Sunday, August 16, 2009

One Last Series Of Adventures

Eventually, the day had to arrive when it was time to jump on an airplane, fly over the North Pole, and say goodbye to our home for the past year. (This wasn't a mere "trip" that was ending. No, this was a stage of our lives, no different from what we experienced in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Maryland. We worked. We went to school. We washed dishes and clothes. Yes, it was "life.")

But first, there was one final stroll out to Yiheyuan. Yes, we were leaving in a matter of hours, but we just couldn't resist the call of Seventeen-Arch Bridge, the Long Corridor, the Marble Boat, and, of course, one million of our closest Chinese friends.

As we walked and had our photos taken by squealing and jumping young girls, I worked my cell phone, as, in true Chinese fashion, we had not yet arranged a way to get all of our bags out to the airport. Into the void stepped Yanke, who himself had just moved apartments back in July. Before long, I had the number of a moving company that would carry our stuff out of Yan Bei Yuan for a better price than what it had cost going the other way a year ago, even though we had, as you know by now, way more bags.

Milking every last minute, we stopped in to see Hui Min and fill up our bellies before hitting the road. It was at that point that our goodbyes turned from quiet to chaotic.

My cell phone rang. It was Yang Laoshi, our take-charge landlady. "Where are you?" came the question. Upon hearing our location, Yang Laoshi quickly jumped into her car to carry us back to our apartment. An unexpected party of sorts had begun.

Back at Yan Bei Yuan, it wasn't just Yang Laoshi joining us, but also a nice young guy who was doing something (we didn't know exactly what) with the place's Internet connection. Within minutes, the movers had arrived. These wiry, well tanned workers seemed to have a superhuman ability to move big, heavy suitcases. One of the duo used a strap to lash three huge bags onto his back, and then proceeded to quickly move down six flights of steps with his waist bent at practically ninety degrees.

It would have been amazing to watch, but there were tears flowing, especially from Desi, who, like all of us, was having a hard time saying goodbye to our little home and community. Somehow, we all made it downstairs and jumped into a taxi cab. Happily, it was our favorite driver, a local resident with whom we had ridden a number of times over the year. He knew what was going on, so we didn't have to answer any questions about why we were so emotional.

The taxi and moving truck were instructed to stay together and head to Terminal 2. I can only imagine what the scene must have looked like, half an hour later, when four waiguoren jumped out at the curb and proceeded to load enormous amounts of stuff from a moving truck onto a series of push carts.

Moving into the terminal, my cell phone rang again. It was our dear friend Sister Pam, who had come to the airport to see us off. What an incredible gift that was!

And it turned out to be the gift that kept on giving, as it wasn't but a few minutes later that I discovered, much to my horror, that Continental Airlines had, just days before, moving its Beijing operations over to Terminal 3. "Uh, Des...We have a problem..."

Make no mistake...This was no trivial miscalculation. Terminal 3, famously shaped like a flying dragon, is absolutely immense, to put it mildly. In fact, Terminal 3 by itself is bigger than Heathrow Airport in its entirety. Because of its enormity, Terminal 3 is located something like a twenty minute shuttle ride away from the rest of the airport. It has its own exit on the airport expressway.

With timely and much needed help from Sister Pam, we loaded our bags onto a waiting bus and then...Waited...

For some reason, traffic on the expressway was at a near stand still. And the clock continued to tick. Good thing we had gotten to the airport so ridiculously early.

With Sister Pam working on calming us down, we eventually found out the reason for the big delay...A mini-bus had caught on fire, and now the burned out skeleton was sitting there at the side of the road, surrounded by passengers and emergency vehicles and clogging up traffic as everyone nosed together, Chinese style, in an effort to get by in the two left lanes. There it was...One last du che for the Beijing Ballas.

When we finally made it to the dragon, our next battle had to do with how much we would be paying in extra baggage fees. We had too many bags. Some of our bags were overweight. Maybe one of our bags was oversize. This could get expensive. Desi and I braced ourselves for the worst.

As the staff worked their way through our bags, one-by-one, they kept commenting to me how we were in violation of what is allowed. "Yes, I know. You see, we've been living here in China for a year. Chinese people are so welcoming to foreign friends. We've just accumulated so many gifts along the way."

In the end, all we were charged for were two extra bags, for a total of $260. As for the rest of the violations, the staff kindly let them slide..."This time..." Whew!

Heading into the passengers-only area of the terminal, we turned around and saw Sister Pam standing there, waving to the four of us. With lumps in our throats and our stomachs, we waved back. And then, just like that, it was just the four of us...

~Steve

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