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Margaret: 你好 – Nǐ hǎo – hello

August 24, 2011

Alas, my last day in the United States has finally arrived.  My flight departs at 8:57 am tomorrow morning with a three hour layover at Chicago O’Hare followed by a thirteen hour flight to Beijing Capital International Airport.  Shorter than you thought, isn’t it!?  Three years ago I flew from Minneapolis to Tokyo on the way to Beijing, and I recall being so excited that I didn’t sleep a wink!  However, this summer I perfected the art of sleeping while sitting up in the back seat of pick-up trucks while driving around Iowa during my internship, so hopefully I can save up the energy required to navigate Beijing when I land.

I’ve been “told” that students are allowed to arrive three days prior to registration which is on Saturday.  I’ve also been told the international student residence hall has my information, and all I have to do is show up and they’ll give me a room.  At this point, if I can fly to Beijing with no issues, figure out how to exchange money for the taxi, tell the driver where to go, arrive at the correct place, find the correct building in the residence hall complex, communicate who I am and what I need in Chinese, and get into my residence hall room on Thursday, it will be a miracle. I know of a few hotels nearby, and I’m almost expecting to have to use one.

I wish I could say I’m as excited as I was heading to Beijing the first time around, but truth be told these past two and a half weeks have really taken a toll. On August 5th I presented my summer intern project, “The GAD1 construct in transgenic corn: Nitrogen use efficiency,” to the site employees as well as some people who had called in from headquarters in St. Louis, picked a few final ears of sweetcorn out of the field, said my goodbyes, and drove back up to Eden Prairie.  Since then I’ve been ping-ponging back and forth between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie, saying sad farewells to family, friends, family friends, high school friends, college friends, and of course my wheat lab favorites.  I was even feeling nostalgic and returned to the wheat field for the day to help with harvest.

I’ve also been squeezing in several “lasts.”  I’ve made sure to eat as much cheese as possible in the past two and a half weeks (lactose intolerance is environmentally induced during child weaning in many Asian cultures where commercial dairy products are uncommon), and I’ve also made stops at Al’s Breakfast, Annie’s Parlour, Punch Pizza, Tea Garden, Sebastian Joe’s, Freeziac, and of course Panda Express.  Fact:  I will miss Panda Express orange chicken and fried rice when I’m in China.  Call me out if you want.  It’s just that good.

Many people have asked me how I possibly packed luggage for a whole year abroad.  Well, I should first say that Beijing is an international city – there is a Walmart 3.1 km away from Peking University.  You can buy almost anything you need for a fraction of the United States price. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop me from stocking up on $115 worth of shampoo, deodorant, Pepto Bismol, mascara, etc. at Walgreens. Probably not entirely necessary, but it’s hard to say what they’re going to have over there. Eddie Bauer was having a great sale on duffels, and I am now the proud owner of a lifetime guaranteed Eddie Bauer Expedition Large Rolling Duffel Bag.  If you’re flying, don’t get the XL. I was able to fit everything I wanted to bring in the XL, however when I weighed it, it was a whopping 80 pounds! I figured I’d just pay the overweight baggage fee, but that turned out to be $400.  Instead, I downsized to the large, which holds you to about 45 pounds and packed a second duffel, both of which I’ll be able to check for free.  The key to the whole process is rolling everything and lining it up as tightly as possible.  About a billion too many clothes and shoes later, I’ve fulfilled my lifelong dream of becoming a magician.

Almost all of the loose ends have been tied up.  It was difficult to navigate the visa application process while I was in Iowa.  I was out in some tiny town in a cornfield with no cell service during the workday when I needed to be making calls. I now have in hand a multiple entries Chinese visa. All the copies have been printed out, the voltage converters purchased, the oral typhoid vaccine taken, and the power of attorney granted.  It’s showtime.

Tonight I sat down at the piano to clear my head after a day of really awful goodbyes.  Five for Fighting, Lori Line, Debussy – it was a nice collection.  My parents came in and sang “Falling Slowly” from the movie Once with me. We’re definitely not about to quit our day jobs, but it was special to be able to play some music with them amidst all these crazy emotions. I’m excited, but only so much. It’s hard to leave a good life and wonderful people behind no matter where your headed. Look for my next post from Zhongguanxinyuan Global Village at Peking University in Beijing.

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