Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Longest Trip to China

30 June-2 July: Los Angeles to Tokyo to Bangkok to Chengdu

During our orientation I volunteered to be a group leader. In brief, this meant that I was responsible for making sure a dozen or so other trainees (we are not officially volunteers until we are sworn in after two months of training) made in to the flight on time. Had I checked my itinerary more closely I would have realized this meant three flights, but I'm a relaxed traveler.  

74 trainees to start. By the time we left LA we were down to 73.

The Peace Corps staff bid us adieu at the hotel and we departed LAX at 1 P.M., having waited in line to check our bags since 8 A.M. The transport of our luggage all the way to Chengdu seemed anything but certain.

During my travels for work I had become accustomed to business class, or, at the very least, economy plus with an aisle seat. I also have a trick lower back that has caused me serious trouble every couple of years. Sitting for long periods of time and not being able to get up often to walk and stretch = trouble. But Peace Corps is not a business class kind of outfit and shouldn't be, so I was up for whatever came my way. I was praying for an aisle seat in economy, however. No go. Eleven hours to Tokyo, where we changed planes, and 7 more hours to Bangkok in the middle of the plane.

We overnighted in Bangkok at what is certainly the primo Best Western on earth. Unfortunately, we arrived at midnight and departed at 6 A.M. for our 4-hour 10:30 A.M. flight to Chengdu, so no trips downtown for the legendary fun. "Dinner" consisted of bar snacks and a glass of California chardonnay with Katie F. and Jeremy. It was at this hotel that I realized, with some relief, that many fellow trainees had not heeded Peace Corps recommendation to quit smoking. Real people.

My roommate here and when we arrived in Chengdu was Aaron Meadows. A tall, thoughtful, athletic guy about 15 years my junior. We got on well. He's also already fairly fluent in Mandarin. I mention my roommates because during this kind of tumultuous (yet thrilling) experience, these people are instant friends, people I'll always remember.

The Bangkok airport was well-appointed. After everyone successfully made it through check-in and security (two in my group overslept, but I'm not going to mention any names; Euro-cup finals kept several people up into the wee hours), we divided and conquered for one last American vice. Mine was a venti iced coffee.

Chine, here we come!

 (Bangkok airport; Peace Corps waiting at the gate)

Friday, June 29, 2012

Departure Day

A year-long application process finished, check
Getting my life in order so that I could be away for two years, check
Finishing up my ESL teaching, check

(LanguageEtc in Washington, DC)

One last academic conference to make secure some connections, check

(CTSA in St. Louis)

Quality time with friends and family pre-departure, check
(A trip home for my sister's dental school graduation at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities)

(A week with the parents in Washington and Annapolis)

(A long weekend in Rehoboth with Brian, Neal, and Mike)

(A drive to Pittsburgh to see my friend Ed)

29 July: Washington Dulles to Los Angeles for a day of registration and orientation at the LAX Radisson
I was thrilled to be making a start to the two years, and I finally got to meet my fellow China 18s (the 18th group of volunteers to serve in China) -- in particular, my first roommate Jason McConnell, a novice guitar player redhead from the South overflowing with personality.
Prior to departure I had to shave my beard (China Peace Corps requires you to be clean shaven), which I had sported for several years. ...another discombobulation to add to the list.
That evening some went down to the beach for dinner and others stayed at the hotel. I opted for one last burger and a glass of good wine at the hotel bar.