Home, Away Home
On June 13th, 2004, I picked up my backpack, got on the bus,
went home, opened the door to my room and fell asleep on the bed.
Only this time, my backpack was my luggage, the bus was a chartered
tour bus, my room was inside a Holiday Inn, and home was not Chesterfield,
MO, but rather Beijing, China.
My name is Rich Yueh and I am an 18 year old incoming freshman
at Purdue University. I attended Parkway West High and was able
to travel to China with a group of 22 students from St. Louis
University High School (SLUH). Together with my friend Jason Huang
from Lafayette High, chaperones Mr. Bob Overkamp (a fellow teacher
at SLUH) and his wife Susan, and under the guidance of Dr. Ching-Ling
Tai, a Chinese teacher at SLUH, we spent 16 memorable days visiting
8 cities in China: Beijing, Xian, Luoyang, Zhenzhou, Nanjing,
Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Shanghai.
Although the trip started on June 12th, 2004, preparation started
almost two years ago. Forms and money were due in the fall of
2002 and a meeting was held during the winter to discuss packing
lists, travel tips, and some facts about each city we were going
to visit. As plane tickets were reserved and hotel rooms were
booked, it seemed like we were fairly ready to leave. But then
in early 2003, the SARS scare arose in China and immediate action
had to be taken. Dr. Tai cancelled all plans and postponed the
trip until the end of the 2003-2004 school year.
SARS began to clear up, preparation activities arose once more.
One meeting was held in late 2003 as an informal meet and greet.
Another was held in May to finalize packing lists, go over rules,
and hand out itineraries. Due to conflicts with work, I was not
able to attend either one; I received my information secondhand
through my parents. When June rolled around it seemed as if this
was going to be it- there was no turning back because everyone
has made it this far. I made some trips to the store to get some
granola bars and packed all my luggage by Friday night, June 11th.
On Saturday, June 12th, everyone had to meet at Lambert Airport
by 8:30 in order to check in two hours before departure. I arrived
fairly early and checked in my luggage smoothly. The time between
reaching the gate and boarding the plane was not long. We were
only there for about half an hour - just enough time to return
passports and hand out boarding passes - when we heard the boarding
Our first stop was Minneapolis en route to Tokyo. The flight
to Minneapolis was only an hour and 40 minutes, not bad at all.
I noticed the Minneapolis airport wasn't like an airport at all
but more like a shopping mall. There are stores lined up on both
sides of the terminal and a huge food court was located near our
gate. Everyone got an hour or so to eat and explore the stores
before the designated check in time. After lunch I went to play
cards with Jason and 3 new friends: Pete, Darryl, and Mike. It
was a good time to learn names and get to know them better, two
things I would be doing a lot during the trip.
flight from Minneapolis to Tokyo was predicted to be around 12
hours. We were delayed at the gate so the actual time on the plane
was around 13 hours. At first I thought that I would never make
it through 12 hours of just sitting around, eating, some walking,
and watching movies or reading. Then I realized that that's what
I've been doing almost every day since I graduated so I figured
it wouldn't be "too" bad. My seat was near the back,
one away from the right-hand side aisle. For the first part of
the flight I read my book and tried not to sleep so I wouldn't
miss dinner. After dinner I finished my book and took random naps
up until breakfast. From breakfast until touching down in Tokyo
seemed like one long moment. Everyone was restless from the plane
ride and we were all ready to get to our hotel rooms and crash.
The delay at the gate in Minneapolis drastically
cut down our time to get to our connecting flight in Tokyo. An
airport attendant let our group cut in front of the line at the
security checkpoint and we ran all the way to the gate. There
was no waiting; everyone else was already boarded so we walked
right on. This flight was scheduled around 3 hours. By this time,
I was almost out of it. I had energy to run to the gate but the
soft airplane seat and the warm blanket knocked me out. I turned
down the first round of drinks and missed some sort of meal in
order to sleep most of the way to Beijing.
I breathed a sigh of relief upon arrival in Beijing. I knew that
we still had to clear security, pick up luggage, and go to the
hotel, but at least none of that involved sitting on a plane.
After picking up luggage, we walked out to the main terminal and
Dr. Tai went to go find our tour guide. At first he didn't introduce
himself so we just followed him to the bus. Later on he told us
that his name is George and that he would be our guide throughout
our stay in Beijing. We went directly to the Central Plaza Holiday
Inn and checked into our rooms. I spent some time taking pictures
of the lobby and then showered and went to sleep.
It might have been walking out of the airport, or on the bus
ride, but somewhere along the way it hit me: I was finally in
China. Walking on the pavement in China is no different than walking
on the pavement in St. Louis; the big thing is that I'm walking
on the pavement "in" China. I cherished this feeling
and think about it to this day. There's nothing quite like being
in a home away from home.