of a 28 story building and commands an impressive view of other equally tall buildings. Some of the teachers she’ll be working with came to help us unload, which was nice, because we couldn’t have carried thirteen pieces of luggage up 26 flights of stairs even if we weren’t desperately tired (good thing there was an elevator!). It’s very nice, but the downside of it being new, is that one room doesn’t have air conditioning, the water hasn’t been turned on yet, and there is dust everywhere. The kitchen is huge, and it’s even decorated. Like, it has cute lights everywhere and designs carved into the doors and big curtains and wardrobes. It looks like an IKEA ad. It’s really touching that someone went to all that work for where she’ll be staying. And I’m glad she’ll be in a good place…because Molly and I will be heading on to Hohhot soon.

But the night we arrived, we didn’t get to stay in her apartment very long. Like, not long at all. Like, oh hey you just got done with twenty hours of flying and waiting around only to land in an incredibly humid city where air conditioning is a luxury and let’s go to dinner, okay? No, no need to wash your face or anything or brush your hair or change clothes. And everyone kept saying we looked “very beautiful”. I’m not being humble when I say: no, no we definitely did not (aside: in O’Hare someone thought Molly and I were twins. I know we look alike, but we’re not exactly twins. Further proof, however, that Megan is, in fact, adopted).

At any rate, we almost instantly proceeded to dinner with our two escorts from China and another teacher from the preschool. Only one of them spoke English, but we still all had a good time. We didn’t go to KFC for dinner (which seems popular here…), but went instead to a three story restaurant with individual dining rooms. Our hosts picked out seven or so dishes (which took a lot of arguing and laughing and making fun of each other and debating) and they were put on a round disc in the middle of the table that let us spin them around to get what we wanted. I don’t remember everything, but there was fish soup, cold mashed potatoes with blueberry dressing (not making this up), “blue flower” (broccoli), a beef dish with mushrooms, a pork dish with mushrooms, a mushroom dish with mushrooms, and a fried squash affair (sans mushrooms but shaped like a pear). They tried to learn our names too. They got Laura pretty easily but they have to stop and think to say my name and Molly’s name. And for a bit one of them wanted to pronounce my name as “monkey” instead of “maggie.” Oh, and we drank Coke. Lots of Coke (which they used to toast us. Every meal I’ve been to so far has had toasts).

So now we’re officially settled and welcomed into Beijing. Molly and Mom found the wherewithall to sleep in the crazy humidity, but I can’t. So I guess I’ll just write this and then probably play gameboy which is all well and good, but I can’t figure out where to go once I defeat Misty so it’s more of a tease than anything (still, thank you, Stephen!) Later on today, we’ll go to the preschool and then meet with the director. And maybe get to take a shower! I’m most excited for that part.

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