Ten days later and with changed thoughts, a rumbling stomach, and an entirely new set of experiences, I arrive home from China.
As far as food goes, the experience was pretty bad. I special ordered vegan meals for the plane (Air China). Special meals were only available on the international flights, not the domestic ones. They said vegan meals would be available but the only vegetarian entree on the way there was rice doused in sauce and cheese. On the way home I got some overcooked vegetables in tomato sauce that actually weren't too bad. There was also a roll, which I think was vegan (my Chinese isn't the best, but I didn't recognize eggs, butter, or milk in the ingredients so I ate it), some iceberg lettuce, and unripe melon.
Breakfast was provided in my hotels and at the least they all had toast and jam. Most also had cereal, baozi (steamed buns) with bean paste filling, and one or two tofu or vegetable dishes. Since I was on a school trip, the rest of our meals were pre-ordered at restaurants. They all had rice, about half had some variety of cabbage, and a few had tofu or cooked greens. I wasn't a big fan of the food but it was bearable. I packed dried mango, crackers, ramen, raisins, and mixed nuts in my luggage for snacking.
We saw the typical sights (the Great Wall, Tianamen Square, Terracotta Soldiers, etc.) but also went to a few places a little more off the beaten path. I really enjoyed some of the Buddhist temples which were a beautiful haven from the crowded, noisy, and polluted cities. I brought home with me four new sets of chopsticks, some delicious green tea, and a really warm hat.
Seeing the poverty and pollution that's the norm of many of the cities in China was jarring. When I first left the airport in Beijing the smog was so thick that I couldn't see the tops of buildings that were right down the street. It seemed like there were people begging on every corner, many of whom were missing arms, legs, or who were otherwise disabled. I have never been so appreciative of where I live as I was when my plane landed at JFK Airport in New York this afternoon.
I managed to get through all of China without losing anything until the bus ride home from the airport when I lost my camera. Hopefully I'll be able to retrieve it from the bus company, but until then, no more pictures from me.