Sunday, August 21, 2005

Thanks to the twin miracles of international datelines and sympathetic airline staff, I'm home a day early. I'm going to sleep for about fifty three hours and then, I swear, I'll start to get to the pictures. And boy, are there pictures. In the meantime I'll start with the stories:

The Beijing airport is hot and dirty and full of people. I'll find out later that that's the state of the city as a whole--of the country as a whole--but for the moment my first impression of China is of heat and noise. The entire place is under construction in final, desperate attempts to clean things up for the 2008 Olympics. I am, all of a sudden, overwhelmed by the newness of this situation and the complete absence of anything familiar. I am the only pale skinned redhead in sight, and I feel like a sore thumb.
But I can't check in for my connection to Jinan for another hour, so I retreat into music. With my headphones in, I can pretend that I'm not quite so scared. A small crowd forms around me, gesturing and jabbering and, occasionally, pointing.

Earlier, going through immigration, I had befriended an astronomer in town for a conference. We passed the time trying to determine just what the active verb for being an astronomer is. The best that either of us could come up with was 'stargaze,' which is a really passive active verb. I told him that I had concentrated hard crossing the dateline, but that I hadn't managed to feel fifteen hours different. He said that you come to recognize the feeling after a few trips, and then all you want to do is forget it.

There is only a certain amount of pointing that you can ignore, and so after a while I start staring back. My small audience (maybe ten people) notices that I'm paying attention to them, and start nudging each other. The boldest of them, carrying what I will come to recognize as the sort of bag the migrant workers tend to carry, steps forward a bit. He points to his ears and then at me, and back to his ears again. I get his point, but I'm not sure--I'm listening to Tullycraft, and I'm not positive that twee Northwest indie pop will translate in Chinese. But he seems to think that it's a good idea and so I wave him over and pass him the headphones. He listens for a moment and then grins hugely, his brownish teeth gleaming in the fluorescent lights. Slowly, and not in any sort of beat, he starts to bob his knees. Halfway through the song, the knobby old Chinese man is dancing in the airport. His friends are all grinning, and so am I.

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