Friday, October 21, 2016

8,365 miles, just the one way.

I have a fairly extensive bucket list of places I want to visit.

Domestically, there's the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, the Redwoods in California, New York for the Met and Broadway and the food, Chicago (I used to want to move there, once upon a time) and Savannah and Charleston (it's nuts I've been to neither) are the ones that immediately come to mind.

Of course, internationally, the list is vast and extends far beyond the ability of my bank account: Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, Paris and Normandy and Lourdes (St. Bernadette is my confirmation saint), pretty much everywhere in England, Hay-on-Wye in Wales (Sigh. A whole town of bookstores...), back to both Scotland (I didn't make it to Dunnotar Castle or Aberdeen) and Italy (to much-loved Rome and Florence again, especially the latter where I only spent a day. I'm really hoping to visit a college friend who's husband was recently stationed at a base in Vincenza for the next three years), Ireland, Morocco, the Great Pyramids and Valley of the Kings in Egypt (I've been fascinated by Egypt since I was little. I had a book on mummies and grave robbing when I was 6...which is a bit strange, when you think about it. Who bought that for me?), Greece, Poland (I've long wanted to visit Auschwitz, if that doesn't seem too strange, to see and mourn and pray where St. Maximillian Kolbe and so many others died), the undisturbed old-world charm of Prague, various countries in South America, Bora Bora (partly because of its WWII connection), Belgium (Vielsalm, specifically, because of another family WWII connection, Spain to see the Prado and Sagrada Familia among other sites, Australia and New Zealand....

I could keep on going. What you'll notice about the above (frankly still abbreviated) list is that there aren't any Asian countries on it. If pressed, I'd say Japan would be my first choice. China was never really in the picture.

So guess where I'm headed the day after Christmas and will ring in 2017?

As it turns out, both of my younger brothers will be getting married next (I joked to my mom that, barring a very quick courtship that commences incredibly soon, I won't be getting married next year, too. She laughed and said she could use the break.). My brother Ethan (after he returns from his deployment) I've already mentioned, but my brother Daniel will be marrying his fiance, Mira, January 1, 2017, in China.

They met in grad school and dated for several years, countinuing their relationship even after her program ended (it was a year shorter than his), her student visa expired and she had to return to China, her home country. Earlier this year, they became engaged. Because of all the variations possible in order to get her a green card, after much research, they decided the best way to expedite that -- and it could still take between nine and 18 months -- is to get married in China first.

It will be beyond interesting, because, first of all, we're not headed to Beijing (although we have a layover there on the way) or Shanghai, but to Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province and the closest city to where her family lives in Western China. It's where the pandas come from, where there is some of the spiciest food in the world (I'm not sure how my mother will cope, as she doesn't do spicy food much at all) and also has more tea houses (allegedly) than anywhere else in the world. :)

The wedding itself will take place on New Year's Day (apparently less of a big deal in the East, where Chinese New Year several weeks later is the real celebration) and then, the next day, we'll travel about an hour and a half southeast to Lezhi, where Mira's family is from, for another -- smaller -- celebratory dinner. We're staying in Chengdu in a flat her family owns at the top of a 15-20 story apartment building.

The more I've looked into things, the more excited I've become about this adventure I never expected to take. It's also going to be a complete fish-out-of-water experience. Although Mira speaks perfect English, her parents don't beyond 10 or 15 words, apparently, and her grandparents none at all. And it won't be like going to Europe, where in Italy, for example, I could understand quite a bit based only on my Spanish language background alone. I've bought a Lonely Planet phrase book that contains some basics on both Mandarin and Sichuanese, but I'm probably slaughtering the pronunciation... Note to self: watch some videos for help with that!

The flights have been booked, I've had a photo taken for the visa application (I look tired in it, but that will no doubt be the state of affairs after a ridiculous amount of time on planes -- the flight from LAX to Beijing alone is more than 13 hours) and I've completed most of the four-page travel visa application.

The trip will involve more than a little time travel, without a Delorean and its flux capacitor, or a TARDIS, traveling a day ahead in time and going so far east we have to go west to get there. We -- at least Mom and I; Daniel's staying a month beyond -- are slated to fly home Jan. 8, 2017. We will arrive back in the states while it's still the same day.

And while it will be a grand adventure, involving strange new places and a both new-to-me and ancient civilization, I am so very happy my brother has found someone with whom he can share his life, and that I will be there to see his marriage take place.

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