Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Goodbye to All I Knew

I made a trip to Zigong, the city where I spent most of my early childhood, where my aunt and uncle still lived. I didn’t have a chance to go back in all those years. I was so surprised that those big, wide streets from my memories were so small and narrow, and the hills seemed so small. My cousins were all grown up too. My uncle had already moved to a new and bigger apartment and my baby niece was just born. She was the first grandchild in our family (graduated from The Imperial College, London University. Now, she is working for the Royal Bank of Scotland). It was a pleasant visit, so I extended my stay, and it was difficult for me to leave.  Although I did not know where my grandparents were since my oldest uncle told me he could not find my grandfather's burial place anymore,  I assumed that included my grandmother's too.  He did not tell me my grandmother's ashes were in his home where I stayed.  I could feel them close to me.  I felt them and I got their blessing.
     It was early morning; my father had arranged for a van from his institute to send me to the Chengdu airport for my flight to Beijing. All my family members, my brother, my sister, and my parents went to the airport to say goodbye. I really didn’t feel like it was goodbye since I would stay in Beijing for a week to get my money and papers ready. I felt like it was just another business trip.
     I stayed in a small hotel in Beijing, nearby the department of forestry. Then I received my travel money, obtained my ticket, and finished all the necessary paperwork. My flight was scheduled for August 27th, 1986 before my 25th birthday. Mr. Zhou (周) from the department said goodbye at the airport. Then he left me alone to wait to board the plane.
     I realized that this was a real goodbye. I saw some women or wives of students crying since their boyfriends or husbands were leaving. I felt so sad to be alone. I wished that I had Wang to comfort me. Any one of my family members or even someone I knew or was familiar. I looked around, hoping find someone. Everyone was a stranger to me. And it seemed like everyone, everyone except me, had someone with him or her. I waited to check-in and then I waited to board the airplane. It seemed like I never waited for anything that long. Then I heard the loud speaker say that our flight was delayed until the next day, the 28th because of a typhoon.
     Most people got up and went away. I was withdrawn and passive because I had not been talking to anyone, which was unlike me on any other trips I had taken in China. I didn’t have anywhere to go and started to worry. The person next to me talked to another person next to him; he said, “let’s wait here. They will take care of us. We can’t go anywhere because we don’t have Chinese money anymore.” He was right, the bus took us to the airport hotel, fed us, and we stayed overnight. The next day, we tried again, but it was delayed again. Then a plane to San Francisco, which was waiting for three days, was ready to take off and had extra seats. The loud speaker said that some people on our flight could get their ticket changed and board that flight. We didn’t know when our plane would take off and the new semester would start around September 2nd. Suddenly, our neatly organized waiting line became a messy crowd. Everyone wanted to change his or her ticket to board that plane. I had two big suitcases and a big bag. There was no way that I could beat that crowd, so I did not even try. I just stood aside and waited. At that time, a man with a big suitcase came to me and said, “how about you watch our suitcases and luggage and I will try to get our tickets changed so we both could go.” I didn’t know whether I should trust him or not. He said he was the man next to me the day before and he stayed in the same hotel with me, ate with me in dinning hall last night.  I gave him my ticket. After he left, I saw his suitcase with a tag from Beijing to Yale. I guessed that he was a student at Yale. I did not remember his name, so I called him “Yale man.”
     After he came back without any luck with the tickets, we started talking about school. He realized that I was a new student going to my college alone so he found two more male students as company. I felt much better knowing that I was not alone in my journey. I should have found those two by myself if I was my normal self. I wasn’t really in the mood for chatting with others since I was still feeling sad and alone even though they were all very nice to me. Finally, we boarded the plane. There was plenty of room; we were free to sit anywhere and the Yale man sat beside me. I hoped that he could sit somewhere else so that I could lie down for a nap and that would give me some time alone. He let me sit by the window since there were only two seats. The other two boys to my college had to take two back seats. Since the seats had high backs, it was very hard for them to talk to me. The Yale man was very pleased that he had my company alone.
     The Yale man has been at Yale University for three years. Now, he was a Ph.D. student in the mathematics department. He surely showed off by telling me everything from drinking Coke to the whole experience of America firsthand. I was laughing to myself that he must have had a wife or child by now even though he still acted like he was single. I wished Wang had sat next to me instead of him. I was just listening and kept very quiet.