Watching the sunrise with squirrels

Trip Start Jun 14, 2012
Trip End Jul 02, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Illinois
Thursday, June 14, 2012

I'm typing this entry on my netbook on
a picnic table outside of NIU's Center for Black Studies. The doors
are locked and the windows are dark, which makes some sense if you
consider the fact it's 2:07AM. I'm alone under the white streetlights
except for this gently glowing screen, my headphones, and the
suitcase and satchel I'm resting my feet on. My apartment, barely a
mile and a half away from this spot, is newly cleaned, very empty,
and waiting for my roommate to return from her own travels sometime
during this trip. I could be back on our old couch right now staring
at late night reruns right now, but the tension drove me to walking
out for the group's assigned meeting spot an hour early. And here I
am, killing time in the chilled night air with a blog entry.In the modern age of social networks
and video chatting, studying abroad has some unsettling challenges
that young travelers must face. What time do I have to be up to Skype
my friend back home to ask about how the party went? Do I have to pay
for Wifi? What if the connection is too slow to upload pictures on
Facebook? How am I supposed to Tweet about the amazing landmarks I'm
looking at if my phone doesn't get enough bars? I'm not trying to
mock this generation, it's just how it works. I send a hundred or so
texts a day and my Facebook profile is proudly obnoxious, and like
many travelers to certain regions I'm about to completely lose my
mind. As you may have heard on the news, the
government of mainland China has a firewall on the internet that
blocks an extensive array of websites from being accessed in any way.
Google searches are filtered or disabled by select phrases, social
networks of all types are blocked, and millions of blogs are made
invisible. This very blog was originally posted on Blogspot, but
after testing the server online I found that it would be inaccessible
in Beijing. Hence, I'm now posting on a site that appears to be
functional, but worst case scenario I'm forced to find some one to
relay these entries through via email, or simply post them all once I
get back. While this blog is a notable challenge, being cut off from
our digital society is a throwback to the olden days of studying
abroad. The original Rhodes Scholars didn't have Skype dates, if
anything they were lucky if letters could make it overseas in under
two months. Peace Corps volunteers weren't always able to like your
status from an African web cafe. While this is a result of local
policy instead of technology, I'm about to get a taste of what
traveling used to be all about: Tripping and falling into new world
with nothing that reminds you of home. Of all the homes to leave behind, you
can do worse then DeKalb. After everyone leaves for summer break,
DeKalb becomes a quiet little town where you know half the people you
bump into every day. In the last few days I've had to say goodbye to
friends, family, faculty, my fraternity, the company I intern for,
and even the diner down the street. I'm leaving behind a campus I
know like the back of my hand and a town that knows me for better or
for worse, and heading to the single largest city on the planet. My
contact with ninety eight percent of the people in my life is severed
once we board the plane, if my email provider works it's a miracle.
The Chinese textbook in my suitcase is my lifeline that I'll need to
even order a meal. Nervous? Me? Not at all, pacing on sidewalks and
expressing my deepest emotions to squirrels in the early morning
hours is a pastime of mine.

Ironically, after finishing the
preceding paragraph a patrolling police officer walked up asking why
I was loitering outside a cultural center in the middle of the night
and acting quite suspicious. He ended up wishing me luck on my trip
and is now driving away.

Eighteen days from now, I'll be dropped
off at this same random location. I know for certain I'll then drag
my suitcase over to the local diner for an American-style meal, but
except for that childishly trivial goal I have no idea what's ahead
of me and what I'll remember once I'm back here on this cobblestone
porch. It's now 3:07AM. In Beijing, it's 4:07 PM. Bring it on.  
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