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February 17, 2005

Going Home and Coming Home

The funniest thing has happened - I have now started to feel as if I have 2 homes. We just went home to Kansas for a visit, and now we are back home in Nantong.

It was wonderful to be back in the US to see friends and family. We took a short trip to Sioux City to see Norty's dad and sister. Cousin Larry and Debbie came up from Omaha, so we got to see them too. We had planned to stay until late Monday, but a winter storm began brewing and we thought it would be a good idea to get back to KC when we could, so we left on Sunday. We just beat the storm back. Aside from that, we spent a lot of time with Inga and Noel, shopped for things we can't get in China, and saw friends from synagogue. Ohev seems weird without Rabbi Horwitz, but everyone is muddling alone pretty well. The day before we left to come back to China, we went with a group from Ohev to work on a Habitat for Humanity house. So many people showed up that we actually wound up working on two houses! Inga went along with us, so we had a nice family experience, too.

Our trip back to Nantong had the usual glitches. First, our suitcases were packed to the 70 pound international weight limit - mostly due to the 116 books I was bringing back to China. One suitcase was actually over the limit by 5 pounds, so Norty had to remove a sackful of books and take them as carry-on so we could get under the weight limit. Then, when we got to Minneapolis, we found out that the connecting flight to Portland was going to be delayed nearly an hour due to a mechanical problem. Since we only had 1 hour and 9 minutes between flights in Portland, we could see that we were probably not going to make the flight from Portland to Tokyo. Norty and the nice Northwest folks worked out an alternative itinerary which took us to Detroit to catch a flight to Tokyo and on to Shanghai from there. Then the flight to Detroit was delayed, so we got there with only about 20 minutes to spare! Fortunately, our arrival gate in Detroit was very close to the departure gate, so we made it - and so did our luggage! Turned out that the Detroit to Tokyo flight was the first part of a flight that continued on to Shanghai, and the Tokyo to Shanghai leg was the one we would have been on anyway. The only real hassle with the change is that we weren't able to get our requested vegetarian meals on the Detroit to Tokyo leg. There was a fish option, which was fine with me, but Norty is a stricter vegetarian than I am, so he was kind of out of luck. The flight attendant made something with rice and vegetables for him, so I guess he didn't starve. At any rate, he got his vegetarian meal on the Tokyo to Shanghai leg, and by that time, I wasn't hungry any more (you wouldn't believe how much they feed you in Business Class!).

When we got to Shanghai, we went through customs and went to get our luggage. We waited as suitcases went round and round the conveyor. First suitcase, second suitcase, third suitcase - wait, wait, wait - no fourth suitcase! ARRGH!!! Norty goes to the luggage claim help desk. They tell him the computer says the fourth suitcase is still in Detroit ... or maybe Minneapolis, or maybe Tokyo. Who knows? Just as Norty is completing the insanely long lost luggage claim form, he looks up to see a cart piled with suitcases, and right in the middle is our lost lamb. No one seems to know how it got there, but at this point, who cares?

Before we left for the US, we had arranged for a driver to take us back to Nantong because we figured it wouldn't cost much more than taking two taxis (because of the luggage) to a hotel, staying the night, taking 2 taxis to the bus station, getting a bus to Nantong, and then taking 2 taxis to our apartment. Not to mention how much more comfortable and convenient the trip would be by car. Anyway, by the time we found our last suitcase, our driver had been waiting outside for nearly 40 minutes, and was getting agitated (and calling us on the cell phone to say so) because the airport cops didn't want him parking out there for so long. Finally, we got out to the curb and managed the seemingly impossible task of getting 4 people (us, the driver, and another guy whose presence we never did understand, but who helped with the driving) plus our 4 huge suitcases and various carry-on stuff into the car. Fortunately, the car was what I would call a small stretch limo, so we got everything in, even if we did have to put the biggest suitcase between us in the back seat. The last glitch was that the ferry across the Yangtze River was closed due to fog, so we had to go west about halfway to Nanjing to take the bridge and then come back east to Nantong. There's a good highway and no traffic that late at night, so it didn't take much longer as compared to taking the much slower ferry, but it cost us an additional 400 RMB (about $50) for the detour. So, we wound up paying $150 for the driver, instead of the $100 we would have paid had the ferry been open. Still quite a bargain for a 4 hour drive, I'd say!

So here we are back home in Nantong. The landlady had cleaned the apartment while we were gone and had only turned off one of the heaters we had left on, so it wasn't too cold. Naturally, we were wide awake, even if it was 2 am, so we unpacked some of our stuff, and finally went to bed at about 3 am. We got up again at 7 am and put in a full day yesterday, so we got to bed at the usual time last night. I think we're pretty much back on China time today. (For some reason, it's easier to get over jet lag when we come back to China than when we go to the US.)

That's about it for now. Today, I'll start on my lessons for next semester. Later, alligators.

Posted by now at February 17, 2005 08:54 AM