9:01 AM We're up early and packed and almost out of our apartment because the next family is already downstairs waiting to move in. Josh, Mark and Nick went to the fellowship to drop off a copy of An Anchor for the Soul, which may be translated into Chinese in the next few months. Then the boys are going to the market one last time. An hour ago our apartment looked like a boys' dorm room. Now it's almost empty and ready to be cleaned. The Mac Center is a wonderful place for like-minded people to stay for a few days. A quiet and peaceful oasis in the middle of a bustling city. Looking outside, it's cloudy in Beijing this AM. They have a serious pollution problem here, and I doubt it will be much improved by the time the Olympics come to town in 2008. Otherwise, it's a nice day here--mid-20s, I think. Once we move our bags downstairs, we'll wait until 1 PM when we take taxis to the airport for our 5:30 PM flight to O'Hare.
12 Noon We're still at the Mac Center. A little over an hour ago, Josh, Alan and I took a walk that eventually led us down an alley where we saw several women cooking various Chinese dishes. Josh bought some oranges and a bag of peanuts and then we walked back to the center. Since then we've been chatting some fulltime ELIC workers who serve in Harbin, about eight hours north of Beijing. Harbin is approximately the same latitude as Minneapolis and the weather is comparable, except Harbin doesn't get much snow. The husband teaches English at an engineering university. Two years ago they adopted a girl from one of the southern provinces of China. Two days ago they got the final paperwork to proceed with a second adoption. So we've been eating peanuts, drinking Coke, playing with two-year-old Evie, and talking with this couple about their life and work in China. They obviously enjoy their work and feel called to what they are doing. Meanwhile, Mark and Nick are watching the movie "Ladder 49" on Mark's computer. In an hour we leave for the airport. In about 19 hours we'll be home in Oak Park.
1:10 PM We piled our bags into three taxis and get ready to leave for the airport. When it came time to say goodbye, I teared up, kissed Josh, and told him I loved him. It doesn't get any easier as time goes. "Don't worry about me," Josh said. I'm not worried about him at all. He's doing great and is exactly where he ought to be. In a few hours we fly home to Oak Park. Tomorrow he flies to Bangkok, the day after that to Calcutta.
1:31 PM Here's an anomaly. On the way to the airport, the driver was listening to "88.7, International Beijing Radio." The disk jockey spoke Chinese but all the songs were the latest American hits, with an occasional English announcement between songs. Maybe it's not an anomaly at all. This is Beijing today--the Chinese capital filled with American influence.
2:17 PM The airport was crowded and confusing, but eventually we passed through Customs with no problems. At the moment, we're near the front of the line waiting to check in for the United flight to Chicago. The attendants won't arrive until 2:30 PM.
3:42 PM In the waiting area. Mark, Nick and Alan went for a sandwich while Marlene and I pass the time waiting for our 5:30 PM flight. The air today in Beijing is terrible. What looks like total fog is really a vast layer of smog, unbelievably thick pollution. I've never seen anything like this, not even during the five years I lived in Los Angeles. We noted warnings to travelers about AIDS, malaria and the plague. Security here seems a bit laxer than in the US. The prices for food cost what you expect at an airport--about twice what you would normally pay.
3:47 PM Overheard this announcement about a flight to Hong Kong: "Please be quick to board the plane."
4:55 PM Our flight has been delayed by at least 30 minutes. Turns out to be a good thing because we struck up a conversation with an American from Kansas City who is here for a year teaching English in a Chinese university. He is in his late 30s, used to be a high school football coach, and decided to try his hand teaching English in China. Although he doesn't have formal training, he received almost 10 job offers, and took one that pays him the equivalent of $1000/month. "It's incredible. I live better here than I ever did in the States. I can eat lunch for $1, I have a nice apartment. I'm living the life of a rock star." On the side, he has started his own school and plans to start several other business ventures. He gave me his card, which gives as his title, "Foreign Executive Consultant." Very impressive, considering he made that up himself. "China is the place to be right now," he said. "If a young man is just out of college and he is looking for work, tell him to come to China. There are opportunities galore over here." He plans to work in China for the next few years, at least. I don't think there is any spiritual component involved. He's just here to take advantage of a good opportunity.
6:05 PM On the plane. It's full once again. We're in Row 34. Everyone in our group looks weary. It's good to be heading home.
6:54 PM First beverage service. I read a copy of Sports Illustrated and then several chapters of Be Kind (or Else!). We're flying off the eastern coast of Siberia. 6400 miles to go.
9:41 PM We're taking a more southerly arc on our trip home. I don't think we'll actually fly very near the North Pole this time. It's dark outside. 8 hours, 22 minutes to go.
2:17 PM I can't read the notes I wrote at this point, which means I was very tired. The trip over was a lark, the trip back is an ordeal.
5:27 AM Less than an hour to go. We can pick up the Falcons-Eagles game on Channel 9 of the in-flight audio system. We're flying over Minnesota. Beijing feels like a dream that happened a long time ago.
3:41 PM Chicago time. All the fields approaching Chicago are covered with snow.
5:05 PM Our bags took a long time to arrive. We all look pretty beat. Alan is leaving us to catch a flight to Memphis. He'll get home to Tupelo about midnight. Meanwhile Davis Duggins picks us up in the church van. Lots of snow. Not much chatter on the way home.
7:45 PM We're unpacked now and trying to decompress. We had pizza and jasmine tea while we watch a bit of the Patriots-Steelers game. It occurs to me that I've ridden in more taxis and drunk more tea in the last week than any other time in my life.
9:58 PM It's almost noon in Beijing, which means my biological clock is out of whack. But since the rest of the family is in bed, that's where I'm heading right now. It's been eleven days, 14,000 miles, a trip to the other side of the world, and a glimpse of a time and place and a place I had never seen before. We loved China, and for several reasons, I don't think this will be our final trip.
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