Here’s the gist of my first day or two in China. There were a few delays in getting my visa so instead of leaving for China the end of April, like the program had outlined, I didn’t make it over there until the 19th of May 2005. This was my first overseas flight, and besides an hour or two trip to Tiajuana back in Middle School, it was also my first trip abroad. I was 19 and feeling both excited and a bit nervous about leaving my parents and setting off to see the world by myself. There was only one other BYU student coming with me. His name was Jared, a return missionary from Taiwan. Needless to say, his Mandarin was WAY better than mine.
I remember my first few conversations while I was in China with the Chinese. I didn’t understand a word. It was really sad. I had taken over 3 years of formal Mandarin classes and yet… NOTHING~! Even the simple questions like, “how are you?” or “what’s your name?”. All I could make out was gibberish. I’m pretty sure I looked like a deer caught in the headlights anytime anyone tried to have a conversation with me. Thankfully, Jared was able to guide us from the Shanghai airport, to our two rooms at the hotel, and then to Wuhan by a second plane. Thank you, Jared!
My first impressions of Wuhan besides the pollution, cloudy and rainy weather, loud honking, and reckless driving, was “it is wonderful! Very dirty and smoggy but still good.” The internship was for us BYU students to act as river guides on a tourist/cruise boat from Wuhan, through the Three Gorges, and ending in Chongqing, get new passengers and head back down. The company owned 3 different boats (Princess Sheena, Princess Jeannie, and Princess Elaine) but, as mentioned earlier, we only had 2 students sign up. I knew in advance that Jared and I would be on different boats but I was expecting to have a couple of days in Wuhan to orient myself while waiting for my assigned ship to dock. I was WRONG.
Princess Sheena was already docked at Wuhan waiting for the new passengers. After only 3 or 4 hours on a quick tour of the city with Jared by Mat (a BYU student returning to the internship only this time to work in the office in Wuhan for the tour company), I was given a quick goodbye and left to the mercy of the crew. Jared was lucky and got 6 days to rest in Wuhan before Princess Elaine arrived for him.
My journal is overwhelmingly OVER enthusiastic so I’ll spare you my optimismist writing and write what I remember. I remember getting on the boat. I was shown to my room where I put my luggage on my bed. The whole room was about the size of a walk-in-closet. 🙂 I was on the top bunk. I went back out to the dock with Jared and Matt and we talked until the boat left. I remember standing on the side of the boat watching Jared and Matt getting smaller and smaller as the ship headed upstream and having the realization of what I had committed to hit me for the first time. I was alone. I had understood about 3% of any Chinese anyone spoke to me and only a handful of the crew members spoke anything close to fluent English.
I ended up doing what girls do best. I cried silent tears watching the dock disappear. I did make a good friend that day. His English name was Gordon. He worked on the boat as one of the massage/reflexologists. Mostly, he gave really good foot massages to the paying tourist. His English was decent. He came and stood next to me. I don’t remember very much of the conversation. I could guess that he probably asked me simple questions like my name, how did I like China. He was really funny, too. After a few jokes, I was smiling enough to brave going back inside the boat. I still had really bad jet lag, so I returned to my room and fell asleep. I heard my 2 roommates come in but pretended to stay asleep, not being quite brave enough to meet them yet. I’m fairly certain that my last few thoughts of that day were along the lines of, “What in the world did I get myself into?”