Tuesday, November 11, 2008

10-26-08 – Hotel, Airport, Home

I woke up at 1am with my stomach hurting so maybe the Hutong lunch did not sit as well with me as I thought. I was able to go back to sleep until about 6am, so I watched the sunrise and then a little TV until 8am when I thought it was late enough for a room call. I went down to Rosemary’s room and told her about the 45 minute cab ride to Wal-Mart, which happens to be right across the street from the Catholic Church. I told her that I was thinking that we would be cutting it very close to make it to mass and back to the hotel before the bus would be leaving for the airport. I told her that if she really was set on going I would still go with her, but I was leaning against it.

She was fine with this and as I was leaving we ran into Inez who had the “Thank you” scrolls for Gao, our driver, and Lei so we all signed them and then I brought them back to our room for Ann to sign. We then went down to breakfast, where we passed the scroll on to the other students to sign, ate our last full meal in China and headed back to the room to pack, shower and get ready to head to the airport.

We presented Lei and Gao with a scroll with their name in Chinese and we all signed a personal message on the back for them. We also gave them the tip money we collected. The same few students who had been whining and complaining the whole trip refused to pitch in any money for the tips, I am not surprised at all.

Everyone got off the bus, collected their luggage, hugged Lei and lined up at the ticket counter to get boarding passes. Everything for me went very smoothly, which was great, because I was worried that my bag would be over the weight limit, but they did not even check it. Ann, on the other hand, had a rough time because they said that her bag was too big to be a carry on. She had all her valuables in that bag and they showed her it was too big, by about 2 inches. She tried to explain to them that this bag held all her breakable purchases and begged them to allow her to take her bag as a carry on. At first they said that they would check it for free, but as she pressed them further to allow her to carry the bag on, they rescinded that offer and made her pay $128 US to check this third bag, she elected to insure her bag for $5,000 US for another $100 US. She was steaming mad and really almost hoping that they damaged her bag so she could sue them. I was really mad for her as well, even offering to share my carry on space with Ann since my bag was smaller than the requirements, but they would not allow it.

We could not help but notice all the white men with huge carry on luggage getting on the plane without issue. When we relayed the incident to Dr. Wally he mentioned that it might have been racially motivated since Ann is of Indian decent and the Chinese have a long history of disliking the Indians. Ann said she was going to put that in her complaint to United!

We met up with most of the group at a pizza and pasta place and had some food, fairly uneventful and we left there in time for the boarding to begin for our flight to Dulles. I ended up being in the aisle seat next to Ann and she curled up and slept almost the entire 14 hours! She was so lucky; my seat would not recline at all so every time I started to fall asleep my neck would jerk and I would be back awake. I watched “Get Smart” and “The Hulk” about 6 times each, and tried desperately to find a comfortable position. I also washed my face and brushed my teeth a few times too. A cold sore started about the time we got to the airport in Beijing and by the time we landed in Dulles it had totally exploded across my bottom lip! Needless to say I was feeling really sorry for myself by the time we landed.

Getting through customs was fairly straight forward, except for the officer who yelled at me for helping little 4 feet 7 inch Ann with her luggage, but hey, what’s America without some rude government official who gets a rush from all the power of his position! We met up with Dr. Wally at our gate with about 2 hours to wait before we left for home. I called my husband and mom and then called Smug-Sister, who filled me in on all the details of my grandfather’s death and funeral. I was crying and suddenly a man appeared in front of me holding a little package of tissues, he handed them to me and walked away. This act of kindness caused me to cry even harder, because I was so tired and sore and emotional from holding this pain in for the last several days. I was homesick and so happy to be back home in the states.

After I got off the phone and Ann got back from lodging her complaint with United, we got some pizza and talked until time to board the plane for the final flight home.

We landed safely about 10 minutes early and Ann and I both rushed off the plane in an effort to get to our loved ones. No one was there to meet us as we got off the plane, but after we made our way to baggage claim and I was checking messages to see if something had happened to make Smug-Hub late, when Ann called to me. She saw Smug-Hub coming through the door, and she recognized him from the wedding pictures I had on my computer. I dropped everything and ran to him trying really hard not to burst into tears. My dad was with him and I hugged him too. We gathered up all of our luggage and helped Ann outside where her loved one was just pulling up.

We had to take dad home before we could get to the house, but when we finally drove up the driveway and into the garage I felt so much love for my home and my life. Smug-Hub was very sick with the flu, but he had spent the whole day cleaning the house so it was spotless. I took a long hot shower and we fell into bed, happy just to be back in each others arms.

Final Thoughts:

This trip was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my entire life. While I am extremely happy to be home I would not have traded this trip for the world and I hope that I can excite my fellow cluster-mates into taking the trip with Dr. Wally next year.

I hope that Dr. Wally will continue to offer this opportunity to others and not let the small group of immature whiners color his impression of the whole trip! I do have some suggestions that may make the trip even better. Such as, having a student who has already been on the trip, such as myself, be available to answer any questions for the students either contemplating the trip or those already signed up.

I also think that some better guidelines on the prices of things and the possible fluctuation in prices for the additional activities would be helpful to future travelers, as well as miscellaneous items that people may not think about, like the credit card that I brought for the trip was a Discover and Discover is hardly taken anywhere and was useless to me. I would also send out a reminder about possible stomach issues and advise people to bring the necessary medications. Lastly, I would be sure to tell people about the bathrooms and the lack of provided paper products, but I would probably wait until everyone is already on the plane heading for China before telling them, otherwise you might have some people backing out!!

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