My first trip to China was in the summer of 2010. I traveled without my wife, Kay, which was the first time I went on a vacation without her. There were logical reasons why this trip would best be traveled without, but still I knew it wouldn’t be quite the same without her insights and smile. First there was the issue of money, China would be the farthest trip taken and the issue of family finances was a concern. Another reason was that I was meeting my son Matthew, who had been in China teaching and Kay felt that it would be a great father son time. the final reason was that Kay really was not interested in traveling China, since it was well beyond her comfort zone. China was so different from anything she had ever experienced, and I was soon understand her concerns.
Flying is an experience that I’ve always enjoyed. Of course the discomforts along the way are stressful, but it the connection with the different sights and sounds have always held my interests. The fight began close to midnight and was to stop in Beijing en route to Shanghai. During the fight, I sat next to an attractive Chinese woman, about thirty-five years old, who had a husband teaching at a university in Beijing. We struck up a conversation about life in Beijing. She was seemed relaxed, as she told me about how she enjoyed her visit to Los Angeles seeing relatives. I asked her about china and she replied, There is much smog and air pollution in Beijing.” and then continued, “I am very happy to be coming home my husband.” We continued talking while, but as the time to land came closer, we both stopped in guess in anticipating our arrival. I had to smile to myself, as I noticed a smile growing slowly near the corners of her mouth.
After we landed in Beijing, my first sight of China were Chinese men in white hospital overcoats wearing what looked like diving goggles and surgical masks moving slowly down the isles taking temperatures. The woman next to me saw I was surprised and said, “Don’t worry, it is only a procedure.” Just like that, I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. I wasn’t worried, but saw what was unfolding in front of me, felt like something that belonged in Alice in Wonderland. The officials looked out of place in their diving googles. What did they think could happen? Were they worried someone might spit in their eyes? I felt like I going down the rabbit hole, as I tried to comprehend the sight.
As soon as the Chinese authorities were satisfied that no one was a health risk, we were considered safe disembark and moved through customs. I ran into the same Chinese woman I sat next to on the plane, and she appeared anxious. she said, “I’ve been in America so long, I forget about China.” As we moved through the custom lines, I noticed lots of other Chinese people with white flimsy masks covering their noses and mouths, the woman smiled nervously, while looking around too, said, “I need to get a mask.” I wondered why she seemed so anxious, was it because she was going back to her husband, or was it because she was coming back to her “Kansas,” and she knew things were very different.
As for me, I knew things were different. Physically, the Beijing airport terminal was newer and spotless, as compared to what I had experienced at LAX, just around 12 hours ago. But there was a paradox, that confused my first impressions. As I walked to my connecting flight to Shanghai I looked out of extremely large clear glass windows to see fog in the morning, except it wasn’t fog but smog. My mind wanted to accept that the appearance of my surrounding benign, when in fact there was a different reality staring at me on the other side of the window. Why was there so much smog on a late July morning?
Those few minutes in the airport filled me with the beginning of a new understanding of China. What I was expecting to see, likely would not be reality. There were no angry faces with Mao hats eying me as walked down dark, dirty, grimy corridors, after leaving customs. What did see was a super clean modern airport that ran smoothly and efficiently, to get me on my way. My paradigm of China was slowly beginning to shift in different directions.