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2005-12-25 - 2:36 a.m.

I wrote this same entry my last day in Beijing. Everything cramed in my five bags. I had no idea how I would be able to get them all on the plane without paying a lot extra.

Alone I typed quickly on my laptop to put out my last entry from Beijing.

One of my Chinese friends came by again. There were no real official goodbyes, the leaving times were all staggered, so it was uncertain and anticlimatic. She wanted to check her e-mail and I forgot all about my entry.

The bus I went to the airport on was the fullest one to go, everyone else was going in smaller groups. It wasn't until we were on the bus that tears started welling up in peoples' eyes. When my friend Alex gave me a hug, it was painfully geniune. He was staying in China and watching all his friends leave.

On the way through the Beijing airport, the group stuck close.

The flight was mostly quiet. We were all far more tired than we thought we would be and many of us slept much of the long flight across the Pacific. I met a young mother who was Chinese, but now living in Alabama with her husband. I had only been out of China for a few hours, but I was suddenly unsure of my Chinese and nervous to use it. It was sometimes like that with people who spoke English well. It was easiest to speak to people with poor English skills.

When we reached Chicago, the group split up slowly as we made our way to get our luggage. We traded books with our pictures they had given us for signatures and messages while we waited. It was strange to think this may be the last time we would ever see these people, and yet there were no tears.

My friend Tim and I had talked about drinking on the plane so I said we should have a drink together at one of the airport bars, but my flight was in around two hours � time I thought I would need to get to my flight. So we passed on the bar.

Most of us came together again in the train from one end of O'Hare to the other. I got off alone at my stop and we all said our goodbyes. I went through security, pulling out Chinese money and other trinkets with stories from my pockets. Chinese metal detectors were less sensitive than American ones, so I had to get everything out.

At my gate, I had plenty of time to wait. I bought a pizza stuffed pretzel and lemonade, something uncommon in China. As I walked back to the gate, I saw a brown robed Chinese monk walk through the crowd.

I called my house from a pay phone and told them everything was on time.

On the way to the plane, my larger carryon was tagged to go under the plane � a small plane with just two seats on either side of the isle and overhead compartments the size of those on buses. The one flight attendant gave safety instructions, having to stop to show the plane full of adults how to buckle a seatbelt. When she gave me a cup of orange juice, I resisted the urge to say "thank you" in Chinese.

My first domestic American flight back was worse than any plane I flew on in China.

When I got into Nashville my parents waited for me downstairs. We went to a fresh Mex place on the way home and I came back to my bed for the first time in six months.

My suitcases, six days later remain not entirely unpacked.

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