As Dalton and I settled in to our plane seats in Seattle, preparing for a 16-hour flight, the sounds of Mandarin floated over to us. We looked up and noticed, quite suddenly, that out of every single person on the plane, we were different. Before I had taken a moment to say a quiet goodbye to the States, we had already left our familiar world and embarked into a strange new place. It was jarring and exhilarating, like having a cool breeze on your face after you’ve been running.
Since that moment, life has not been comfortable, or easy, or predictable. In short, it is perfectly exciting.
On the flight, I watched the sunset over Dalton’s shoulder. Over five hours later, the sunset remained jarringly in place; time was changing its speed, slowing down as we traveled West.
We arrived in Shanghai, where suddenly time had not slowed down at all…but we had jumped an entire day forward. We were shuffled off the plane, through customs (an efficient process), and then asked no less than four airport employees where to find our next plane to Shenyang. We found the bus to get to the domestic flights terminal, but as it pulled up and we picked up our suitcases to board, it closed its doors and drove away. Needless to say, we boarded the next bus much faster.
At the gate, all the flight passengers were put on a bus, stuffed in like sausages (if sausages carried suitcases), and we drove out to our fourth – and last – plane in the pitch dark night.
When we finally arrived in Shenyang, it was 11 pm, and the airport was empty save our flight. We were supposed to meet a representative from the school at the airport, but it seemed they were arriving late. We ended up waiting over 3 hours to be picked up, and were meanwhile accosted by taxi drivers (like any other country I have been to), who, after realizing that we didn’t want a taxi, try to help us however they can.
In China, a major part of culture here is “saving face”, which includes (but is not limited to) deferring all compliments, saying “yes” to questions that really should be answered with a “no”, and helping out others in need, even if they are not sure how best to help. This means that even though the taxi drivers could not understand us, they still did their best… by sending us to the second floor (we had asked where we might be picked up by our friends).
So, at 2am in the morning, we were standing outside, and I decided I was too cold; I went back to the doors to return inside – but that was impossible. Dalton and I were locked outside on the deserted second floor of the airport (the “arrivals”, as it turns out), after traveling for well over 24 hours on very little sleep.
It was probable that we were approaching wit’s end, if either Dalton or I had any wits, but I found the trick in these situations is a combination of patience and keeping your cool. Soon after, I was able to contact the school’s representative by phone, and we were whisked away by car for another hour until…finally…we arrived.