Standing in the middle of the Beijing Capital International Airport arrivals with people moving all around me, greeting each other in a language I couldn’t comprehend, looking at signs I couldn’t understand and with absolutely no clue where the Envision Global team I was supposed to meet up with was; the prospect of nine days in completely foreign territory was absolutely terrifying.
The idea of those nine days seemed to stretch out for kilometers (or miles if you’re from ‘Murica) in front of me. Nine days away from home. Nine days in an unfamiliar city. Nine days with people I didn’t know. Nine days during which I would be completely out of my depth.
But those nine days have passed. Nine days experiencing China in all is difference and beauty. Nine days of attempting to communicate with crude Chinese. Nine days of surviving the smog. Nine days of adventure. Nine days of getting to know a group of amazing people.
Nine days now gone.
The last day in China was bittersweet.
A quick peak through the hotel’s bedroom curtains showed an unsurprisingly smoggy morning Shanghai sky.
It was a little bit sad dressing up in my ‘business casual’ gear for the last time. Also slightly gross because that was the only semi-clean outfit I had left. My suitcase was stuffed full of sweaty clothes, varsity notebooks (that I totally made use of and studied from. Pffsh) and souvenirs.
This morning the groups presented our collaborative projects. Ding Ding Hao was repping it by talking about China’s job of juggling friendships with various powerful states. The presentation went more or less smoothly and we discussed China and the USA, Australia and Russia. I rounded it up with the super important conclusion (jokes conclusion is the easiest #coastin). It was interesting to see the different groups’ approaches to their respective topics. Two groups from the diplomacy 1 group came into our meeting room to present theirs and they absolutely crushed it. While our groups took a more serious approach, the diplomacy 1 people presented their projects as skits that were actually a little bit funny and quite cool to watch.
Today was the last official group meeting with all of diplomacy 2. So the group became all cute and lets-hold-hands-around-the-campfire-y and presented the Envision Global certificates to each other. We were randomly handed a certificate by the group facilitator Peter Tharp and had to say a few words about the person that were were presenting the certificate to. It was really great to hear all the mushy messages and see all the friendships that had formed over the last few days.
Lunchtime saw us piling onto the diplomacy 2 bus once again and we headed out to ‘The Bund’- a waterfront area in central Shanghai (thank you Wikipedia). A short ferry ride took us across the Huangpu River and we reached the business looking district with tall buildings shooting up all around us.
With the help of a local Shanghai guide, the group navigated the streets until we reached the Shanghai World Financial Center. (It was actually fairly easy. I’m making it sound as if we went trekking through the Amazon lolsorryno).
The financial center houses an observation deck that overlooks the city. Its also home to a neat little fresh fruit juice/smoothie bar where I bought myself a nyum freshly squeezed orange juice. There were some other…lets just call them ‘exotic’ choices like kiwi and cucumber but I played it safe because I’ve made it this far without experiencing any horrific Chinese version of Delhi Belly and didn’t want to fall at the last hurdle.
The lift ride up to the observertion deck was ear-poppingly fast. Now, I imagine that on a clear day the view from the top must be incredible. But the Chinese smog is unforgiving and our 130 yuan bought us this:
Not the most ideal weather conditions but it was still a cool experience to get to (sort of) look out over the city from the top of Shanghai. Also treated myself to an ice cream at the top so all in all not too shabby.
We took the Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator-esque lift ride back to solid ground and made our way back to the ferry
WHERE WE SAW THESE PEOPLE:
Best. group. Tshirt. Plan. Ever.
The group took another short walk along the riverside to get to Nanjing Road which is like Shanghai’s version of Oxford Street.
The street had hundreds of shops and restaurants both local and international. There was even a five story Forever 21. I died. And then came back to life so I could shop.
The blue sky came out of hiding towards the end of the afternoon as both of the diplomacy groups gathered on the stairs outside of a Haagen-Dazs to end off our last official outing of the trip. There were exhausted but happy faces all around as we headed back to the buses for our last drive back to the hotel.
The evening’s farewell dinner was a buffet (no lazy Susan- it was a miracle) at the hotel with all of the delegations- Diplomacy, Engineering, Medical and Business- gathering together for the last meal of the trip. The evening saw everybody become mushy and sentimental again.There were speeches as sweet words of thanks were exchanged by the trip managers and representatives from each delegation.
Then it was over.
Everyone headed out for one last jol (party if you’re not down with the South African lingo) to celebrate an amazing week and say goodbye.
Amid stuffing stuff into suitcases, handing in hotel keys, promises to keep in touch and piling into a car to get the airport, the realization really hit home. My Chinese adventure is finished.
Months of planning, booking flights, organizing university work, building up excitement and now its done.
Leaving is a bittersweet feeling. Its sad to be leaving such a vibrant, exciting and different place; to say goodbye to all the new people and new friends you’ve made without knowing if you’ll see them again in the future; to return to the banalities of home. But sweet because I’ve been blessed to have had this amazing experience.
The food, the people, the culture,the questionable shop names and tshirt slogans, the laughs and the adventures that I’ll cherish forever. This China trip has truly been an incredible and enriching experience that has taught me a lot about myself both professionally and personally.
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”
Dr Suess said that. What a guy.
Thank you China, for everything.