The Long Journey Home

Even though our group is beginning to disperse, I still have another full day left in Beijing before my flight home to Boston. One by one our group departs – some leave for their home countries and others continue on their epic journeys through Asia and beyond. Saying goodbye to these people who I have come to know so well is surprisingly sad. Just like a bad breakup, it leaves me feeling like my life has “emptied out.”

Scott and I are hanging out at the Starbucks near our hotel. We could spend the day sightseeing but here they have wifi and recognizable food. Despite the fact that it is October, Harry Connick Jr.’s Christmas hits are playing overhead. I’ve really enjoyed my time with Scott – he’s a fantastic mix of sarcasm and fun, but also thoughtfulness and compassion. He’s the kind of person who will ask, “Are you okay?” and really mean it. In any case, I’m glad for his company – especially while I’m not feeling well.

I Lose It
I arrive at Beijing International Airport in the wee hours of the morning feeling ill and a little disoriented in general. The airport is quiet and almost immediately I am approached by two Chinese men in suits. They ask which airline I am flying and insist on guiding me to the check-in desk – which I can already see is just a few feet away. It is not uncommon to come across these kinds of “helpers” in my travels. Oftentimes they insist on carrying your bag for a hot second or pointing you in a general direction only to demand a huge tip for their “service.” Even so, I try to be polite – being blonde and carrying a huge trekking pack means I’m kind of asking for it I suppose.

The check-in desks haven’t opened yet and there is a small crowd of people waiting nearby. I thank the men for their assistance, eager to send them on their way. But, as expected, they aren’t going anywhere. They ask for a tip. I politely decline. They ask again. I roll my eyes and refuse. They ask again, more insistently this time, while stepping into my personal space. It is at this point that I do something most unexpected: I HISS at them.

Yes. Hiss. Like, get up in their faces with my teeth bared.

No one is more shocked by this reaction than I am. Immediately I retract and begin to apologize but it’s too late, the Chinese Hustlers are already scurrying away. Mission accomplished, I suppose. In my defense: it is 3:30 in the morning, I’ve been sick for days, and some Chinese Hustlers just tried to intimidate me. It doesn’t change the fact that everyone around me now thinks I’m totally crazy.

I Make A Child Cry
There are only a few other people in the terminal as I make my way to the gate. A man passes me in a bathrobe and slippers and says, “ni hao.” My brain slowly registers that his attire is odd but I can’t be bothered – I forge on to the gate.

I settle into my window seat and am thankful no one is in the seat next to me. Across the aisle a mother is holding her son, a toddler, on her lap. The boy looks at me and I smile. Immediately he shrieks, bursts out crying, and buries his face in his mother’s neck. He whispers something to her that I cannot hear. She looks at me apologetically and says, “Your appearance frightens him.” Oh. Nice. I’m not sure whether this little boy is afraid of my pale complexion or my disheveled appearance. In either case, his outburst is no good for my self esteem. What a little jerk, I think.

The trip home will take 24 hours and since I’m flying East to West, I’m traveling back in time – that means I’ll arrive in Boston at almost the exact time I left Beijing. My brain hurts. I close my eyes and try to sleep.


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