Early Wednesday morning, after being in China since early June, I made my return back to the States!
These last few days have been a whirlwind of fun and stress--hiking with 30-40 students, the Moon Festival, Orange Island Music Festival, friends visiting from Shanghai, hot springs, birthdays...
I won't bore you with every detail, but here's a rundown of my birthday and the hike!
This was the first time celebrating my birthday in China (not counting when I was just a baby, of course), so I really didn't know what to expect.
Well, it was quite special.
Students brought me small gifts, from very pretty handmade cards to delicious, fruit-covered birthday cakes (four cakes total that day...). There was a surprise dinner, where everyone who had convinced me they couldn't make it (overtime at work, dinner with faculty, teaching duties, train ride to Beijing, blah blah) actually made it. There was a song, on a big stage in the middle of the busiest pedestrian street in Changsha, where the three other Yali fellows belted out song and danced. And, there was Dr. Zhivago, a beautiful turtle, about three inches long, who has a eating disorder and likes to bath in the warm sunlight (or the yellow light of my table lamp).
Thank you, everyone, for making it a day I will really remember. And thank you--Jason, Chacey, Chris--for putting everything together that day, and for making the last couple months so welcoming and reassuring.
Buzz about the hike with Mr. C and Ms. Bryan began a week before the actual date of the event. Students running around, asking each other if they were going to go, running to me and Chacey, asking if we had finalized the date, time, and meeting location. Speculation ran wild: more than 50--no, 100! no, 200!--students were planning to join! Aiya! Fortunately, a very manageable 30-40 students actually showed up, probably due to the fact that we met very early in the morning on the day of the Moon Festival and the clouds threatened a torrential downpour. Despite the forecast, the students, Chacey and I powered up the Yuelu Mountain, the tallest peak in the city (but still only at a measly 300 meters). We sang camp songs that Chacey knew (I didn't know any, never went to camp...), ate one of my birthday cakes, and when we got to the peak, played a few glorious games of Ninja (if you don't know it, um, you're missing out).
Four months is the longest single span of time I've ever spent in China, but this trip back to the U.S. still caught me slightly off guard--I hadn't expected to get to come back until next summer, at the earliest. It's rather strange: because I was mentally prepared for the latter, I hadn't allowed myself to miss anything about the U.S. I had thought that my first trip back to the U.S. would come at a time where the stress from the contradictions of Chinese society, the oppressive restrictions from the government, the pollution, the traffic, and the many other senseless aspects of living in China would outweigh the pleasures of the delicious foods, the wonderful friends, the eager students, and my fellow fellows' company. Returning home would act as a necessary therapeutic recharge. Not like this, anyhow, where I am still going strong, loving the steep learning curve, adapting to the culture, and figuring out the layout the city.
However, by no means am I complaining. It is a free trip back home. I will be able to see my mom and grandmother, along with some of my best friends from college. I will get to see Yale before the temperamental Winter wrecks havoc on Yale's beautiful courtyards. I will be able to get a haircut from Yosef at Port Authority, and afterward, schmooze with the former fellows, alumni and associates who served Yale-China through the last 100 hundred years.