Friday morning October 31st began pretty early. Many of us received our wake-up calls at 4:30 am and were expected to board the bus with our luggage at about 5:15 am. Not everyone on the delegation was leaving at "O-Dark-Thirty," but the bulk of the group was. After our Farewell Dinner, the night before, I returned to my room to rearrange and pack. The previous limits for intra-China travel were now changed--we could check 2 bags and they could weigh as much as 50 pounds each! Splendid!!! (as it turned out, neither of my bags even came close).
I finally went to sleep after showering and having everything except my toothbrush, nightshirt, and traveling clothes packed at about 1:30 or 2 am. I had even already checked out of the hotel!
It was a bittersweet morning. Several of the delegates would not be making the flights to Hong Kong and then LAX: Jenny and Bob Redfern were headed to Hong Kong to meet their son, so they'd fly with us only on the first leg. Sherry Michaels and Anne Backhaus were planning to stay in Shanghai for a few extra days. Jean Gonnason and her daughter Kirsten were headed to X'ian on the P2P extension trip. John Martin, Kathy Raker, and Paula Ludmann were leaving much later than us on a direct flight to Chicago. Nadine Croizard and Richard Tufts were flying out of Shanghai at about the same time, but on a different plane because they were headed back to Belgium rather than anywhere in North America!
That meant 11 of us were flying to Hong Kong, and only 9 of us would be on the long leg to Los Angeles. Good-byes and hugs were had by all. Leaving Shawn was the toughest of all. The chances of seeing him again are pretty slim. Yet, he had become our friend and was one of the best things we had connected with in China!
The 8:30 am flight to Hong Kong on China Southern was uneventful--just the way I like my flights! It was a short trip, about 2.25 hours and because Shawn had gotten our boarding passes and oversaw us checking our luggage, all went smoothly. The plane was full, so I was delighted to be in a window seat. When we arrived in Hong Kong we found a much more active place than when we had first seen it on the way over!
As before, we had to stand in a couple of long lines and go through security again just to get to the right plane. When we finally got to the right terminal, we had about 5 hours to wait for our connection. Alexia Idoura and I found some quasi-comfy chairs upstairs near the food court and camped out. We even found a plug so we could recharge some of our electronics! The first thing I did was stand in line at Burger King and get some fries and a Diet Coke!
Although many of my colleagues loved the constant diet of Chinese food, I was not amongst them. I usually eat Chinese food about three times a year. At twice a day for twelve days, I figure I won't be ready for Chinese food until the year 2016!
When we finally went to our gate, we connected with the other members of the delegation who would be on the flight. My seat was again by a window, and again the flight was full. Cathay Pacific has these great seats that allow the person in front of you to lean back without dropping into your lap. The individual TVs had excellent programming, okay games (I never did figure out how to use the controller to play them), and realtime details on the flight's progress toward its goal.
After having flown many, many miles out of the regular flight path to escape stronger than usual west to east winds on our flight over, it was great to have the tail wind helping us get home quickly. The difference was mind-boggling! It took us more than 17 hours to fly from LAX to Hong Kong, and only 12.5 to fly home!
Nonetheless, the hours were adding up: We got up at 4:30 am and it wasn't until about 5:30 pm that we left Hong Kong. Then, add in the 12.5-hour flight, the time for immigration, reclaiming bags, passing thru customs, getting to a different terminal for our connection, rechecking our bags, and waiting for the flight home (about 3 hours for me). Luckily, my flight to San Diego took only 45 minutes, so I arrived at San Diego about 5:30 pm (didn't I already have a 5:30 pm that day?). Then, just to be ornery, let's add the 4.5 hours from midnight to when we got up and the 6.5 hours from the time I arrived in San Diego until midnight that night, and if my math is right, I had an October 31st that lasted 39.5 hours. And, my day was shorter than most! Ahhhh...sweet mysteries of time!
So, after my friend Cher picked me up and brought me home, I was lucky enough to have my daughter, Connie, offer to come over with candy and answer the door for me for the tricker-treaters!
I don't even want to think about what I would have done without her. The doorbell stopped ringing at about 9 pm and she went home soon thereafter. And, although I had been dozing while she was there, all of a sudden I had a burst of energy and I stayed up until about 2:30 am. I don't think my body clock is quite back to San Diego time yet!
OK, in light of all the actual stuff we did, what stayed with me from the trip? What will I carry along in my already quite full memory banks? Here's a short list: The juxtaposition of extremely old and extremely new. The constant ant-like activity of the construction trades everywhere you looked. (I don't think I'd ever seen so many tower cranes in one place! I believe they must hold some sort of record!)
The chaotic traffic and constant near-misses. Our sweet, phenomenal guide, Shawn. The connection and collaboration of our delegation. Not having one single bad apple in the bunch of us! The beauty of Guilin (even in the rain). The fun of walking in the rain. The grandeur and history of the Great Wall. The graciousness of our hosts. The tenacity of the street vendors. The etched faces of the older women in the countryside. The toothless old man who wanted to sell two really ugly turquoise colored Chinese lions. The overpowering surrealism of the whole trip. The gratitude I feel for having been part of it. And, the knowledge that the world truly is minuscule and that we can all coexist if we only open our minds and hearts.