December 04, 2002

The Start of My Great

The Start of My Great Leap Forward

I was patted down vigorously by an armed military officer who had apparently been specifically trained to administer the most vigorous human pat downs imaginable. Myself and my fellow classmates all endured the probing and patting hands, sacrificing our basic human dignity in the name of getting through China's strict customs and immigration procedures.

If the guard had found so much as a plastic dinner knife on my person, I'm relatively certain the rubber gloves would have been unleashed and a body cavity search conducted. Thankfully, the most lethal thing about me after the flight from Tokyo to Beijing was my breath. Whatever was in the strange beef jerky meal they fed us on the plane, it had effectively turned our exhales into leaf-wilting vileness.

When the chance to go to China as part of our Asian Studies class had been offered, I jumped at the opportunity. As a senior attending high school in Japan in 1993, I was determined to soak up as much culture as I possibly could. For some reason, having lived in affluent industrial societies all my life, I had naively assumed that China would be just as developed as everything else I had every experienced. It wasn't until we emerged from the airport and were beset upon by throngs of beggars that I realized that, for many countries, poverty is the norm rather than the exception.

Our teacher, Mr. Stern, a veteran of many China visits, and a slight Marxist, quickly ushered us into a taxi/van, and the eight of us wearily took in the bleak countryside as we made our way into the heart of Beijing to our hotel.

Posted by Ryan at December 4, 2002 04:50 PM
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