There it was. Delta Flight 8843. The open doors were waiting for me to walk through them. They were waiting to take me away from my future. They were waiting to take me back home. But it wasn’t home anymore, not really. Here was home, is home.
I walked forward with the rest of my group. It was a forced walk. Head down, shoulders slumped, forcing my feet to keep going. Right, left, right again. At the top of the stairs I looked over my shoulders taking in one last inhale of smog. I made it through the door and found my seat next to Kelly. We both plugged in our ear buds and gave each other a solemn look. I reached to buckle my seat belt and hesitated for the inevitable click.
Chinese Fun Fact #1: Disregard all things polite—pushing and shoving is a way of survival.
“Passengers on Delta flight 7603 with service to Beijing, China, we will begin boarding those seated in zone one momentarily. I repeat, those seated in zone one only. Please stand by.” This is finally it! I can’t believe it--BAM. I didn’t even have time to take in the moment that I was actually going to China—CHINA!—before my luggage was knocked over and I was dragged and trampled across the airport floor by a pack of feisty Asians. Who knew momentarily boarding zone one meant a free for all for anyone waiting to leave the country?
Chinese Fun Fact #2: China is cheap, but everything has a cost.
After waiting for over seven hours on a bumpy bus ride through the Himalayas, we finally stopped at a Tibetan village to get some relief. As we approached the out-house, two little girls jumped in front of us and held out their hands. Seriously? Pay to piss? Not having any other option, nor the skills to converse around it, we paid the dues. Inside, however, was not what we bargained for. A public, open hole with two centuries worth of shit steaming up at us. We deuced and dashed as fast as possible. What a great bonding experience: Squatty Potties.
Chinese Fun Fact #3: American’s look weird.
We would always get stared at as we meandered through the villages; we guessed we stood out like sore thumbs amongst all the oriental faces. Poor Kelly always got asked to take pictures with the locals. “Blonde hair, blue eyes, take picha, take picha!” But honestly, I took offense to that. “Why you no want to taka my picha?” I have blonde hair and blue eyes too…
Chinese Fun Fact #4: Boogers make you smile.
It’s never fun to have a snotty-nosed child run up to you and spat phlegm all over your clothes. I didn’t know the Chinese word for tissue, but come on. Did my face not say it all? I tried teaching them about the personal bubble, but all they did was proceed to tackle me and continue to rub influenza all down my neck. All I could so was shrug and give an awkward half-smile back. This, of course, only made them grin wider. I guess a smile is the only cross-cultural language. Then they’d poke my eyes and make melon shapes their snot-filled hands. I asked my translator what they were saying, and she told me, “They say you have huge eyes.” Blonde hair, big, blue eyes, and still no one wanted to take my damn picture.
Chinese Fun Fact #5: Dog is delicious.
One time I asked our translator if she ate dog, and she told me, “Yes we eat dog, do not ask that, it isn’t polite.” I then further questioned, “So when you go to a restaurant, and you order dog, do you get a choice, like greyhound, dachshund, or German shepherd?” No response. Later on I tried this new dish that looked like custard, but I wasn’t exactly sure. It had an odd taste, but I continued eating it. She agreed and told me it was famous gelatin. Only after I finished did she tell me it was pig’s blood. Touché, touché.
Chinese Fun Fact #6: Seatbelts are vital; Chinese are agile.
The lanes on major roadways in China, to quote my professor, are “more like guidelines.” The same goes with walking. China does not implement crosswalks at any major intersection. You just go. And you hope not to die. I’d personally say a little prayer each time I crossed the street because it was the equivalent of a real life game of Frogger.
Chinese Fun Fact #7: Communists will kill you.
Not being able to speak Chinese actually isn’t actually a conflict at all. In fact, it’s a benefit. When visiting the Olympic Bird’s Nest Stadium, apparently they do enforce the signs reading: “No entrance onto the track.” Luckily I have past experience with hurdles and was able to hop, skip, and jump over the exits and race towards the nearest embassy when the Chinese police started coming after me with metal beating sticks. “Uh, no speaka Chinese? Me foreigner!” Surely they felt pity for blonde hair, blue-eyed American boy. This time I hope they didn’t get my picture.
Chinese Fun Fact #8: “Beer before liquor,” in China you’ll get sicker.
Most everything in China is one-sixth of what you would pay in America save for clothing. The cheapest item of all: Alcohol. I was that stupid American who was infatuated with the cheap prices of liquor. Hell, one bar we went into had a sign over the door: “SO FUCKING CHEAP!!!!” so naturally we had to check it out. For the equivalent of seven dollars US: twelve shots, four mixed drinks, and eight beers. I was told it was something that should have been replaced with Thursday night’s Jersey Shore.
Chinese Fun Fact #9: American’s deserve their bad rep.
I had heard about a yummy food called shou er kuai which is a fried sweet roll wrapped inside a breaded tortilla covered in tangy peanut sauce. One morning I waited in line at a street vendor to buy one, and when I got to the front I made sure to tell the lady I was a vegetarian.
I thought I knew how to say it: “Wo shi chu tsai.” Later, I realized I told her I was a vegetable. No wonder everyone in line laughed at me as I said it again and again, louder and louder. “WO SHI CHU TSAI!”
Chinese Fun Fact #10: Fortune Cookies are an American invention and do not exist in China. Neither does Panda Express.
“Passengers, please return to your seats and fasten your seat belts, we will be arriving back in the states shortly.” I stare out the window as the condensation slides across it in the wind. We’re slowly starting to dip below the clouds. So many great memories. New food, new friends, new experiences. The Great Wall of China, hiking in the Himalayas, Buddhist Temples, teaching at an orphanage. Chinese nightlife. We embraced it all. Costly restrooms, filthy toilets, no air-conditioning, snotty-nosed children, horrible traffic, questionable food, pushy people: but that was the best part. Experiencing a world nothing like our own. China embraced us with a true cultural experience. I hear the wheels of the plane lower as we descend to the runway below. I turn to Kelly who also looks sad.
“I’m not ready to go back to using forks,” she jokes, and neither am I.
Phillip teaches middle school English where his job description is to change the world, but in reality it is attempting to end the struggle of comma splices. He has published other fiction and non-fiction in Aurora magazine as well as self-published a multi-genre anthology taught at the University of North Florida where he received his BA in English. He is working on his MFA from Eastern Kentucky University where he completed residencies in Lisbon, Portugal. Phillip enjoys traveling abroad, consuming a large goblet of sangria on weekends, challenging the commonalities of thoughts, and the color orange makes him smile. Find out more at phillipwrites.com.
= = = = = = > Read Phillip's Sixer