Eleven weeks in China? Why?
Trip Start Sep 04, 2007
19Trip End Nov 20, 2007
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Admittedly, this is a bit of a stretch for me, too, but I'm single, I don't have kids or pets, and I work for a company that gives employees a three-month paid sabbatical when they've reached the ten-year mark. I've also spent way too much time in the last, um, let's call it several years renovating my house, sometimes treading the same path to the hardware store three times in the same Saturday. I need an adventure.
A few years ago, I saw an article in National Geographic's Adventure magazine about a tour to Shipton's Arch, the world's tallest known natural stone arch, in far western China. Like lots of other folks, I've been to Arches National Park and thought the arches were remarkable, but the experience didn't make me an archophile, chasing all over creation collecting arch sightings. (There's an organization of those people, in England, as you'd expect.) The tour went other places, too, though, including Beijing, Xi'an, Dunhuang, Turpan, the Urumqi airport, and Kashgar, which appears to be less that 100 miles from the Tajikistan border. To me, this sounded like a fun adventure and, at the same time, a not-too-challenging way to get to a place where I don't speak or read the language much beyond "ni hao" and can't readily wing it as I have in places where I could at least decipher the alphabet, fergodsake.
When you get the chance to do (almost) anything you want for three months, you think about it a lot. I considered and rejected a number of possible travel destinations because I wanted to do something with the three months that I couldn't readily do in a three-week vacation writ large, as well as something that was truly new to me. I considered living in Paris for the duration and working on my French, but I've been to Paris, and I don't see that many Francois Truffaut movies anymore. I considered Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, and England, but they're too easy-they speak my language, more or less-so I could go there practically on a moment's notice. I considered the Czech Republic, in part because I was there last fall with my friend Pete and had a great time, but I was there last fall. I considered South America, but my interest didn't extend much beyond Machu Picchu, and that wouldn't fill three months. Time and again I reconsidered the tour to Shipton's Arch plus something else, but I couldn't figure out what the something else was. Perhaps because of some accidental reading on China, Simon Winchester's The River at the Center of the World (I was on a Winchester jag at the time), the idea of spending more time in China started to take hold. At the same time, the dollar was plummeting against every currency in the world except the yuan, and while the company is paying my salary for three months, they're not paying for my trip, and I didn't want to take out a second mortgage for a vacation, not even for a really long vacation.
Despite all the preparation I've done, I'd still like another week or two, or maybe a month, or perhaps two, to read more of the books on China that are sitting on my shelves, "improve" my Chinese-language skills (which implies that I have Chinese-language skills to improve-in truth, I'm still standing firmly on square one despite a couple of classes and the efforts of Yale at work), compare the recommendations in the three China travel guides that I bought, ... you get the idea. However, come 11:45 am or so on Tuesday, I just have to close the zipper on my backpack and walk out the door. Wish me luck.