We went to visit my parents over Thanksgiving, and during the visit we started talking over what it was we wanted to see. The interesting part was realizing that it almost didn't matter. Neither John nor I had ever been to China, so we had no idea what to expect and no real clue as to what we'd like or not like or what we were dying to see. There were things I knew about, like having seen the terracotta warriors when they were displayed in LA, or, of course, the Great Wall of China, and who hasn't heard of Peking Duck? But none of those were must-haves or deal breakers.
So I asked Dad to start with the tours that he knew about, because he had gone four times with Mom, and his friends were frequent visitors. He ended up recommending a Ritz tour that included Beijing, Xi'an (the terracotta warriors), Guilin (for the mountains that reside in many classical Chinese paintings), and Shanghai. He said that while it was expensive, it was also very comfortable, and would give us a great introduction to much of the country. There were plenty of spots in the tour when we called, and Ritz was great about sending us a full list of what had to be done before we left the country.
Once the money was down, we went ahead with all the preparations. First was contacting Jet's school, because he would be missing the last two days of school, and we got the go-ahead from everyone there, so that was easy.
Next were all the immunizations. There were no extra immunizations that were required to go, but there were half a dozen that were recommended by the CDC, plus a few that my mother thought we ought to have before we went over. Our clinic is really great about getting us in for those. Jet's physician and nurse only had to give him one set of things he hadn't gotten. My general physician was very happy to talk things over with us while we got our first of many sets of shots. The nurse got us our second round, and the third round of one of the immunizations was just to make sure it took for our lifetime, so we were able to schedule it for when we got back.
I had to renew my passport again, and we discovered that Jet's runs out at the end of this year. He's had one for a while, since we went to Mexico when he was 2 (I still remember him holding a kilo of warm corn tortillas while riding Uncle David's shoulders through the tiny town of Melaque). It's not the first time Jet's been out of the country, but he was quite happy about the fact that it was the first time he left our continent. Once the passports were good, we shipped them by registered mail to my father, who was able to take them to the Chinese Consulate in LA and get visas for all three of us. Ritz offered a visa service for a fee, but it turns out that for Chinese tourist visas you can just do them via friend or family.
The last thing was luggage and locks. Most of our luggage was dozens of years old. Most of it was stuff I got as anniversary awards from Xilinx (laughs), and most of it was soft sided instead of hard-sided, which they recommended. So John went shopping, to nearly a dozen different places, and finally found a large and small hard-sided bag set at Costco that cost less than most small coaster bags at other places. He ended up getting two sets, so that we would have plenty of space to bring stuff back.
We planned all our electronics, i.e. we would bring nothing but the camera, John and Jet's iTouches, and that was it. I knew that Internet access would be problematic there, so I bought myself a Rhodia Netbook with a Dot matrix 'lining', since it would allow me to sketch as well as write at whatever size was appropriate. The paper was a French Clairfontaine paper, smooth as silk and so well-sized there was no ink flow-through. I brought a fountain pen along with my usual Tradio Stylo, liquid ink felt-tip pen, as well as the light and quick Sailor mechanical pencil I'd picked up at Daiso years ago and have never found the likes of since. I added a twist eraser, and that was pretty much all I needed.
John had us do a trial packing just a week before the trip, and we were each a good ten pounds under the domestic limit of just 40 pounds per checked bag, so we had plenty of room for the international 50 pound limit on the way back from Shanghai. Shanghai was promising to be the big shopping stop of the trip, so it was all to the good.
By two days before the trip I was actually pretty good, though in all senses I was just waiting to go. I wasn't worried about anything, about what we might forget, because after years and years of travel, I know that there is only one one quart Ziploc bag of things I absolutely have to have, including my id and at least one credit card, and the rest can be replaced, easily, anywhere. I was, however, wondering what we were going to experience, what it was going to be like to be on a plane for twelve hours, as I didn't remember the plane time from when I went to Taiwan when I was six, and that was cut in half by a stop in Hawaii. Still, we'd done at least two eight hour flights to London and Edinburgh, so there were comparisons I could make.
And the whole idea of exactly what kind of impact it was going to make began that last week before we left. My massage therapist, Bonnie, said that I should be ready for one, but I found that I wasn't really speculating as to what it would be or how. I know that I'm American, there would be no sense of 'coming home', no 'omg I fit', or the 'going back' syndrome so many seem to expect of me. I'm a product of my upbringing, of this society and of these social norms. I have never had the illusion that I would fit in there, but I did wonder if it would be that ease that I felt in Hawaii at finally not being singled out as looking so different from everyone else.
On the actual day, Jet went off to school, John and I finished packing, and then I tried to write, but ended up mostly just playing Facebook games. *laughs* My bees were doing just fine, and I sat in the garden for a while, just weeding and watching the girls buzzing by. The sugar snap peas are going at a tremendous rate, growing at what seems to be half a foot a day. It was nice in the sunshine, and I wondered what it would be like where we were going.
So by the time we loaded up the car, went to pick Jet up at school to get to the airport, we'd already spent a few months 'getting to China' in a different sense.
>>When we actually left... and our first day in Beijing.