U.S.-China Institute at Bryant University

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Day 15 - Another Long Day of Travel with Some Final Reflections

Well, the trip home was slightly less eventful than the trip going to China, but only marginally so.  It featured a taxi ride that took me to the “other” international terminal.  Next, there was the personal security escort that got me onto my flight before it left.  On time arrival in Seattle was followed by slow luggage delivery for clearing customs, which left about 40 passengers stranded when our flight – yes the same flight! – re-boarded and left on time without us.  Frantic re-ticketing got me onto a flight leaving almost an hour later and headed for Minneapolis instead of Atlanta.  A gate hold in Minneapolis got me onto the connection with zero seconds to spare. 

Arrival in Boston came over an hour earlier than my scheduled flight.  Obviously, with a missed flight and zero time for the connecting flight my luggage had to have gotten lost! 

Surprise!  Surprise!  Not so!  The luggage had made every connection – no problem!  Personally, I felt like I’d been dragged through the garden and around the block; my luggage, however, looked fine.    What a way to bring this trip to a close.  After 23 hours of almost-missed flights, several panicky moments, an actual missed flight, and several rerouted connections, everything ultimately turned out fine.  In fact, we got home an hour earlier than scheduled.  Looking back, it seems an emblematic finish to the last two weeks.

As I reflect on this trip, I have some of the same kinds of thoughts I’ve had before when returning from China.  The trip provided an almost continuous cascade of surprises and delights.  This was the first time I had traveled unescorted (mostly), and while I can’t say that I found a great many English speakers to bail me out when I got lost (happened often), I did find that my rudimentary Mandarin, hand signals, and pointing to written directions could go a very long way with cab drivers, ticket takers, and those sympathetic guards, students, and passersby who looked like they could offer directions.  Only once did a cab driver scratch his head, close the door, and just drive away.  The next driver was fine with my antics and everything worked out fine. 

I don’t think I can ever get over the pleasure I feel when I run across the delightful creativity the Chinese can bring to everyday experiences.  Even a “no littering” sign can carry an important message about civic responsibility.  

This was my fourth trip to China.  As I reflect on the new lessons learned and what I am taking away from this experience, I find that I have come away with new understanding in several areas.

  • As the students in Xi’an told me, “there is room to learn here.”  This simple statement has taken on much greater depth as a result of trying to hear and see what the Chinese most want a visitor to see and understand.  I like the attitude as well as the observation.
  • A second point a number of people have made has also gained strength in my understanding recently.  The Chinese language and Chinese culture really are two sides of the same thing.  I’ve come home with a renewed commitment to learn more Mandarin. 
  • The third point that has really come home to me is the fact that the Chinese are very good at presenting themselves, and they know how to direct your attention to what they want you to see.  This was borne out at the Confucius Temple in Qufu, at the Terracotta Warrior site in Xi’an, in Suzhou, and at CFG. 
  • Finally, the fourth and most striking thing to come home for me on this trip would have to be the reality of warmth behind Chinese hospitality.  There is not just the willingness to share, but there is a genuine pleasure the Chinese take in “greeting friends from afar.”  The influences of traditional Chinese civilization are very much in evidence every day, almost whenever we care to see it.  Maybe this is the most important lesson of the past two weeks. 

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