On this day twenty years ago, I came to the United States. My point of entry was Anchorage, Alaska. I still remember stepping off the plane, exhausted after an eight-hour flight from Shanghai (and a short flight from Beijing before that), yet excited from seeing the gorgeous snow mountains from the air, and the rows of private jets on the ground. As I stood in line at passport control, it suddenly struck me: I am in a different country and I will be on my own. My family and friends and everything I am familiar with are now thousands of miles away…
There was not much time to be sentimental. I boarded another plane and flew six more hours to JFK. As it approached, I watched the beautiful night view of New York City with all those bright lights and elegant bridges, and felt like I was in a dream. When the wheels touched the ground and passengers applauded, tears rolled down my face. At that moment, so many feelings went through my mind that it felt blank. A new chapter began.
So that was the first trip by air in my life. And it lasted over 20 hours. I was a rookie traveler then and thought even the churning baggage carousel was impressive. Today, I am quite experienced. I have been to 33 countries and 64 airports around the world. Still, that same excitement when the plane touches down in a brand new place never left me.
Many things have changed in twenty years. For example, I came here holding a Chinese passport with a US visa. Today, I have a US passport with a Chinese visa. Between the two countries, no matter which direction I fly now, I consider it ‘going home’.
BTW, here is a post that I published around the 18th anniversary. 🙂 Can’t believe it has been two years since then! Time flies. I wonder what I will be writing about five years from now, or ten, or another twenty…
I have been thinking about buying a bicycle this past week, both for exercise and transportation purposes. It might take a while for an idea to become reality, but I am determined to make it happen this summer.
Bicycle was the main form of transportation in China as I grew up in the 70s and 80s. There were hardly any private cars on the road back then. We relied on bus/tram/bicycles/feet to move about in the city. I remember a few popular bicycle brands – Phoenix, Forever, and Flying Pigeon. Most households owned one or two for adults to go to and from work, to buy groceries, and to carry children around. They were simple one-gear bicycles with baskets and/or child seats attached. Fancy racing and mountain bikes didn’t appear until much later.
When the traffic lights turned green on a major street, the massive flow of bicycles were a great scene to see. People were very skillful and managed not to bump into each other. Snow and ice didn’t stop us in the winter. The longest trip I ever did on my bike was an impromptu ride with a few college friends from Changchun to Gongzhuling (about 65 km) and it took us about 5 hours, half of which on pitch dark hilly country roads. Thinking back, we were quite adventurous!
During my recent trip to Scandinavia, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many bicycles on the road, particularly in Copenhagen. I was specially delighted to see plain city bikes similar to what I grew up with:
And here is the parking lot near one of the train or metro stations:
I couldn’t help thinking, China probably would be better off switching back to the era when most people were on bikes – when there were hardly any air quality or traffic jam or obesity issues. And how I am longing to see this picture in cities of the United States. One thing I need to do before getting my bicycle is to scope out the routes around my house to make sure there are sufficient sidewalks/trails for safe bike rides. I am hoping…
In the spring of 1974, I was born in Changchun, a city in northeastern China, thus began my journey on earth. I have no recollection of my first trip since I was no more than 1 year old. My mom brought me to Beijing to see my grandparents (or rather, to let them see me). For the first 19 years of my life, Beijing was the only other place I had been to (several times) besides my hometown. Somehow I decided to make ‘traveling around the world’ as a life goal.
During my years in graduate school (1993-1996), I visited Haerbin, Shenyang and Qinhuangdao in several separate short trips. I saw ocean for the first time in 1994, and it was a hilarious experience. The Great Wall was crossed off my list in early 1997. Needless to say, I was very excited to finally stand/walk on this famous wall. Unfortunately the film in the camera was accidentally exposed thus there was no photo proof that I had been there.
In the summer of 1997, I came to the United States – the other side of the earth. The first US city I set my feet on was Anchorage, Alaska. I was awed by the marvelous snow mountain view (seen from above). Many hours later, the bright night sky of New York City welcomed me. My first travel by air was pleasant enough, although very long: 20+ hours, I think.
I am glad to report that I haven’t wasted my time ever since. Not a year went by that I didn’t travel somewhere. Some trips were for work/conferences, most trips were for fun; some trips were short weekend get-aways, while others were fairly long road trips. I enjoy both natural beauty and city culture, and I love watching people. Will definitely keep traveling as long as I am able to.
I plan to do a series of ‘Travelogues’ to briefly list the places I visited, with each post covering a few years. Also perhaps write up stories for selected points of interest. Stay tuned and check back often. 🙂