Thirty days ago I returned from my trip to China, and while in some ways that seems a lifetime ago thanks to work and the demands of everyday life, I know that my experiences and memories are indelibly imprinted in my heart. And I am thankful that my photos will help to keep them fresh despite the passage of time.
The memories are packed in my head like fragmented, overstuffed cardboard boxes in the warehouse of my mind and potentially lost for all time, but the photographs, like a card catalog and my personal Dewey Decimal System, guide me to their recollection.
Sharing them here in the coming posts I hope to unpack a few for you…to share with you a moment, an encounter, a glance, the prayers whispered, my many steps (countless steps!!!)…and just a fraction — a tinge — of the emotions (joy, love, wonder…) and adventure of my journey. I hope my words and pictures do the memories justice and you feel my reverence, gratitude and love for the experience.
Airport in Guangzhou
The Longest Day
Traveling to Dali, China in the western edge of this massive country takes stringing together several flights and crossing the International Date Line, which results in “losing a day”…for me that was St. Patrick’s Day. In all it was a 32 hour grueling travel schedule, but the Adrenalin flow of anticipation and excitement, plus my overly prepared survival plan, helped to make the passage bearable. It’s no easy feat tricking your body clock to “spring forward” 12 hours through crowded flights, non-stop in-flight meals and snacks, seemingly never-ending waiting in lines, straining to understand safety and arrival information in broken “Changlish”, and the limitless sensory stimulation of new sights, sounds, smells and sensations.
How Do You Load the World’s Largest Passenger Plane (Airbus A380)?
Well, carefully and methodically, of course! I was impressed with the orderly process and the patience of passengers…unlike the frenzied rush of boarding American airliners, the China Southern Airlines staff line everyone up inside the terminal in reverse numerical order about an hour before departure (there are 550+ passengers after all) and expect the passengers to patiently and systematically file onto the plane from the back to the front through two entry points (left side and right side of the plane), stow their carry-ons and take their seats. It WORKS!! It makes so much sense and it works with few incidents, little frustration or aggravation, and in no time we were airborne and being plied with in-flight treats.
I managed to stick to my sleep/wake schedule and beg off many rounds of food and drink and ignore the tantalizing selection of movies and programming, and I did so rather comfortably in the middle seat of a three-seat configuration. It’s hard not to engage with your fellow travelers on a 15 1/2 hour flight, so during one of my wake phases I asked the Chinese gentleman to my right if he spoke English…he didn’t, but imagine my surprise when he said he spoke some Spanish!!! He works for a Chinese enterprise doing business with the Panama Canal and had learned that language instead of English, which is most often taught as a second/third language to the Chinese…after learning Mandarin Chinese, if that is not their native Chinese tongue. After a time I engaged the woman to my left who was from Mexico City and also spoke Spanish, so for the balance of the flight I practiced my Spanish extensively with my most unlikely travel companions.
Upon arriving in China via Guangzhou all passengers must pass through immigration, so those same 550+ passengers now have to funnel through that process, and unlike the aircraft boarding procedure this was a bit more chaotic.
Limited English signage and instructions to guide us through the large airport to the immigration process and onto our very tight connection required some athletic prowess and determination, and in fact, our workshop leader and a couple of our workshop participants missed the connection because of the challenge.
Following immigration, and even though we never left the secure areas of the airport, we all had to go through security procedures again, and this was one of the most thorough processes I have ever been through. I was made to open and unpack several pieces from my camera bag three times before I was cleared to pass. Lenses, battery
On the tarmac racing to board my connection!
chargers, and cords were examined thoroughly. Yes, it was a terrible hassle and ate up a lot of my limited precious time to make my connection, but I wanted no part of potentially triggering Chinese security so you quickly learn to suck it up and deal with the inconvenience. As a result I ended up being the last passenger to board that connecting flight…I was shuttled in a small coach to meet the plane out on the tarmac just moments before they closed the doors and the flight took off leaving behind our three participants in Guangzhou!
From Guangzhou we flew four more hours to Kunming where we had a short layover and then our final one-hour hop to Dali.
Up to this point all of our glimpses of China had been either the insides of terminal buildings or gray, foggy, hazy views of dingy urban areas surrounding the airports, so it was a welcome and beautiful sight to land in Dali where it was bright and sunny and breezy with temps in the high 60s. Here we were met by our host — Jeannee Linden and some of her staff who made quick work of loading our bags onto the motor coach and driving us an hour further north to the village of Xizhou, which would be our home for the next several days.
On the bus ride there I feverishly snapped photos of the roadside scenery unsure if we would pass this way again and not wanting to miss a thing. Here are a few of those glimpses…and yes, we never passed by these again during our stay in China.
Now, mind you it was only 11-something in the morning local time after 32 hours of travel, so our first day did not end here, but for the sake of your attention and my composition I will give us all a well-needed break.
Next up…the first impressions of our new home-away-from-home: the village of Xizhou and the Linden Centre.