The only thing distracting me from the growing knot in my stomach was the overwhelming weight of exhaustion. In just a few days, I had traveled across the entirety of China by way of rail and road. On top of that, the tremendous allure of YunNan prevented me from allowing more than one day of rest – which I filled with a 9-mile hike – before boarding a plane crossing [part of] the Pacific. Good decision? Probably not. Worth it? Of Course.
Any normal person under these conditions would fall asleep immediately upon finding his or her assigned seat on the aircraft. In this way (and I suppose many others), I am not normal. Give me the bumpiest bus ride, and I will sleep; but put me on a plane, and my body refuses to shut down. While the former has ultimately been more useful as bus rides far outnumbered flights, the latter has caused much suffering on those select airborne journeys. My flight from Hong Kong to Honolulu was no different. Add my growing anxiety as we neared American soil, and you have quite the uncomfortable traveler.
I know I sound ridiculous right now. Dreading a landing in Hawaii? Who would ever?! But indeed, that was the state of my consciousness. This so-called paradise seemed to be racing towards me on the horizon, and I wanted to kick up my heels and run the other way. Lucky for me, this is frowned upon on an airplane, for great things were waiting on the runway.
In fact, I would be reuniting with my sister at the home of our family friends in Oahu – a wonderful chance to be with family and pseudo-family after such a foreign experience. And I was looking forward to it. But I was also afraid: afraid to leave Asia after six months immersion, afraid to return to American culture after nine plus months away, and afraid to begin a final chapter of my travels.
In the end, I slept through most of the feared transition. Almost immediately upon arrival at the airport, I could feel my body beginning to shut down. I finally succumbed to the wear and tear of travel – particularly over the past couple of weeks – made manifest in a chest cold. My first few days in Hawaii were mostly spent expending as little energy as possible. Soon enough, I recovered and was able to explore the island with my sister for some much needed catch-up time. Nine months is a long time apart, and I am so happy for the time we had together.
But there was still some shock to overcome and some adjustments to be made. Though Hawaii is pleasantly influenced by many Asian cultures, a big ole hunk of America remains. Grocery stores and prices were overwhelming; English was most exciting. I may have been overly friendly to strangers – it was just too dang exciting to be able to communicate again. For the not-so-exciting transitions, at least I was in “paradise.”
And at least I still have Colombia.