I woke to the gentle chimes of my iphone alarm, rubbed my eyes and looked outside. It was still dark. I forced myself to get up. It was time to say goodbye and head home.
I showered, shaved and got ready. Most of the packing had been done the night before. I shoved my bag of toiletries into my suit case, put on my travel jacket and took a last look around the room that had been my home for a week. Satisfied that everything was in order, I headed for the hotel lobby and checked out.
The faint glimmer of dawn was visible in the eastern sky. I stepped outside the lobby for a final glimpse. It was pleasantly cool. The rising sun was glinting off the glass walls of the hotel. I took a picture of the waving Chinese flag. It would be a nice memento of my trip.
Chen arrived and I got into the car for the short drive to Wenzhou airport. She was there to greet me on my arrival in Shanghai and was now accompanying me on the final leg of my trip. We chatted a little. We were both sad that the trip was coming to an end. Such is life.
We arrived at the small local airport and I checked in. It was time to say good bye to Chen. We took a final selfie. I wished her well in her studies and research and promised to keep in touch vial email and WeChat. After a final wave I walked through the security enclosure as she headed back to her classes and lab. Life goes on.
I settled into the lounge, looked around for some breakfast and found packets of what I assumed from the pictures were nuts and biscuits. Everything was written in Chinese only, no English. I sat down with a packet of something that tasted of nuts and then took a walk in the departure area. I had some loose change which I intended to spend. I saw a packet of durian candies and bought it. Durian is a fruit that is available and popular in south east Asia. It has a strong smell and taste and does not suit many western palates, but I like it.
Soon it was time to board the flight from Wenzhou to Shanghai. A bus took us to the waiting plane on the tarmac. We climbed the steps and settled in. There were the usual announcements on safety, seat belts and emergency exits in Mandarin and English. Then there was a third announcement that I had never heard before. This was on, I paraphrase, “to be respectful and courteous to fellow passengers, to not jostle or create a disturbance, to listen to the authorities when asked. If not, one could be faced with criminal proceedings.” These were not the exact words, (I confess it has been over four months since I have heard them only once), but it captures the essence. In a way it makes sense. Often I have been irritated by jostling, inconsiderate passengers. But I have never heard these spelt out so clearly on a flight. I heard this announcement only on that particular domestic flight but not on the next international flight from Shanghai to JFK.
I settled into my window seat and put on my seat belt. We took off. Soon, I was brought a breakfast tray with a nice hot cup of coffee. What a relief! I was beginning to get a little lightheaded, I do need my breakfast and coffee. After the tray was cleared away I looked out on the changing scenery below as we approached Shanghai. Soon it was time to land.
Pudong airport in large and I had only one and a half hours to get on to my next flight. This was cutting it too fine. I would advise at least 2.5 to 3 hours, more if you have to pick up your checked baggage. I was lucky, I made it with ten minutes to spare. I had to walk a long distance from the domestic arrival section to international departure and then was faced with a long immigration queue. Mercifully, it moved rapidly. Next, I passed through a security gate marked ‘Priority’ which sped up the proceedings. I was efficiently searched by a female officer and waved through. She was thorough. She picked up on the two 1 yuan coins I had in my pant pocket. I had kept them as souvenirs. Soon it was time to board. I took a final trip to the lavatory and stepped into the large aircraft. I took the proffered glass of champagne and settled down for the long flight back to JFK, New York.
Many thoughts went through my mind over the next several hours. I fondly recalled the many friends and acquaintances I had made; the erudite and dapper Prof. Xiao Kun Li, President of Wenzhou Medical University and Prof. Jin San Zhang who until recently led a ‘quantum mechanical split existence’ between his lab at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, USA and another lab in Wenzhou. He managed to run both labs extremely well. Plus, he was the hands on director of the FGF conference at Wenzhou which I will vouchsafe was a resounding success. I will miss Chen and the many students I had met who helped me shop and get around without any hassle. Their attitude, diligence and openness has left an impression on me.
China has made enormous progress, it is the second largest economy in the world. It is a nice mix of cutting edge modern and millennia old culture. Growth and construction are visible everywhere. But the country is becoming increasingly globalized. China has a growing middle class with similar aspirations as their compatriots in the west. The malls are crammed with shops of every known luxury brand. Starbucks has made inroads into a nation of tea drinkers, Manhattan is a popular drink and Tiramisu is a preferred snack of the young.
All of these thoughts and emotions were going through my mind as I lay down to sleep. I dreamed that I was visiting China again. I would love to.