My last post covered what turned out to be one of the highlights of my almost four months in China. After an incredibly unique experience hiking to Yubeng, Harry and I split from the rest of our small group. At this point, I truly faced the reality that I would leave China in only a few days. My feelings were varied. I felt excited to see my family, friends, and enjoy some of the foods I so strongly missed. I also felt sad knowing that this was the last time, hopefully not for too long, that I would be with some of these people I had experienced so much with. I had already said goodbye to those friends in my program who hadn’t continued to Yubeng with us, but now I had to say goodbye to everyone but Harry. I had plenty of time to contemplate this on the 20+ hour sleeper bus ride we had to take out of Deqin to Kunming. Once in Kunming , Harry and I would board a plane to Guilin.
While on that sleeper bus, in the midst of trying to dodge the smelly feet of my fellow passengers, somehow making my little “bunk” as comfortable as possible, and keeping my body alert for flying spit from the top bunks, I had plenty of time to reflect on my time with the people that I had become so close to. It surprised me initially how strong the friendships were between all of us. How did we become life-long friends in four months? I attribute the closeness to many things. Of course, there was the obvious: we spent four months in a completely foreign land trying to feel our ways together. I still believe though, that we had sought each other out among the 60 or so people in the program for a reason. We were a diverse group, but one that seemed to understand each other and where we were coming from. At the same time, it was clear that our time abroad meant similar things for all of us. We were there to expand our understanding of how large the world really was, meet new people, and step outside of our comfort zones. We have stayed in touch since returning home and have already planned a little reunion in Washington D.C. this October. More on that when it happens…
My final days in China were perhaps the most fun and relaxed of any. Harry and I arrived in Guilin where we stayed the night before heading out to
Yangshuo the following day. Our hostel in Yangshuo was about as entertaining as they come. The staff was playful and excited the entire time. The hostel was filled with travelers from all corners of the globe. We spent out nights on the roof-top bar of the hostel socializing and sharing traveling stories. During the days, we roamed the overly tourist streets of Yangshuo and picking different far off adventures to take. The karst scenery along the Li River in Yangshuo was the most dream-like scenery we had seen in China.
Our best adventures came from renting bicycles to roam the surrounding areas. Harry and I spent one day biking out into the middle of rural villages and fields. Drudging through muddy paths and fields, we reached a bridge (I believe it was the Dragon Bridge). This was one of those final moments in China where I was able to see things I could only imagine being a part of. Standing on the bridge, looking over bamboo rafts in the river below the shadowy peaks, my mind wandered to my return home. In all honesty my mind had been wandering frequently to that. Again, mixes of emotions were present. I think I was most enamored by the fact that in only a day or two I would be thousands of miles away. I was quick to realize the amazing privilege I had been given in being able to see this part of the world. From the support I received from friends and family to the availability of resources I had to do this trip. I still am thankful to so many people for the chance I had. I think I reached a place where I realized I had given so much to every moment in China, and these last few could not be any different.
I spent the last days in Yangshuo completely satisfied. Satisfied with the time I had spent, the place I was, and with my return home. Harry and I made a few good friends in Yangshuo, who thanks to the Internet we can still keep in touch with via facebook.
Harry and I finally boarded our last train in Guilin only a few days after arriving. We spent about 19 hours together before arriving back in Beijing. When we got back, we found a few friends still in Beijing and ate our final meal at our favorite restaurant near Beida – West Gate. I spent that night in a hotel before boarding my plane back to Chicago.
I left China with so much more than I had come with. It all may sound cliche, but going abroad naturally will teach you things. Among many things, I think I came away with an excitement for new things and an appreciation for the familiar. I have been lucky enough to share my stories and times here on this blog, but I look forward to hearing the stories from others. Whether they are stories from abroad, here at home, or the same old stories I’ve heard hundreds of times.
Thank you to everyone who has read these and commented. Thank you to everyone here at Colorado College who made this possible. I look forward to all the great stories that will get shared here this year!