Unlike when our companions left in February, we weren’t sure if we’d ever see them again. This time, we were leaving Nanjing, and I cried again, a lot. I admit to not remembering everyone’s name, but I remember all their faces. We had nicknames for each other; we shared food, and drink. We were one big community made up of students from two different continents. It was hard to leave, even the couple macho guys who said they wouldn’t cry, cried. Everyone did. It was the first time I anticipated the long bus ride. I was able to listen to Nirvana and drown out the trip.
The sun did shine again however, and we enjoyed the rest of our trip. It just wasn’t quite the same. I have to admit this now though; my timeline gets a bit fuzzy around here. Not everything, just one specific part, The Great Wall of China. It is very possible we drove from Nanjing, but I believe it was actually Xi’an, the city we stayed in after Nanjing. Either way, it won’t change the story on the wall.
First of all, I knew I would like The Great Wall. Even then I was into great historical monuments. I also knew nothing about how people visit it. I thought it could be possible we got dropped off and went on our way. What I got was more of a low budget theme park. There was a walkway about the size of one you’d find at a carnival. Both sides had booths with typical tourist items, flags, hats, stuffed animals, etc. That was a weird start, and then I got asked to take a picture with a family. I thought nothing of it and moved on.
The Wall itself was great. The area we were at, limited how far you could go. It was a few miles, but that was it. Some of it was rough, bricks were missing, and certain sections were damaged. It looked like both vandalism, and left over scars from war. The views were nice because nothing else was around at all. I was asked to take another picture. This time it was with a few teenagers and their parents took the pictures. Suddenly I was being asked to take a few. Not an insane amount, but maybe a dozen or so. It’s funny to think, I may be on someone’s mantel of that time they took a trip to The Great Wall of China. Somewhere in China, it’s possible I’m fondly thought of by a total stranger. This was my last celebrity moment, my fifteen minutes were up.
In Xi’an, things went from awesome to, “Oh shit, I’m going home early.” At this point, my girlfriend and I had been pretty cozy. A few other relationships had bloomed too, and rumors started. As rumors start, the chaperones hear about it. I could sit here and say we were ratted out, but that is bullshit.
At the beginning of the trip, we were all assigned roommates. I got a kid whose name I’ll leave out. He was a grade or two below me, and I didn’t exactly have a large circle of friends. At the time he was considered a geeky nerd, and if I was the person then, that I am now, we would have been up to three in the morning talking. Instead I was a bit of an asshole, and a loner, and had no interest in making friends. I was cordial, I think, and I don’t remember doing anything outright mean to him. We just never talked much.
In Xi’an, my girlfriend asked me to meet in her room. I initially said no because they were watching everyone so much, especially me. But being 17, I didn’t exactly put up a fight. The time didn’t work to meet in her room, so she told me to leave the door unlocked. Just to remind you, I was a dumb ass. Anyway, I left it unlocked. She snuck in. No, I didn’t forget, I had a roommate and he was sleeping in the other bed. In those moments, that was of little concern. Things happened, he was awake, and he told the head chaperone the next morning.
I thought I had to lie, so I lied. It never happened. She would never sneak in. His word against mine. I repeated that for months following China. No one was convinced so they made me share a room with the math teacher. I don’t remember the conversation, but I had to call my mom. They were threatening to send both of us home, alone, on a plane. The brilliance of Pine Plains Central School. I didn’t mind lying to the teachers, because they didn’t mean anything to me. Lying to my mom was not awesome, but like I said, I thought it needed to be done. Thinking back, I’m not sure if anyone really believed me anyway.
After the hotel incident, things were a drag for me. I kept my head down, envious of the other students who were doing the same things by that point. Maybe not sneaking into a room while someone was sleeping, but they were making time for something.
We saw the Terracotta Army which was very exciting. In a stroke of karma, I took pictures of the soldiers, which was a big no-no. My camera broke at some point after and I lost most, if not all of my film. It seems today they are a bit more liberal with photos. There was a shop that made miniature soldiers from the same material and poses as the real ones. I purchased two, and they are both looking down on me as I type.
I had one shopping goal in China; to get an outfit like Bruce Lee wore in the beginning of ‘Enter the Dragon.’ It finally happened near the end of the trip, and it was cool, but not that cool. I wore it twice, once at a ceremony when we got home, that I felt like no one wanted me at.
The three weeks had come to an end, and I’ve told most of the main stories I remember. There are a few small ones I’m going to add, mainly because I don’t remember the exact time frame in which they happened, but also because they are on the shorter side.
-Most public restrooms didn’t have toilets. They had partition’s that looked like toilets, but inside was a hole in the floor. Once in a while you would find stall’s with no doors. It is still the only time in my life I’ve seen a businessman squatting, in a marble floored restroom, reading a newspaper.
-We saw a few musical and dance acts. I can’t recall any of the names, but it reminds me of what Cirque du Soleil is now.
-We visited a few Buddhist temples which lead to my interest in Buddhism for about three years or so. Nothing serious, but it was the first time I started reading about other philosophy and religion besides Catholicism.
-There was a moment in Nanjing when we visited an elementary school. The children were adorable, and spoke English very well. I love kids, and I got attached to these little guys very quickly. I believe they were between eight and ten, and they took us on a tour of their school. There was a very serious conversation I had with myself about moving there and teaching at that school. I had my heart set on it for a while.
-We visited a hospital which was very plain, but looked old. I don’t remember a lot except Tim and I refused to go in the burned infant unit. I couldn’t. At the same hospital, we saw a t’ai chi lesson on the front lawn. It was a woman with a flat sword, and it was very cool. We also got to see live acupuncture later on.
The trip home was horrible. It was non-stop from South Korea to New York. I don’t remember any of it, except being miserable. I wanted to be home, but I wasn’t ready to go. It went by fast, as most trips do. I had a small cloud hanging over my head too, which lasted for a while around my small home town. My name and China had to have been uttered a few hundred times every day through the rest of the summer.
My girlfriend was grounded and not allowed to go to prom with me and we eventually broke up anyway. When we arrived home, I expected a full onslaught from my mom. Instead I was greeted with the best turkey sandwich ever. It was plain with some salt on a sub roll with sesame seeds. The bread itself must have been crafted by angels, and the meat plucked by Jesus. It was amazing.
I’ve always wanted to go back to China, and someday I will, but it will never be the same. I contacted Peng a few times via e-mail but we eventually lost contact (Remember, there was no MySpace or Facebook). He had wanted to come to America for school and be a doctor or a basketball player. I hope he achieved all of them, and hopefully one day I’ll see him again.
If I had one wish though, it would be to chaperone for another trip. I’m older, wiser, and I like to think I can relate to young teens well. Plus I would love to see it all again, and experience it as an adult who understands the world a bit better.
Since I started writing this, I’ve been trying to find anything online about it. I found an old article from the local newspaper back in 2000, and out of the sixteen students, Peng happen to be in the below shot:
This was it, my best story. I’ve enjoyed telling it, and I hope you enjoyed reading it. I wish I had my own pictures to share, or remembered more details, but I guess it’s expected I forget a few things over fourteen years. My next post like this may not be for a while so I’m going to end with a bit of fan service, and in my eyes, it feels fitting…
” We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people, all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.”
Do Something Good