Day 10: Jenny Carillo, GRD ’08
Homeward Bound, Friday, May 25
This morning’s 5 AM wake-up call, courteously provided to all of the Yale 100 delegates, summoned us from our bed to lug our suitcases outside our door in order to be whisked away to baggage check. It’s the final day of our memorable journey. Once again, the amazing attention to detail exhibited by our hospitable hosts of the China Youth Federation is apparent as they make our lives simpler by dealing with the luggage for us. As an older graduate student, mother of two, and a previous life of leading trips for youth, I find myself among the many delegates who are overwhelmed by the incredible hospitality we have experienced at the hand of our very well organized and efficient hosts. Freedom from worrying about our luggage, this simple gesture, reminds us again of the honor bestowed upon us by the extension of President’s Hu invitation and the hospitable and generous reception we received in China.
As we rode toward the airport on our chartered busses, many of us found ourselves reflecting on our experiences in China. The long day of travel—bus ride to the Shanghai airport, 2 hour flight to Beijing, 5 hour lay-over in Beijing, and the final 14-hour flight—lent itself to reflective activities, as our full schedule in China had not yet allowed us to spend such extended time on reflection. Treasured moments were exchanged and chronicled for one another, laughter ensued, and thoughtful discussions were held. Despite my own racing mind, I decided to simply enjoy my last few minutes with my friend of 10 days, Duyuan Shang, on the ride to the airport and leave the sorting and reflecting for the airplane ride. For in fact, the friendship fellow Yale delegate Alice Ly and I developed with him proved to be the most impressive experience of China for me and in that moment I simply wanted to enjoy our last chat with him.
As I am now reflecting and no longer conversing with him and Alice, I am considering what made my new friendship with Duyuan the most significant part of my trip to China. An accomplished man who grew up in rural China, he attended one of the most prestigious universities in China as well as a prestigious university in the UK for his Master’s education, and has high aspirations for his future. From him we learned much about life in China. But we also shared about our own families with him, and he with us. For me, this friendship was a beautiful expression of the common face of humanity—people who love and care for others, who grow and learn, eat and drink, laugh and cry. Perhaps what is too frequently lost in our focus on achievement and attainment of goods, and politics that reflect these aims, is our ability to recognize and know the people around us and those who are caught in the fray. What a rare opportunity to travel in another country for 10 days with someone from that country who is equally open to getting to know someone from a seemingly different world and learn one another’s perspective!
As the members of the delegation reflected on the trip on this homeward trek, in and out of consciousness on the long 14 hour flight from Beijing to Newark, I consistently found the moments that most significantly impacted the various members of the delegation were the moments of personal contact. When families opened up their homes to us, we had the opportunity to chat with them about their lives, and them with us, to see their home, their food, as well as their extended family members and friends and to learn from them about their life in China. When we spoke with students at the university individually, we gleaned from their experiences as a student, living in rural and urban areas, the opportunities and limitations they see on their lives in China, the opportunities and limitations they see on our lives in the United States, and how politics shape our worlds differently and similarly. When we visited rural China and were once again invited into the homes of Chinese families, observed the small industries in which they engage to bring revenue into the town, and explored the schools children attended, we saw glimpses of these lives who share a common humanity with us. Additionally, we had encounters when we went out shopping and bartering, going for early morning runs or walks, visiting restaurants, bars and clubs, getting massages, visiting museums, art galleries, and chatting with our wonderful guides. To see how others live, to hear their stories, to recognize the artificial nature of these exchanges and yet simultaneously the authenticity of the exchange, we learn, we grown, we understand, we are confused, and we are drawn to continue the exchange. The aim of President’s Hu invitation—to infuse us with a sense of curiosity as well as some knowledge of China, it’s people, it’s culture, it’s politics—can most certainly be considered accomplished!
As many of us have frequently indicated over the course of the trip, we feel an immense appreciation and wonder for the privileges and honors we have received on this trip as demonstrated by the meetings with high-ranking public officials, including President Hu, opportunities to meet students and professors at universities, invitations into the homes of Chinese families, fine cuisine provided at State dinners and excellent restaurants, and the opportunity to experience so many aspects of Chinese culture and history. Simultaneously, we have experienced some discomfort with other hospitable gestures that we feared may support preexisting perceptions of the entitled Americans as we were guided by police escorts through traffic, greeted by banners and bands, and bypassed lines of native tourists to view their national treasures. But the incredible hospitality of these actions was never lost on us. We have felt honored throughout our visit to China and consider ourselves privileged to be the guests of President Hu and know that this is only the beginning of a legacy for many individuals of the Yale 100 with China.
We arrived in Newark just a little over 24 hours after that 5 AM wake-up call. We exchanged hugs, email addresses, and cell numbers so at last we could call one another rather than relying on fortuitous meet-ups in hotel lobbies to venture out into the city. A long bus ride still lay ahead for some, for others connecting flights or drives to destinations other than New Haven, and for still others pick-ups by loved ones. But despite the dispersal to so many destinations, we will continue to remain connected by the incredible experiences of the “Yale 100 to China.”