The Joy Of Counting Luck

Trip Start Jul 29, 2006
Trip End Sep 03, 2006

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Thursday, August 3, 2006

There were times during the tour that we had to remember to look around, so engrossed were we in conversation. I had gone to Beijing on my own but quickly made friends, in a group of people of the same mindset and experience as myself; people I could talk to for hours at a time and look forward to seeing again after the tour. In a way it was an affirmation of ourselves, that despite being so far away from home--and the unfortunate habit of ex-pats ignoring each other--we could form true and lasting friendships in just a few days.

The night before our last day in Beijing, my roommate and true English "lad", Steve, and I threw a party in our hotel room. Despite everyone's exhaustion the place quickly filled up and the booze and conversation flowed.

Here was Mike, headed for Shanghai on an extended tour with his girlfriend, Sun-hee, who was such a good bargainer that she helped others on the tour to get better deals on souvenirs; Mitch, who had somehow managed to count the step on the Great Wall of China and was ending his year in Korea with a tour of Beijing and Thailand with his friend Kathy, herself on vacation from Canada. There was Steve, a guy I'd never met yet was pleased to share a room with for his ease of manner and good conversation, and who surprised everyone by being the first to dance on the bar at a club.

Here were Leigh and Melanie, a couple and fellow Canadians on the tour, whom I vowed in anticipation to visit in Pohong, a city in southern Korea. And Kevin and Danny, Irish and American respectively, two people I had the delight not only of meeting but also sharing thoughts and feelings normally reserved for the best of friends.

The next day's side-trip to the Mao's mausoleum wasn't part of the organized tour, however, but instead an unscheduled half-day before many of the crew headed to the airport and home to Korea. I'd paid extra to stay another day, but was starting to rethink my itinerary.

As brief as it was, my visit to Beijing had become more than just a sojourn to a foreign city but an experience of much more profound discovery. I was moved not so much by the palaces and acrobatics and ambition of Beijing but by the way in which I'd experienced them. And while I had another day in the city, my trip had reached a pinnacle I didn't care to see countered by that last, listless day when I would be looking around for something to do after most of my friends had left.

After the visit to Mao's Mausoleum we piled into a cab headed for the Silk Street market, where most of what's on sale everywhere around Beijing can be had for rock-bottom prices if you're prepared to haggle hard. Silk Street is a giant, modern plaza with hundreds of individual stalls hawking clothes and accessories, artwork, fine Chinese silk and Communist kitsch. At a sunglasses stall I was suckered in by Xiao Xiao, a captivating and expert salesgirl who managed not only to charm her way into a good sale but also scored my own pair of shades in the bargain.

Sporting my new sunglasses on a street-side patio with Kevin and Danny, I felt something I've learned to appreciate in the last three years on the road. My time in any given place is finite, and my trip to Beijing was complete. I felt contentment and closure. My trip had been perfect, and I was ready to go home.

Back at the hotel I found our trusty tour guide, Dave, ready to take the crew to the airport. Whether or not he understood the reasons why I wanted to leave early, he called the airline. While my ticket may or may not have been transferable, the only way I could find out was to bring it to the airport.

The shuttle bus ride affirmed my gamble, as Leigh and Mel and Kevin and Danny were on board and the conversation flowed like wine over silk as the city flew by around us. It was only at the airport that I realized how sad and lonely the ride back to the hotel would be if my plans were foiled.

There was a moment, however brief, that my plans looked as though they would fail. But with a sticky note taped onto my ticket to show the changes I was good to.

All day I had been counting my luck, in life and in my travels. Thinking about it I realize how well and truly blessed I am. It was on that sunny day in Beijing when I began to fully appreciate that distinctly Asian concept of luck, and how well my own hand fares in the game.

In my life and travels I have been hurt but never victimized, robbed but never mugged, been lost but have always found my way, as I have been lonely and always found a friend. In my last hours in Beijing I was content to count my blessings. Perhaps, as I was about to learn, it's best to count them quietly.
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