I got home on Saturday night after an arduous four-week trip to China. God, it is great to be home.
Yesterday was a glorious day and other than doing my laundry, it was a day devoted to rest – both physically and spiritually. China had been hard, so my body and mind were in desperate need of doing nothing and having nothing to do. One of the most difficult aspects of being in China for me was losing control over what I did with my time – even my free time. While it was gracious of our hosts to put on banquets in our honor and take us to sites, I grew weary of having to be “on” all the time.
It takes a trip outside my country, to remind me of some of the most simple, yet important freedoms I have, living in the United States. I have the freedom to go pretty much anywhere I want to go and when I want to go there. Sounds simple, and it is but I found out how important that is when I couldn’t do that for the past month. Yesterday, I didn’t have anyone telling me what to do and I didn’t have anything that needed doing. So, I took a drive in the country. I don’t have to go far from home (maybe 10 minutes) to get into the rolling, rural hills of Northern New Jersey. It was precisely what I needed, to get out in the country with no particular place to go.
This has been one of the longest weekends of my life, certainly the longest Saturday. We left Beijing at 5PM on Saturday and arrived in Newark at 6PM on Saturday! The flight had been delayed an hour and a half. After being away from home for a month, it was really hard to hear about the delay, but I went to the lounge and took it in stride. When we arrived in Newark, just past 6 o’clock, I turned on my phone and saw hundreds of tweets that Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese activist was on my flight, after leaving China abruptly to seek a new life in the US. I had been following the news about this Chinese activist while I was in China, other than the times that CNN was blocked. China controls what their people get to see and/or hear about.
It took a long time getting people off the aircraft. The officials needed to get Guangcheng and his family off the plane and away from the waiting press first. While, waiting I was talking to one of the flight attendants, who was Chinese. She had heard me talking about Guangcheng with another passenger and she asked us what he was protesting? She thought Tibet. When we told her, that he was against China’s “one child” policy and forced abortions, she acted surprised.
After getting off the plane and waiting in an endless line for Immigration, I got to baggage claim, grabbed my two bags and headed to exit Customs. The agent at the gate, looked at my tripod bag and asked me what was in it – “clubs?” I said no, it was a tripod and he asked if I had a carnet. I told him that I didn’t since I had been traveling for personal reasons, not business, but that I had my US Customs Registration forms with me with all my gear listed. He told me to go into another area. I walked in and saw almost two hundred people who looked like they had been waiting for a week. I knew I was in for hours of waiting. At one point, after about 15 minutes, an agent came over to the desk, picked up the passports and mine ended up underneath one that had arrived after mine. I was about to say something to one of the authorities and voice a mild complaint, but I stopped myself. I took myself to a more Zen like place in my mind and just let it go. I sat there and watched as a couple went up to an agent with their luggage and were asked if they had any food or alcohol to which they replied “no”. The agent opened their suitcases and found hams, cheeses, alcohol, cigarettes and other undeclared contraband and she immediately summoned SP (whoever they were) who came and started slicing packages with their knives. I was next, and I opened my camera bag, showed my Customs forms and I was out in of there in 10 minutes. I was so glad I hadn’t said anything.
I had learned from a dear friend while I was in China, how to not let other people or circumstances control my emotions. There had been people who tried to control what we did while we were in China; but we didn’t need to let them control our emotions. That was a good lesson that needed reinforcing for me. It usually takes a trip out of the country to remind me of what I cherish the most – my freedom.
It’s early on a Monday morning in New Jersey and I’m just happy to have a good cup of coffee and be able to do whatever I want to today.