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The airplane itself served as a kind of cramped limbo: hours of “Desperate Housewives” on the TV screens, food meant for paper dolls and a constant stream of semi-interesting information – pages of books we no longer felt like reading and chit-chat with strangers about each other’s unconnected lives.
The trip really began when we stepped up to the booth at immigration, handed the man our passports and arrival cards, and tried to thank him in Mandarin after he stamped the page next to our visas. At least for me, that’s when I really knew I was in China – green chile and all other comfort foods and zones abandoned way, way on the other side of the International Date Line.
*********Beijing smells like Manhattan********** (italics), I thought once we made it outside. People smell the same everywhere, like old wrappers and dirty skin. The sky reminded me of cigarettes, of smokers’ fingers. These sad first impressions didn’t dampen the thrill. I grinned at Michael and then at the city I had been aching to see for so long that the physical reality of it seemed impossible.