Reflections over the World
It is half past midnight as I gaze upon the cities of the North China Plain radiating their soft orange light into the infinite night. The cabin is dark and still, with the only sound emanating from the jet engines propelling me to my destination. It is in this moment of pensiveness that I reflect on all that I left in Los Angeles, but more importantly, what lies ahead. I am walking on the ground of a country that once seemed unreachably far to me, and I am humbled. As I continue to gaze out my window, I see the individual orbs of light, strung together by the glowing ribbons of freeway, slowly merge into one enormous entity encircled by several rings of light. I have just flown over the fifth ring road that encircles Beijing. The lights flick on as the pilot recites arrival instructions and information in Mandarin, the engines switch gears and we begin our descent into the city.
My classmates and I are emptied onto the tarmac where the humidity of the night envelopes us. My glasses fog up as I scurry to the shuttle that will take us to the main terminal before entering the city. We all gather our luggage and move in mass to the main entrance of the Domestic Terminal where we step out of familiarity and into and new world none of us have ever experienced before. It is loud as taxi driver and bikes honk their horns in the traffic jam. The smell of cigarette, rain, and exhaust are thick and envelop us as we work our way to the bus to take us to the hotel at our partner university. We rush in disoriented paths to get through the traffic, but we all make it and board the bus. Exhaustion envelops us, yet we stay up to see the city as it zooms by us on the freeway. We are met by a sea of apartment towers as far as the eye can see, each one about 12 stories tall. The view repeated for the next two hours of our trip. We pull up to our hotel and quickly shuttle into our new rooms as we will leave to visit the center of Beijing in 12 hours.
I wake up in my room on the fifth floor and I am greeted by an expansive view to the west. Mountains and skyscraper are framed by a deep blue sky and fluffy white clouds. I walk around campus and look at all the beautiful greenery and towering student housing complexes that surround me. After assisting my friends with ordering their lunch and finishing my own meal, I begin to walk to the center of campus to meet with the rest of the group. I pass groups of women hiding under umbrellas and men laughing and joking about the happenings of the day. Little kids play with their parents in the numerous green spaces lining the corridors of the campus. I walk to the main entrance of the campus and in the center is a towering flagpole with the national flag of China. I gaze up, the crimson cloth waves gracefully in stark contrast to the pale blue sky. It is now when our bus pulls in and we prepare for our first journey into the city center. Now, the journey really begins.