The night before my departure I went outside and gazed up the full moon. I thought about Western and Eastern myths - rabbits and Cháng'é. And yet I knew I was looking at a place that was distant and real, not a myth. In China, where it’s now tomorrow, they've already seen tonight's moon. And China is also my tomorrow.
I'm now on the plane to Beijing. On my left is a young man from India, his wife and two children are in the seats across the aisle. The boy is screaming - it's his first flight. The poor little guy has a lot of traveling ahead of him. After a 12-hour flight they will change planes in Beijing and then fly another 8 hours to Delhi, where the moon is already waning. The man’s name is Baljit Kandola, and he’s from the town of Hiala, in Nawanshahr District, Punjab. I ask him to write his name in Punjabi in my notebook. It's beautiful, and I wish he'd fill an entire page with his script.
On my right sits Zhao Yu Ming from Beijing. He speaks no English. His wife, Wang Xuefeng, is writing in a notebook like mine with a pen like mine. Her handwriting is much neater than mine - her hànzì are small and elegant. I show her some of the Chinese I've written. She's surprised and delighted, and she also points out a few errors. I tell her "Xièxie nín!"
I walk to the back of the plane and find some space to do Tai Chi. It works - to stretch my legs and calm my nerves.
I help myself to some more of the fragrant jasmine tea that was served earlier. I talk with some of my fellow travelers, including a filmmaker from Beijing who worked on the 2008 Olympics television production, and a young woman studying environmental science at Sun Yat-Sen University. We talk about the Three Gorges Dam, and she tells me that her professor believes the dam may have partly triggered last year’s earthquake.
I return to my seat and see that most of the overhead lights are now off. Some people are watching the movie "Hancock", with Chinese subtitles, while others are trying to sleep. Baljit Kandola's little boy is now asleep on the floor in front of his mother and sister, who are sleeping in they're seats. It’s quiet as we cruise high above the Bering Straight. But I don't know if I'll sleep. I think I'd rather stay awake and follow the moon around the earth. If I can, will it always be full?
Last night I arrived in Shanghai just after 11:00 p.m. and made it to my hotel near the airport by 11:30. I had been worried about going through customs because I've never been. There was nothing to worry about: they just waved me through, looking at nothing, asking no questions. Just another wàiguórén, I guess.
This morning, in the lobby of the hotel, I met two men from Egypt. They were in China to start a joint Egyptian/Chinese business venture. One of them introduced himself as Ibrahim, and he wrote his name in my notebook, starting at the right-hand margin and writing from right to left, East to West.
Yesterday around dinnertime I arrived in Jiangsu Wuxi. Home at last!
After dropping luggage into our rooms, several of the new teachers and veterans met in the courtyard in front of the English teacher dormitory. An interesting group of people – from America, England, Canada, Australia, Ireland, the Philippines, and one from Russia – sat around a couple of patio tables. I made freinds with Jack, a school teacher from Chicago, and Lisa, a Chinese American woman and former Houston police officer. She told me she's interested in Taoism. I'll loan to her one of the few books I brought with me: "Hua Hu Ching: the Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu".
I got up at 5:30 on my first morning in Wuxi. I did a little unpacking, then went outside to do Tai Chi beside one of the pretty canals that crisscross the campus. On my way out of the dormitory I greeted a maintenance woman who was mopping the stairs. Later she came to the canal and dumped her bucket of water and rinsed her mop in the green water. I asked her in halting Chinese if there were any fish in the canal. "Yǒu yú,” she said with a smile and a nod – “Yes, there are fish.” I smiled and nodded in return. And I think that's when it really hit me: I'm in China!