So, last you heard we were on our R&R in the U.S. (in Florida) and were about to head back to China for the last however many months of our posting in Chengdu.
So we flew from Florida to Dulles (Washington, DC) and then switched planes to go to Beijing, and then switched planes again to go on to Chengdu. And even right there in the Dulles airport we began the transition back to China as I whipped out the Mandarin to help Chinese folks try to figure out how/when they were supposed to line up to show their boarding passes to the airline staff to get on the plane.
Lining up for stuff. It's not the Chinese way.
As the long flight from Dulles to Beijing was coming to a close, and as the plane was starting its descent into Beijing, the four of us looked out the plane's windows and sighed dejectedly. For even before getting even close to the ground, the air outside the plane was dark and visibly super polluted.
And then the plane began depressurizing or repressurizing or whatever a plane does when it begins to acclimate to the new city it's landing in (Beijing) and the SMELL of the polluted air hit us like a ton of bricks, burning our eyes and throats.
As we got off the plane in Beijing, it was difficult to breathe. Even the Chinese folks getting off the plane with us were obviously grossed out, and one man even turned to us and said something in English about the nasty air. What we didn't know then was that we were landing in Beijing on a pollution day that might arguably have been the worst pollution day since the air quality began being measured in 2008. Which, trust me, does NOTHING for ye olde morale. Just saying.
I have never once (let that sink in, you guys: NEVER. ONCE.) posted pictures of China that I have taken without doctoring them first. I have always tried my best to edit out the pollution - to boost the colors - to make the pictures look far nicer than they are. But for the first time, I am going to post unedited pictures on my blog of China just so you get the full effect.
Also, bear in mind that last night in Beijing the air pollution was so high that it maxed out the measuring machines and might even have climbed into the 700+ range. Just so you can get a general feel for what that means, here's the rating system for mainland China:
See how that chart ends at the 300+ range? Just IMAGINE being in Beijing when the air measures over 700 and maybe even close to 800. THAT was our welcome back to China last night.
We walked up to the counter where the Chinese authorities decide whether or not to let you in (you know - you show your passport and visa and stuff to them and they decide whether or not to stamp you in to the country, just like everywhere else when you're entering another country) and Matthew, who doesn't like being in China to begin with and didn't want to come back, walked up to the stampy lady and hung out his tongue from one side of his mouth, squooshed his eyes around in weird ways, and in general tried to not look like his passport picture.
He actually looked exactly like:
(But he was trying not to laugh.)
The Chinese stampy-passport lady DID laugh, because she knew exactly what he was doing (do people do that a lot??), and played along for a minute but then stamped him in anyway, much to his (laughing) dismay. And we all laughed, which would NEVER happen in the United States, because in the United States if you try to joke around with TSA or the Border Stampy people I think they take you away and have you killed. So score one for China. Because, believe it or not, the authorities and policies that you come into contact with while you're traveling in China are way, WAY less intrusive than those in the U.S. and actually have senses of humor. GO FIGURE.
So we sat for a few hours in the Beijing airport. Zachary's eyes grew bright red from the irritants and we all began coughing and having to clear our throats. Some of us may have even cried a bit. I took some pictures of the pollution:
Night began to fall, and the pollution took on a brownish color...
The pollution wasn't just outside the airport, it was INSIDE the airport, too:
Then we got on the plane and flew to Chengdu. Which smelled just the same and looked just the same as Beijing. I took this picture in Chengdu at the airport last night as we were loading our luggage into the van to take us back to our apartment...
Hello, brown pollution that tastes like a mix between gasoline, coal, tar, metal, and other things I cannot even fathom. We missed you. OR NOT.
Tomorrow begins school for three of us (hint: everyone but James). The boys unfortunately missed a whole week of school last week while we were still in the States, but it couldn't be helped. James wasn't allowed to leave for the U.S. until December 23rd, which would have only given him a week or two in the U.S. on our second R&R (if we had brought the boys back in time for when school started), and that would have been INSANE. We have only left post twice as a family in the year and a half or so that we've been here, and we're not going to go and cut our second time away from post together short just to avoid the kids missing some school. DON'T THINK SO. I know a lot of people get to travel and stuff when they serve overseas, but that hasn't happened for us. We've gone pretty much nowhere but back to the States and just on our R&Rs. Just goes to show that different folks have different experiences.
As for our experiences, here's a picture of Chengdu right now:
Tune in another day when I'm in a better mood.