The next day I got on a train, ostensibly to Pingyao. Pingyao is supposedly a small village in Shanxi province where Zhang Yimou filmed "Raise the Red Lantern" and thus has lots of beautiful architecture. I say supposedly because I never got off at Pingyao. The train I was on was from Xi'an to Baotou (random city in Inner Mongolia) that went by Pingyao at 1:30 AM. I was told by the conductor that when we were about to arrive in Pingyao, they would tell me so I could get off in time.

It was the only unpleasant train ride I've been on in China. Since it wasn't a major route, our train didn't have air-conditioning. It was miserable. I was still awake, sweating in a futile sttempt to lower my body temperature, wondering when we were going to pull into Pingyao when the train actually did pull in and then two minutes later pull out. The conductor realized about 10 minutes later that they forgot to kick me off. After some negotiating, I paid a little more money and they arranged it so I could get off at a random industrial city and then get on another train straight to Beijing.

The next morning I arrived in Beijing. By this time it was a week and a half before my visa would expire and I still did not have a plane ticket back home. I gave Air China another call; I was still on the waiting list.

I whine a lot, but I only do it to show my affection for something. Boy, have I complained a lot about Beijing.

The earliest available slot was still early September. Extreme panic set in. Before I had left, I had asked BNU's Foreign Student Office if I could extend my visa. They had said no, but I thought that I might have better luck if I went to the PSB directly. If that wouldn't work, I could perhaps take a train to Hong Kong and from there I could buy a new plane ticket. The problem was money. Either option required more money than I had. The credit card I had had expired. My only liquid assets consisted of about $100 in traveler's checks and I would probably spend at least $70 with my last week in Beijing.

Exactly a week before my visa ran out (July 24th), I walked into the Air China offices expecting to beg, grovel, anything to get a plane ticket before the 31st. I walked up to the counter, a nervous wreck, knowing that they'd be completely indifferent to my situation, and I was fully prepared to go to any length to humiliate myself. And guess what? I politely asked to reserve my ticket and it went through. There was exactly one space on a flight on the 28th to Detroit (the first leg of my flight back to Boston) and I'd have to wait in Detroit until a free space came up.

Our last week together. Aww...

The next day I went back down and I was able to get a connecting flight to Boston with a seven-hour holdover in Detroit. I was ecstatic. A gigantic burden had been lifted off of my back.

I spent my remaining days doing some last minute errands, hanging out with old friends, and hanging out with my woman, Alicia. But I spent a bit of time just walking around. It was all very nostalgic. As I mentioned before, I whine a lot, but I only do it to show my affection for something. Boy, have I complained a lot about Beijing, but looking back from a safe distance of a couple of months, I can honestly say that I miss the place and I eagerly look forward to going back after I graduate.

On the morning of the 28th, Alicia and I took a taxi over to the airport. We said our weepy good-byes. About a week before, I had made fun of her for singing this incredibly sappy song by Sandy Lam called, "At Least I Have You (Zhishao haiyou ni)." She sang it rather earnestly as I was about to go through customs. It was touching. I had also exchanged all the money I had back to US dollars: it was $14.53. Except for about twenty dollars in my bank account, that's all I had access to, so financially I was cutting it extremely close.

But that's not itů