The plane was less than a minute away from touching the ground, but I still could not see anything outside the window. The air was thick with smog, and even after I was able to see some buildings, they were still concealed behind a screen of white-grey clouds. Thankfully, my throat did not close up when I stepped outside (silly nightmares), but I did get teary-eyed. I wonder whether that was because of the pollution or my extreme exhaustion.
The airport was huge. Throngs of people gathered around the baggage claim area, so we had to push our way through to get our luggage. Finally, when we were able to gather everything, we headed outside to meet our host families. I was excited, nervous, exhausted, and restless all at once. Once again, we were met by a crowd of people, lined up on our sides, waiting for their respective someones to come out. About halway down the people-formed hall I heard teachers and students from the Beijing Jingshan school trying to grab our attention.
My host sister, Leslie，who is better known here as 李若岚, handed me a beautiful flower bouquet and a stuffed animal in the shape of a horse. She explained that this new year was the year of the horse, and I nodded and smiled 谢谢. She then introduced me to my host parents who welcomed me with warm smiles and kind words. We gathered around to hear the director of the program say a few words, all of which were translated into English by one of the teachers that was in the program last semester. I was struck again by how good their English was compared to our Chinese (with a few excpetions, of course).
After a few group pictures we finally headed out. It was only 4 in the afternoon, but after a 14+ hour flight I was tired. I have never been good at sleeping on the plane as I can never find comfortable spots, so I had instead spent most of the flight watching movies (Insidious 2, City of Bones, Jobs, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2!), chatting with my fellow bounders, and walking up and down the aisles restlessly.
We left the airport soon after. I was told we would have dinner and then head home, and I wondered just how early they ate dinner usually. I tried my best to stay awake, but was soon lulled asleep by the moving car. I woke up periodically to see famous spots, such as Tiananmen Square, and answer a few questions, only to fall asleep again. Eventually, at about 7 pm, I was woken up by the family. We had just arrived to the restaurant, almost three hours after leaving the airport! Talk about bad traffic.
Dinner was delicious. We ordered a few dishes to share, as is custom in China. I tried them all but a fish soup, which had the entire fish in it (bones and all!). Everything I did try, however, I loved. I could not believe what most people had told me about their experiences in China. I was glad to know that food will not be a problem for me.
After dinner, we headed home. We arrived at a series of apartment buildings, their streets packed with cars. Needless to say, we had trouble finding a parking spot, which was only resolved by parking on the sidewalk. We headed up to my new home, and had to walk up six flights of stairs because there is no elevator. I do have to admit it was not as bad as I had anticipated.
I was first shown around the apartment. I wanted to fall asleep right then and there, but after the intense two-day flight, I felt the need to take a shower. It was an experience which ended with me trying to dry off with what they called normal-sized towels, but were really hand towels. This will all take some time to get used to.