I suppose any blogger owes readers an explanation.
I’m writing because I have a worthwhile story. Though I’m eighteen, I will not attend college this fall. I’ve deferred my enrollment at Amherst college for a gap year in China. In high school I studied Chinese, and I spent six weeks in Beijing on a homestay program during the summer of 2009. The memories lie on my shelf: snapshots with the local shopkeepers, a thermos dressed in calligraphy, a snapshot with the shopkeeper who conned me into buying that thermos, a lighter that sings the national anthem, and yellowed boosterism from Mao’s rule. Other memories, like Fidel’s favorite cigar, were confiscated at the gate.
This time, along with my friend Greg Kristof, I’ll study Mandarin at Tsinghua University, work for a newspaper, and volunteer at a local school. To defray some of the cost we’ll also teach English. On this blog, I’ll record some of my experiences, from poorly translated signs (“public notice board” once became “pubic notice board”) to observations on an ancient city leaping into a fast-wired world.
I leave tomorrow on a direct thirteen and a half hour flight from Newark. Last time, in the height of the swine flu epidemic, government officials in surgical masks boarded the plane and checked our temperature. Chinese law stipulated that anyone with a high temperature—and all passengers within two rows—would be quarantined for two weeks.
Sure enough, when an official checked the woman in front of me, the machine flashed red and began beeping. Passengers craned their necks while the masks descended upon the new patient. She pleaded over the rumble of the plane. “I was wearing a hat the whole flight!” she said. “Look, that’s why I’m sweating! Please, try it again!”
After talking it over, the officials waited five anxious minutes before testing a second time. One by one, they waved their devices over the passenger’s forehead. One by one—with relieved sighs between—the machines passed in silence. Scattered applause and whistles broke out as the pilot turned off the fasten-seatbelt sign. We filed off the plane, preparing for the world ahead.
We’ll see what this year’s day one brings.