Returning to Kentucky via San Francisco, Chicago and Cincinnati gives one a lot of time to ponder, after you’ve become dimwitted by watching all the airline movies twice, and after you've tried unsuccessfully to make yourself comfortable in coach, you just begin to try and be alone with your thoughts. Here’s a few things that ran through my mind:
Lifting off from Beijing I felt very ready to be back in my own bed, eat my own cooking (go out and have Mexican food!) and hear my own language. Would I want to visit China again? No…....and yes. Being stretched as a human being beyond comfort zones I had become too comfortable with is a good thing, and going back to China someday, especially Beijing, is something many of us want to do. It's not only because now we know what to expect, like how to speak very basic Chinese and what NOT to try on the “lazy Susan”, but it's simply because Beijing is a beautiful, beautiful place. We learned how to get back to a hotel through a crowd, holding the hotel's business card with explicit Chinese directions firmly in hand, we genuinely enjoyed smiling a lot and saying, “Ni hao", we learned to be VERY patient with a culture that is so vastly different from our own, that even the very color you choose to wear can lead to misunderstandings. We saw, and learned to enjoy, that the people were going to stare at us intently wherever we went, but most importantly we learned to just accept that EVERYTHING is going to be different then expected! Knowing these little things made us feel more "a part of", but for me taking the nickel tour of the major sites in China is no way to understand China, for me, it was actually getting out into the smaller cities, walking the streets with the well-to-do and the beggar that brought the picture into sharp focus rather quickly. This is where I “experienced” China, the beautiful (and the not so beautiful) right along side each other. I came back to the hotel each day with the dirt of the streets on my feet, (it gets through every opening in your sandals), but it made me feel local and real instead of apart and privileged. Did I love the beautiful hotels we stayed in, absolutely I did, but why was I drawn to keep going back into the old sections of the cities? I think now it was to experience acceptance and tolerance in it’s entirety. I wanted to make sure I “got” this place, felt it’s pulse and touched it's soul along the way. I’ve already written how my soul has been touched by these people, but what I wanted to know was that I could walk unafraid in a foreign place with nothing but acceptance in my heart for all I saw there. I accepted the fact that the men spit everywhere on the streets with complete gusto, that mothers don’t put their babies in diapers, and if need be, let the child pee right on the street. I accepted that not every face was going to smile at me every time, that every child was not going to run at me with joy, as if to say, “Welcome”, I accepted that my expectations of cleanliness, order and driver safety were not going to be met by every person I encountered here. But it was when I “let go” of my notions and ideas altogether…..then, and only then, did the magic happen. The veil lifted and I saw the commonality of us all.....work, food, children, a living space, and no matter what or where, a green living plant of some kind hanging off the front door, these things, these universal things make us the same at the core.....and always....to be validated and to know we matter. People of China, from your big, beautiful, mind boggling cities, to your dirt poor road alleyways, I honor you all....every last bit of it! Every single one of you that I encountered these last ten days was the perfect teacher for me, because every time I felt a sense of hesitation, (a comfort zone cracking wide open) I knew THIS was where I needed to experience transcendence, THIS is where I needed to stretch and grow. China, I hope I served you well, you certainly served me just by being yourself, you broadened me more then you could know and I come away from this trip with a profound sense of gratitude for everything I have. I truly have been humbled by this experience and I sincerely thank the University of Kentucky, my husband, and the School of Music, the US/Chinese Cultural and Educational Foundation, and most of all, I want to thank the fantastic members of the Wind Ensemble for their friendship, enthusiasm, willingness to cooperate (always) and for their phenomenal musical talent, which moved the hearts of the Chinese people. This trip was for you and it was a joy to experience China through your eyes as well! Many thanks go out to all involved for having me participate in this small capacity.....I am forever grateful! I love you all.....
There will pictures from China posted a little later today, between extreme jet lag and having some of the software not respond accordingly, the techincal difficulties prevented me from getting them posted sooner. The intent was to have pictures posted each day along with a blog entry, but alas, the troublesome Internet connections we experienced in China prevented that from happening in a timely manner. By now, I'm sure, most of you have seen your own son or daughter's personal pictures of the trip, but there will be a few more pictures posted ASAP........until then,
LOVE AND GRATITUDE FOR EVERYONE WHO MADE THIS TRIP A SUCCESS......
CINDY STEWART BIRDWELL
May 30th 2008