My trip back to China was mostly uneventful. It started out at four in the morning with a ride to the airport in Peoria. Like a good American, I did as advised and showed up to the airport two hours early for my six o’clock flight. Apparently, that’s not necessary anymore as I had to wait 45 minutes for the airline to show up and check me in. I guess next time I’ll opt for the extra sleep. But fear not dear reader, as this tale is only just beginning!

I’m convinced that the TSA (you know, those jerks at the airports that get paid way too much to protect us red blooded Americans from ourselves by making us take our shoes off before we get on a plane for fear of some internal terrorist attack… yes, those people.) is staffed by complete idiots. After scanning my backpack, the TSA decided that they needed to take a closer look and pull everything out and look at it. Pretty funny really as the contents they were concerned with was three pounds of caramel, individually wrapped and in a plastic bag. They were also astounded by the sheer volume of crap I can fit into that backpack. Rightfully so, as it’s been my trusty companion for several trips and has been stuffed beyond capacity several times before. Practice makes perfect you know. Fortunately, they managed to repack it with only minimal damage to my belongings. Perhaps one day I’ll spout off about my opinion of the TSA even more, but this is not the time.

So I have a nice flight to Chicago, and land right on time. I managed to find my way to the connecting flight without issue, which was exciting as this was my first time at O’Hare airport. O’Hare is really nice by the way. I used the three hours of spare time before my next flight to enjoy my last tastes of American food, which was satisfied with a full on Chicago style hot dog. Damn straight!

At this time I need to back up a little bit and tell you about the fun I had getting my new Chinese visa. Usually, you go to the consulate in Chicago in the morning and turn in your paperwork, and then pick up your visa in the afternoon. Upon arrival, we learned that the policy had changed due to the outbreak of the swine flu. It would now be a six day wait to pick up, which put the pickup time 24 hours before my flight. I knew right then that this was going to be an interesting trip.

In the days before, China had quarantined 300 people in a hotel in Hong Kong because one individual was sick with the flu. Several other people were quarantined in separate events in the days that followed. Rumor had it that everyone entering the country would be checked for a fever upon arrival. If anyone on the plan had a fever, the whole plane was quarantined. I really hoped that this wouldn’t happen to me, so I didn’t spend much time in Chicago as the confirmed cases of swine flu there were the highest in the country.

Anyway, getting back to the airport… I’m waiting at the gate where a flight to San Francisco is now boarding. Now I don’t want to be a jerk, but when a family of Mexicans walked into the gate area, I just thought to myself, “Oh crap, please god no.” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with Mexico or Mexicans. I just don’t really want to be quarantined in China because I bumped into the wrong Mexicans. It struck me as sad that all eyes were on those folks until they got on the plane. You could sense the relief when they were gone.

So I get on the plane, fly to China, and land. (Boy, if the 14.5 hour flight only went that quickly!) Upon arrival, we were greeted with a message on the plane intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are the Chinese health organization. Due to the outbreak of the H1N1 flu epidemic, and to protect the lives and health of the people of China, we will now board the plane and perform a brief medical examination of all passengers. We apologize for any inconvenience, and thank you for your cooperation.”

Ok, let’s do this. So here come two teams of health inspectors in full hazardous materials suits. They are armed with a thermal gun, (like a radar gun for temperature) and a standard digital thermometer. They went through the plane and inspected every individual by pointing the gun at their foreheads and checking their temperature. If the reading was questionable, they checked orally. We all passed. Good thing I distributed that fever reducing ibuprofen I had in my carry on or we may have all been screwed! (Just kidding!)

Now I go through customs and pick up my luggage. That usually takes only a few minutes, but ended up being two hours because several international flights landed at the same time. So 1,000 people were there at the same time trying to get chopped in and get their crap. Succeeding in that, I found my driver and it was finally time to enter the final leg of the journey. An hour later I was knocking on the door at my apartment in Suzhou, where I received a wonderful greeting from my special lady.

Adapting again to life in China was easier than adapting back to the United States this last time home. I suppose the depth of immersion I went to the last time here had something to do with that. Perhaps it has something to do with my sole and its love of wandering. Either way, it’s good to be back. I missed my kitchen.

To make life easier here, I picked up an electric scooter. It’s sort of like a golf cart crossed with a motorcycle. Everyone here has one, and they cost less than the average bicycle in the US. Now I no longer have boundaries like bus routes and impatient taxi drivers. I can really explore Suzhou the way I want to and in my own time. I’m sure there will be many photos to come!

Just one more small addition here for consumption… I’ve submitted the paperwork to the USICS (US Immigration) to petition for a K1 fiance visa for Pinky Elopre Geroche. You read that right, I’m engaged. You can find several pictures of Pinky in the photo gallery. Pinky is a citizen of the Philippines. We met here in China and have a great time together. I look forward to a happy future with the Pinkster. I have no firm dates for anything yet as I am currently at the mercy of the USICS. However, they seem to be pretty reliable on these matters and I have faith that my petition will be processed in a reasonable amount of time.

Well that’s all for now. I must rest for work tomorrow. Thanks for reading and no matter who you are, be well wo de pengyou!