As I said, I got rested up in Ardmore, and probably put on a few pounds. Most of the time it was just me and my parents, but one day both Leslie and my older brother Kevin came to visit. It was the first time in umpteen years that the five of us had been in the same room, and it was wonderful to see everyone together again. Everyone behaved, both at home and at the catfish restaurant where we stuffed ourselves. It was a great day.
But Leslie had to leave that evening, and Kevin left the next morning to go see his daughter in Dallas before flying back to his home in Kentucky. I’d actually shaved off my goatee after days of protests by my mother, but it had turned out that Kevin was sporting one as well. Mom told him he should shave it off. “Not gonna happen,” he said.
But I had to leave as well; I got on a train bound for Norman, this one running a little late, on Monday evening. My parents saw me off, and almost immediately I regretted sitting in the first car, as the train’s horn was rather annoying at such a close range. Still, I did enjoy the sunset ride up into the night. Leslie and Kelly picked me up in Norman and took me back to the old house where I’d been staying. It was unused to me, but still not too spooky. I didn’t sleep well. I’d set my iphone alarm, but it has been known to misbehave, especially as my phone is old and struggles to keep up with modern apps. But I was ready at the door when Leslie arrived the next morning. We got to the airport in plenty of time, as I was wary of shenanigans. They started almost immediately when I was going through “security” and they told me to step into the controversial Rapiscan machine that I’d thought been discontinued due to worries about radiation. “Can I, uh…not do that?” I said.
The woman at the machine sighed and yelled out, “MALE OPT OUT!” to roughly everyone in the state. I was taken over to a corner after going through the metal detector and patted down. It wasn’t entirely unprofessional, and I didn’t mind having to take off my shirt, but I did wonder if they knew how useless and actually dangerous those machines are. If not, they should; they’re standing next to them all day, every day. And of course, there’s that name…Jesus.
I got to my flight in plenty of time, however. As we flew west over the increasingly wrinkled landscape, we began to pass just under what looked like the contrails of other planes. I know those don’t last long, and wondered how close they plan these routes. An answer came not long after when I spotted another small jet flying towards us at 11 o’clock, just a few hundred feet above. Due to our combined speeds, it had passed before I could do more than startle the people around me with a quick “Holy shit!”, but if had been just a little lower and over a bit, I wouldn’t be here writing this. If I’d been quicker I would have gotten a photo, but alas, I wasn’t. I did get a shot of another jet that passed much further overhead, but that was probably a bit more normal.
Eric Kim had wanted to meet up for coffee in San Francisco, but he messaged, saying he had horrible jet lag as he’d just gotten back from Northern Europe and couldn’t make it, so I bummed around the airport instead, while the city beckoned from over the hills. If I hadn’t had my luggage I would have gone out and back into it for a bit, but I also wasn’t enamored with the idea of taking my chances with “security” again, so I stayed put, having some sandwiches for lunch and buying some snacks to take with me.
The waiting area slowly filled up with passengers bound for Beijing before we lined up to board the big 747 across the Pacific. I was lucky and had just one empty seat beside me, enabling to lay down and soothe the headache resulting from watching three Marvel action movies in a row, before we arrived. It was late afternoon in Beijing, but it felt like morning to me. Falling night convinced me otherwise as I was dropped off at the actual hotel I was supposed to have been staying on my trip over. This hotel was actually nicer, though they didn’t provide water, and the wifi didn’t seem to be working.
I didn’t feel like revisiting that particular sordidity, so I hailed a cab and had him take me to the Wangjing area, where I had some nice Korean food. The roads around Tiananmen were the site of a big parade earlier that day, so I avoided that area. Instead I walked to Sanlitun, past trendy bars and massage parlors, people sitting on the street staring at their phones, and dance clubs hidden in old hutongs. I wonder about living in Beijing; I’d think the bad air alone would put me off. Surely there are much better places to live. I’ve heard good things about Chengdu from Prince Roy. Perhaps I should visit there some time. But Beijing…no, I don’t think so.
I got another taxi back to my hotel, arranged my luggage, and slept. The next morning I got to the airport early, so early that I was sitting at the gate two hours before it opened. But better early than late. I sat and watched the planes and passengers as the airport woke up around me; a group of three young Chinese people took a picture that would have been surreptitious except for the fact that they’d forgotten to turn off the camera sound.
Another flight and I was back in Taiwan, skirting the immigration lines to pass through the electronic kiosks practically without stopping. After previous trips to the U.S., I always felt a certain amount of fresh surprise, but not this time. This time I was immediately and indisputably back home in Taiwan. Everything felt normal and welcome, but at the same time, I didn’t feel even a little bit a part of the fabric of American society this time. I couldn’t even fake it. I was simply an outsider. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but it is different. Many people thought that a certain level of paranoia was not surprising after 9/11, but it seems as if the general Fear of Things is escalating regardless. It’s self-sustaining now, I suppose, or at least some people seem to want it that way.
So that was my trip. Now I’m getting back into the swing of things. The fall semester is approaching, and I’m gearing up for the start of the photography course I teach at the Zhong-zheng Community College. This will be keeping me quite busy for a while, but it should be fun.