February 28. Ben, Jade, Erik, David, and I were the only ones on the bus. As I looked around, I felt that half of me was missing. Not wanting to talk to anyone, I plugged in my headphones and stared out the window. Looking back, it seems unreal. I said “see you later” to Jade and Ben (who was staying another 2 weeks in Fiji). I don’t remember much of getting to the plane after that. Whether from exhaustion or depression, I couldn’t tell. Maybe it was a combination of both.
My first flight was to Hong Kong and the plane was packed accordingly. I felt more foreign than any other time and knew this next month would be nothing but that feeling. Even in Fiji there were people who spoke English and shared most of our customs. I was thrown into a dizzying culture shock. I stumbled over to my seat. When I sat down, the person next to me (who was of Asian descent) stared at me. He didn’t stop staring for at least 5 minutes. I wanted to confront him. I wasn’t in the mood. Then I remembered something that Erik had said about their customs. “Staring isn’t offensive in China and because you’re a foreigner, you’ll get it a lot.” I bit back my retort and stared resolutely ahead of me. I just put in my headphones and closed my eyes. I felt an overwhelming sense of exhaustion, and the grief was nearly as bad. Not wanting to feel anything, I fell asleep.
I woke up when someone poked me asking if I wanted lunch. I refused the food, although I hadn’t eaten anything in about 12 hours. I don’t think my stomach could have handled it. The person next to me had left his seat and had joined his friends who were watching the inflight movie. I stretched out, with my back against the window. I reflected on the past month. I didn’t think about what we had done, I didn’t want to relive anything of February, but I thought about how it affected me.
In high school I was slightly self-conscious and didn’t fit the day to day life. The continued monotony was draining me of who I was. I was never me during those years. I was always trying to please people’s opinions of me. Now I am myself. For one of the first times I feel completely comfortable in my shoes. My confidence surpasses even my fears, because I haven’t felt any fear since I jumped the Nevis. It’s not a cocky confidence, but one that I can use to make the best of the moments around me and make the most of the time I have. I was sometimes afraid to be criticized for some actions that I did, while I was at home that is. Now I know that those who criticize you aren’t worth a single glance. I was glad to be mature, immature, or just whatever whenever I wanted. I also know how I’m a stubborn guy, sticking to what I believe is right, and how sometimes I have to work hard at some things, whether it’s jumping off the Nevis or being thrown into a group of 11 strangers, but I know that it’s even harder to make me give up. I’ve also realized that family is one of the most important aspects of life. Whether it’s the family you develop within the span of a month or the family you have back home, they’re all vital. My brother is someone who I used to take for granted and get in constant fights with, but now, more than anyone, I wish he was here to experience all this with me, not only as my brother, but as a best friend.
Coming out of my reverie I saw that the next meal had started. I hadn’t realized how long I had been sitting there. Maybe I had even fallen asleep. I was slightly hungrier and wearily took my food. I don’t usually eat the airplane food, but it felt good to feel something other than pressure in my stomach.
About an hour later, the plane had landed. We had about 3 hours until our flight to Kunming so I Skyped my family back home, wanting to feel some connection to someone I knew. It made the next 3 hours a bit easier. David and Erik were with me, but out of all the people on the last trip I had gotten to know them the least. Then the flight to Kunming was upon me and it was just David and I (Erik couldn’t get a flight until the next day).
A tidal wave of realization hit me as I was walking with David. It was just us 2 now. I did have my cousin coming in the next 2 days, but I couldn’t even fathom that fact until I actually saw her. I laughed falsely at any jokes he threw out, but inside I was far from laughing. I didn’t say much during the flight or through customs. I think David knew what was going through my head and I think much of the same thing was going through his. He didn’t talk about much, except joke occasionally, and I was grateful for it. After customs we set our stuff down and sat for a long time, waiting for our pickup.
Finally, Leung came to pick us up. He was a welcome change to the atmosphere. Leung is a 26 year old, small, Cambodian man. He has a great attitude to life and rarely stops smiling. He knows 5 languages (French, Cambodian, Chinese, English, and Cantonese) and is a master of Kong Fu. He led us out apologizing furiously for being late, telling us how much traffic there had been. We got out to the street, and not until then did I realize that it was nighttime. It took about an hour to grab a taxi outside the airport. None of us were aggressive enough to step in front of a person who had stolen the taxi we had just waved down. When we finally got one, we drove 2 hours to the hotel. The city was so chaotic. Mopeds zipped wherever they wanted, car lanes were strictly disregarded, and people ran across the street without warning. I was surprised to see plenty of locals driving brand new Bentleys and Mercedes. From all that I had learned about a communist country, there should be an even distribution of wealth, but that clearly did not exist here. The language barrier was another huge shock. Everything was in Mandarin, and, to me, that looked as welcome as graffiti.
In the dead of night, we arrived at the hotel and checked in. Without elevators, we climbed 6 flights of stairs with our luggage and came to the room. I threw my luggage down and launched myself into the bed. Bad idea. The Chinese like hard, stiff beds that resemble the comfort of a wooden floor. The crash shook the room and smashed my chest with plenty of force. In order to make for a more comforting sleep, I took as many blankets as I could find and made a makeshift mattress. David didn’t seem to care about the bed and fell asleep immediately. After I was thoroughly satisfied with my bedding, I lay down and slept peacefully.
Sorry about the delay in all the posts. It was hard to find time to blog in the last few days when all I wanted to do was spend time with my group. Here in China, there is internet everywhere, but I wasn’t able to blog until I bought a VPN in order to access my blog sight, which is blocked here. Thanks for the patience. Look out tomorrow morning, because I will be fully up to date by then.