Category Archives: Travel

Dear Atlantic: You’re no Pacific, but You’ll Do

The wave rose above me like a yellow wall of death. Time froze, weirdly, as every terrifying tsunami dream I’ve ever had flashed through my mind. “You have to jump into it!” Janessa yelled, and I closed my eyes and jumped into one of my biggest fears.

This was a terrible idea.

The wave completely knocked me over, smashing my head into the pebbly beach. I got up, my lungs burning with salt water inhalation, and here was another wave, smashing into me again. Janessa, cool as a cucumber in the midst of the biggest waves I’d ever experienced, waded over and helped me up.

“What happened? Did the wave smash you into the rocks?”

I nodded, coughing salt water out of my lungs. “My head hurts,” I said, stumbling towards my beach towel, spread across the sand. “I need to lie down.”

I’ve always been afraid of big waves. I don’t know why. Growing up near the Pacific I’d gaze at the huge swells of water way out in the ocean, and a tight fear would grip my stomach. Maybe the wave would keep coming and coming, big and crushing and scary. But by the time it got to me it was always a tiny thing, icy cold and lapping at my toes.

Sometimes my cousins and I would hold hands and wade deeper and deeper into the water, jumping the waves as they came. First ankle deep, then knee deep, then waist high. A few very large ones hit me in the face. But there was security in the chain of cousins. If I fell, they would help me up before the next wave hit.

I didn’t know much about the Atlantic Ocean before I took this trip, but I’d read enough books to know a few things:

  1. You can swim in it
  2. There is something near it called a “boardwalk”
  3. The waves are smaller

My friend Janessa lives in a camper with her husband Jon, and when they visited Oregon this summer I confessed to her my curiosity about the East Coast. “What is a boardwalk like?” I asked. “I mean I guess it must be a sidewalk on the beach. So there must not be a cliff on the East Coast. But wouldn’t the sand blow over it, then? And how can you swim in the water? Even if it’s warm, doesn’t the water level change too drastically as the waves come in and out?”

“You’ll just have to go see it for yourself sometime,” she said. And indeed, when I told her of my plans for an Eastern trip this summer, she told me that she was going to take me to the Atlantic.

My thoughts, upon viewing the great Atlantic Ocean, were as follows:

Thought #1: “Wow, that boardwalk is WAY bigger than I expected.”

I still don’t know how the boardwalk doesn’t get covered in sand. However, Janessa said it was a “windy day” even though there was barely a gentle breeze, so maybe the fierce gusts of wind that sting your legs and bury your things in the sand just don’t happen on the East Coast?

Thought #2: “Wow, that beach is tiny.”

I wanted to swim, but Janessa kept looking for a place to “put our stuff.”

“Can’t we just set it over by that dune?” I asked.

“Oh no! It’s a thing, here. You have to find a specific plot of land, and lay out your beach towels, and set your things on the beach towels. Then that is your spot. After you swim you go back to your spot and lie in the sun for a while.”

We staked out a spot amidst the other beach-goers, and I laughed, imagining doing that on the vast Oregon beaches.

Thought #3: “That is a huge wave.”

I don’t know where I got the idea that the Atlantic has tiny waves. The Atlantic just had one wave and it was huge, its vast bulk breaking right on the shore instead of comfortably far out in the ocean. I was terrified. But I really, really wanted to swim in the Ocean, and Janessa was wading in like it was no big deal.

“We have to go out past where the wave is breaking if we want to swim,” she said.

Finally, the mystery of how people swim in the ocean was solved. They go out PAST where the waves break. I was sure the water out there was going to be far over my head, but it wasn’t.

“I can do this. I can do this.” I told my trembling body as the swells picked me off my feet and then gently set me down again before breaking between me and the beach.

And then the yellow wall of death broke right over me, and I was at the mercy of the water, and I couldn’t do this after all.

We later learned that a hurricane had come through that weekend, making the waves bigger and the beach smaller, and pebbly where it was usually sandy. Despite that, the water was perfectly safe for swimming in. I just didn’t know how to handle big waves. You have to jump through them, not into them. I watched people, trying to memorize their technique.

“How hard did you get hit?” Janessa asked, worried, as I lay on the towel. “Do you have a concussion?”

“No, I think my headache is from inhaling water,” I said. “I just want to lie down.”

I’d only rested for a few minutes when something landed on me and I felt a small pinch. Then another, and another. I sat up. “Are these flies biting us?”

“Um, yeah,” said Janessa, slapping her arm to dislodge an offending fly.

Goodness. What else could go wrong? I started laughing, and she joined me. We laughed and laughed as the flies swarmed around us, biting faster than we could dislodge them, and I began pulling handfuls of pebbles out of my swimwear.

“I’m so sorry!” said Janessa. “I wanted to give you your first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean, and your first chance to swim in the ocean, and you’ve just had a horrible time.”

We continued to laugh at the utter ridiculousness of it all.

“You know,” I said later, as we strolled down the beach so the flies wouldn’t bite us, “I faced my fear and it was just as awful as I was afraid it would be. But I’m okay. I mean, I got salt water up my nose and a swimsuit full of rocks but I’m perfectly fine.”

We thought there should be some grand life metaphor in that, somewhere, but we couldn’t find it at the moment. So we strolled down the boardwalk, and got ice cream, and enjoyed what was left of our beach day.

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The River Beckons

river 4

I love the way the river smells.

I love the way it feels to guide the course of a canoe with a small flick of my paddle. I love being on the water, maneuvering around rocky islands thick with birds and wildflowers.

river 7

As a middle kid in a large-ish family, it was very difficult to find things that I was better at than my siblings. I particularly remember one day when I spent an entire afternoon learning to skateboard. Then Ben came along, thought it looked like fun, and gave it a try. Within fifteen minutes or so he was better at it than I was.

For some reason, paddling a canoe was the one non-artsy thing I was good at.

river 9

My family used to take canoe trips down the Willamette River every summer. On Saturday my sister Amy, intent on showing her friend Aemie all the delights of Oregon during their short visit, arranged for us to take an old-fashioned family canoe trip.

river 8

Ben, Aemie, and Amy were in the purple canoe. Amy, who was the photographer of the trip, didn’t want any pictures taken of her because of her ugly rain coat, but I assure you she came along.

river 1

Also on the trip was my roommate Ashlie, who was particularly good at madly steering the canoe from the front when I began daydreaming and drifting near the bank.

river 3

I feel so lucky to live next to this river.

Let’s Camp Here Forever and Never Go Home

“Going on a trip is kinda like eating at a buffet,” said Ben. “Do you get a little of everything or a lot of a few things that you really love?”

Our camping trip was definitely the “a little of everything” variety. We drove up and down the southern Oregon coast, seeing everything there was to see. Ben clutched a well-worn travel book, stopping in the middle of back roads to thumb through and make sure we were going the right way.

“How do you know about all these cool places?” I asked.

“I don’t know. If people mention a cool place I try to remember it. I figure I’m not gonna live in Oregon forever, so I should see these cool places before I go.”

I agreed, wholeheartedly. Honestly I think it was Instagram and the rising popularity of “adventuring” that made me realize how dreadfully I was taking for granted the beauty of my own state. And I don’t plan to live here forever either. Ben’s going on to grad school, but I’m getting my degree, Lord willing, in less than a year, and who knows where I’ll go from there?

One of the first places we stopped, and one of my favorite places of the whole trip, was Cape Arago. I took pictures, but they only give the dimmest view of what the place was like, so I’ll turn to word descriptions instead.

Ben and I slogged down the muddy trails through the trees and brush, then came to an opening where we got a view of the sea. That was my first glimpse of how unreal the geology of the place was. “I don’t understand those rocks!” I said. “Is that the remains of something man-made? If not, why are those lines so parallel?”

I finally concluded that sediment had been laid down in layers, and then the whole ground had tipped about 60 degrees and weathered down flat.

Perhaps it doesn’t sound weird, but as we hiked the trails and looked down the cliffs, it was a sight unlike I’d ever seen before. At the bottom of the cliffs, instead of the frothy ocean, I saw a striped floor about level with the sea. Waves would roll over it, catching in crevices and spilling over ridges in little waterfalls. It was like an optical illusion. I couldn’t tell how deep the water was there. Could a person explore the striped area? Was the water tame and ankle deep, or were some of the crevices deep? Would the water lap at your feet, or push you over?

The trail wound around these bizarre geological formations, as well as little beaches, hidden in the crooks of the cliffs, that were impossible to get to. It ended at Shore Acres State Park, which was once owned by a rich and powerful family. I guess the rich and powerful family’s fancy home must have burned down, but the beautiful gardens remain, as well as the cozy-looking gardener’s cottage.

Beyond the garden there was a path, leading to one of those tiny beaches hidden in the cliffs.

Ben told me that the trick to finding cheap or free campsites was to look in the national forest for places that did not have RV accommodations. Accordingly, we drove up into the mountains that night to find our remote campsite.

“Woah!” said Ben. “Check out that river!”

It was on the driver’s side, so I couldn’t see it. Ben pulled over. The river was phenomenal. The color of gel toothpaste.

Of course on the way back down the next morning I was on the river side and could gaze at it through the canyon, all the way down the mountain. The sun streamed down through the morning sky.

It rained the first night, unsurprisingly, and we rigged a tarp over our tent, cleverly using sticks and clothespins to secure it in place. The pounding rain lulled me right to sleep, but Ben told me the next morning that it had kept him awake. Too loud, he said.

We forgot pillows, of all things. And toilet paper, but I took a wad out of a rest area bathroom and we were fine. We had a long discussion about what was the worst possible thing to forget on a camping trip. Sleeping bags, we decided. Or possibly a tent. But probably sleeping bags, because we could have technically slept in the car, if it came to that.

The second night we were in an entirely different national forest along an entirely different river, but oddly enough it had the same toothpaste color as the first river. Does anyone know what makes rivers that color?

In any case, we camped right down by the river. I had this view when I woke up.

I wandered around with a mug of tea, watching the morning fog shiver through the trees, and I sort of wished we weren’t seeing so many pretty things, because I wanted to stay for a long time.

Instead, we took off again in Ben’s little Honda, and saw all the things. Like the pirate cove in Boardman State Park.

Or the Oregon Redwoods, where I forgot my camera.

I did get a few hours to sit on a beach and read, while Ben went on a hike. I found a pavilion made out of driftwood that sheltered me from the wind, and drank tea, and just absorbed the beauty.

Tomorrow I go back to being a scholar. That’s okay. The adventure-craving part of my soul has been satisfied for a while.

Adventure Boots

“Do you think I should take my rubber boots on this trip?” I asked my brother Ben, as we planned our camping adventures.

“You might as well, if there’s room in the car,” said Ben. “They might come in handy.”

Sure enough, the first trail we hiked was soggy and muddy. I ran back to the car to change from my tennis shoes into my boots. Ben, who had no boots, stepped in a particularly bad patch and was in mud up to his ankle.

“I am literally the girl in the red rubber boots!” I thought happily as I skipped down the trails, stomping through the wettest patches just because.

I guess I’m just full of adventures these days. Last week I went to the Redwoods with some friends I barely knew, and this week I went to the southern Oregon coast with my brother Ben. I mean, I was lucky enough to get two weeks of spring break this year, so why not? Ben reads all the Bill Sullivan books and finds the loveliest places.

I lost my heart to Cape Blanco, though. We went there because it’s the westernmost point in Oregon, but I loved it because it looked like how I imagine the Scottish highlands might look.

The rolling green meadows sloped down to the ocean. “Ben! Let’s go down to the beach!”

“I think there’s a path around here somewhere,” he said. But we couldn’t find it.

“Ben! What’s that little white building over there, on the hill below the lighthouse?”

“I don’t know, maybe it’s a WWII bunker.”

“Let’s go check it out!”

“You go–there’s no path, and I don’t want to get my shoes all wet.”

I lolloped off, once again so happy to have brought my boots. It reminded me of being a kid again, and how exciting rubber boots were. I still remember my first pair. They were purple, with yellow soles. You could go anywhere in boots. Boots were for adventuring in.

I didn’t even have red rubber boots when I titled my blog, and I only now have a pair because I wanted to live up to my blog title. I wore them as a fashion statement at first, but now, more and more, am actually wearing them for practical things like slogging through muddy grass.

I went up to the funky bunker thingy and looked inside. I have no clue what it was there for, but I sort-of wished I could clean it out and live in it.

From there I made my way down to the beach, which was nestled snugly into a curve of the cape. It was only when I reached the beach that I saw the path. It was a faint thing, winding up the meadow and looking for all the world like the lovely little paths in The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle.

And so I trudged up the path, and thought two thoughts: “I am glad I brought my boots,” and, “I am going to come back here and write and write.”

Just a note about this blog: I never wanted to start a separate Facebook page for my blog because that felt, I don’t know, vain or something, but I’ve finally decided to go ahead and do it. Mainly because I want people to be able to subscribe to this blog without A. having to check their email, or B. friending me on Facebook and getting all my non-blog-post updates in their feed. So if you want to subscribe to me via Facebook you can go to https://www.facebook.com/emilysmuckerblog/ and “like” the page.

I’ll still be posting my blog posts to my personal page as well.

The Redwoods Expedition (Part 2)

(Read part 1 here)

I woke up to the sun streaming through the windows of Elaine’s van, shining on the orange pillows and vintage suitcases.

“Yes! Maybe it will finally warm up in here,” I thought, curling deeper into my sleeping bag. It had been a rather cold night.

I heard a rustle of tent and a rattle of pans. Sitting up, I saw Ashlie and Laurel walking around the campsite doing useful things like boiling water. I assumed Elaine was still asleep, because the blue sleeping bag at my feet had a large lump in it. I’d hoped the sun would warm the inside of the van like an oven, but that wasn’t happening. Oh well. If I was going to be cold anyway, I might as well get up.

Surprisingly, it was warmer outside than in the van. Which was great because we didn’t have much firewood.

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Photo Credit: Elaine Stoltzfus

It was so interesting to me how, with so little communication beforehand, we ended up with everything we needed. Ashlie brought an aeropress, Laurel brought a propane camp stove, I brought mugs, Elaine brought a pan, and we all brought tea bags. I was so proud that I’d remembered to bring camp chairs, until I opened them up and discovered that two of them were child sized.

“Don’t worry, they fit me perfectly,” said Elaine, plopping down in one. She was much smaller in person than I’d imagined she’d be.

We ate yogurt with granola and fruit, then shoved our motley crew of coolers and food boxes back into my car. We pulled out the maps of hiking trails that we’d procured, and tried to decide between the myriad of hikes available.

Photo Credit: Ashlie DeHart


“How far is it to the beach?” asked Elaine.

“Like, four miles,” Laurel decided, examining the map scale.

“So an eight mile hike, all together,” said Ashlie.

We decided to take a shorter hike of maybe three miles or so, come back to camp for lunch, and then drive to the beach. “This one looks nice,” said Elaine, pointing to the map. Cathedral trees trail.

And it was really just breathtaking.

We hopped off the trails to walk along fallen logs or climb into hollow trees. We felt like elves. Hobbits. Little ants, sometimes.


Photo Credit: Ashlie DeHart


“You can’t instagram this kind of life!” gushed Elaine.

Which was kinda true, because all our phones died. Except Ashlie’s. We all stole her photos later.

We had to pay eight bucks for beach access, which made us Oregon girls mutter under our breath about those Californians. “It’s not even that great of a beach,” said Laurel, who lives in Bandon and is an expert on these things.

Still, the beach is the beach.

Ashlie and I dozed in the warm sand. Laurel wandered around, exploring, avoiding the water because she’d only brought one pair of pants. Elaine cartwheeled into the waves.

Photo Credit: Ashlie Dehart


Time didn’t matter.

I didn’t know when I’d gone to bed, gotten up, or eaten lunch. I didn’t know how long I’d hiked, or dozed on the beach. We had no cell phone service, and most of our phones had run out of battery anyway. Normally I live a life where I must be in class at precisely 10:00 a.m. and papers are due online at 11:59 p.m. on the dot, and it was really, really nice to get away from that for a while.

Still, the sun eventually sank towards the ocean. We gathered driftwood to supplement our dwindling firewood supply, and Elaine bundled it into her gypsy scarf and carried it to the car.

Photo Credit: Ashlie Dehart


“We know each other pretty well now,” said Elaine as we sat around our campfire that evening, cooking up an odd concoction of bacon, onions, and lentils. “So I have an idea. Let’s go around and say what kind of guy each of us needs.”

This made for an interesting discussion, but the impractical aspect was that none of us really knew anyone who fit the blissful descriptions we spit forth. “I know someone who would be perfect for Elaine, only he’s married,” said Ashlie.

Everyone who I get matched with is already married,” said Elaine bitterly.

“Oh! I know someone who’s perfect for you!” I said, suddenly inspired. “I don’t remember his name. I’ll look him up on Facebook when I get home!”

I did. He’s in a relationship with someone else. Blast.

That night Laurel slept in the back seat of my car and Ashlie, Elaine, and I crowded into Elaine’s van. We piled blankets on top of ourselves and put extra sleeping bags underneath us and made a pillow barrier between us and the cold wall of the van. “I feel like a stick shoved inside a marshmallow,” I thought, as I struggled to even turn over.

But I was warm. Gloriously warm, all night long.

The next morning we drank more tea and ate more yogurt, and then went on a shorter hike. Our era of blissful timelessness was ending, because we had to check out of the camp by noon.

We made a thousand plans for camping trips of the future, but flying by the seat of our pants as we do, none of them are set in stone. So we packed up our things. Hugged. Said “goodbye,” and “next time,” and “I’ll miss you.”

Elaine took her gypsy van and drove south, and Laurel, Ashlie and I climbed back in my car and drove north to Oregon and home again.

 

 

The Redwoods Expedition (Part 1)

I resented daylight savings when I got up early Monday morning to take my last final of the term, but as evening rolled around I was so thankful for it. “Maybe we’ll have just enough time to set up our tent before it gets dark,” said Ashlie, leaning over the seat. I held my phone upside down, because I heard somewhere that you get better service that way, and I still didn’t know where we were going to set up camp.

I was trying to get ahold of Elaine, who I knew from the internet but had never officially met. “I’m going to California for a wedding in March,” she’d told me weeks before. “Do you want to camp in Yosemite with me?”

“Yosemite is pretty far away. How about something close, like the southern Oregon coast, or the Redwoods?”

“REDWOODS!!!” she wrote back.

So we decided to go camping in the redwoods.

Photo Credit: Ashlie DeHart

I asked my friend Ashlie to come along, and she asked her friend Laurel. The three of us planned to drive south and meet Elaine in the redwoods early Monday evening. Which was great, except my nose was buried so deep in my finals that I didn’t quite hash out all the details, and we ended up on the road without any idea where exactly we were meeting Elaine.

“It’s okay,” I thought, “I’ll just call her on the drive down.”

Well. Apparently southern Oregon and northern California don’t have much in the way of cell phone service.

After several phone calls that got cut short when one or both of us moved out of service, we resorted to texting, hashing out whether we wanted to find a place to camp for free or pay California’s ridiculous campground fee. The sun sank lower and lower in the sky, and the evening fog rolled over the trees.

“Look, here’s a campground,” said Laurel. “Let’s just camp here.”

“Okay,” I said. “Let me text Elaine the name of it.”

We drove in circles for a bit trying to find service. “Here!” I said as one bar popped up on my screen. Laurel slammed on the breaks. I texted Elaine the name of the campground and the color of my car, but of course we didn’t know what campsite we were at yet.

Laurel, Ashley, and I set up that tent faster than I have ever set up a tent in my life. Just as we were about to drive back to the spot with service and text Elaine our campsite number, a white van pulled up.

The driver rolled their window down, but it was too dark to see who it was. “Are you Elaine?” I asked.

“Yes! I’m so glad I found you! It’s getting dark and scary!”

There was only a sliver of light left in the sky. Elaine built a campfire, and Laurel pulled out her 1-burner propane stove and boiled some water for tea.

“I’m so hungry! What should we make for supper?” I asked.

We’d all brought piles of random food, including lots of fruit and veggies that mercifully hadn’t been seized at the California border. We dumped my chicken, Ashlie’s cabbage, and Elaine’s wild rice into a frying pan to create a sort of stir fry. Huddled by the fire, we ate food and talked about everything.

The four of us barely knew each other before that night, but in the middle of the redwoods, we were exactly the same in all the ways that mattered.

It was perfect.

“It’s not even raining!” I said. “It’s been raining here for weeks. Rain was predicted for today, but I prayed that it would be dry.”

As the fire died down, we all got sleepy at the same time. We boxed up all the food and shoved it into my car so as not to attract bears. Ashlie and Laurel crawled into the tent, while Elaine and I climbed into the back of her amazing gypsy van. All the bench seats were removed, replaced with piles of pillows and blankets.

“I don’t like to get cold,” she explained.

I didn’t either. We piled blankets on ourselves and chatted idly about life until we drifted off to sleep.

(Read part 2 here)

 

 

The Longest Christmas of my Life

Hour 1.0 to hour 8.5

One last time, I slept on Amy’s brown leather couch, the soft tropical breezes drifting through the screen door. I rarely have insomnia when I’m in Thailand. Or maybe I do, but the night is so beautiful through the wide windows that I don’t even notice.

I dreamed that I was babysitting a young boy, and I glibly mentioned the myth of Santa Claus. He was horrified. His mother came rushing in. “No no! She’s just kidding!”

But the boy refused to be comforted. “How could you lie to me?”

I felt terrible.

So I guess in a sense I had a Christmas dream.

Hour 8.5 to hour 13

We’d already given our gift to each other, but we decided to try for a traditional Smucker Christmas in every other respect.

Amy took on the role of Dad, and made turtle pancakes for breakfast.

We ate the pancakes with honey and mangoes.

Then Amy got her Bible, and we sat around and recited the Christmas story. Normally it’s Jenny who has the Bible and keeps us on track–so I guess Amy took on all sorts of different roles that morning.

It was a very lazy morning. We were already packed from the day before. In an effort to not have to unpack, I’d hand-washed a few of my things and set them out to dry overnight.

Unfortunately, it happened to rain during the night, and the morning was damp and cloudy instead of the usual hot and bright. I brought in my wet things, lay them over a chair, and aimed the fan at them.

They still didn’t dry very fast.

“Maybe you can dry them in the toaster oven,” said Amy.

So I dried my clothes in the toaster oven.

Hour 13 to hour 15.5

As soon as the lady at the airport check-in desk saw us, her face fell into a look of sympathetic recognition. “Ok?” she asked, making a circle with her thumb and forefinger.

“I think so,” I said, handing her our passports.

She scanned them, and then looked visibly relieved. “Ok!” she said, smiling.

We set our suitcases on the scales. The zipper on our big suitcase had busted on the way over, so we’d replaced it with a somewhat flimsy zippered plastic bag. “Can you tape this up at all?” I asked. Amy hadn’t had any tape.

“No, I’m sorry, I don’t have any tape.”

I said a prayer over the flimsy bag, and we watched it roll down the belt and out of sight beyond the dangling rubber flaps.

Hour 15.5 to hour 19

This flight played a cute Chinese movie called “Love Simply,” and it had large easily-readable English subtitles.

It was about a single mom who still had posters of a musician named Fan Zi that she was really into in the ’90s. Her daughter didn’t know who her real dad was, so when she had to give a report at school about her dad, she said that Fan Zi was her dad.

The kids didn’t believe her, so she said that she would get her dad to sing a song for the school.

So then of course the mom tried to track down Fan Zi and get him to sing for the school, and then they kind-of fell in love, but then the mom got engaged to this other guy who was a good friend but also pretty weird but also quite rich, and drama drama.

I missed the end of the movie because I had to use the bathroom.

Hour 19 to hour 23

Do we follow the signs for international transfers, or for baggage claim? We were told in Chiang Mai to pick up our bags in Shanghai and re-check them. But we were transferring to another international flight.

We tried international transfers first. “No no, go that way!” The lady told us when she saw that we didn’t have a boarding pass. So we went that way.

“This isn’t Shanghai, is it?” said the guy behind us.

“Yeah it is. I mean, it’s Pudong airport, but it’s in Shanghai. I guess there must be multiple airports here.”

“Oh, okay, because I heard her say…that word…and I was like, ‘that’s not Shanghai.'”

The guy–I never caught his name so I’ll call him Chris–was from Toronto, the type of guy who likes to travel the world and jump off as many tall things as possible.

“What were you doing in Thailand?” we asked him.

“Dude, I was in Southern Thailand, that city’s basically like Las Vegas, full of debauchery, and then one night I was drunk and someone was talking about doing yoga and I thought that was a good idea so I went with my gut and decided to be a yoga teacher. I spent the next thirty days basically living like a monk. It was radical, man!”

We had a bit of an issue getting through immigration. Some higher-up had to come check our papers. But eventually we got through, picked up our bags–still intact!–re-checked them, got boarding passes, and went back through immigration to our gate.

We still had 50 Chinese Yuan, equal to $7.74, that we’d saved from our Chinese adventure because we thought we’d be spending 12 hours in Chinese airports on layovers. Ben rested with our stuff while I went looking for something to buy.

You know how stores in international airport terminals are. Lots of designer handbags, fancy chocolates, and stereotypically Chinese-looking designs printed on teapots, silk scarves, and fans. There wasn’t much I could buy with seven bucks.

Until, there it was. A tiny convenience store crammed in among the fancy designer perfume stores, stocked with authentic-looking Chinese junk food.

I grabbed a bottle of peach tea, a bag of odd cookie-type things, and a triangular seaweed and rice treat that I’d seen in a Korean drama once. And then I turned around and saw, of all things, Kinder Surprise eggs! I was beyond excited. My aunt used to bring us these from overseas, as they are banned in the US.

 

Yes, all of this cost less than 7 bucks.

 

We still had money left over, so Ben ran off to buy another peach tea and a box of Kit Kat-like bars. I opened my kinder surprise egg. It wasn’t quite like the kinder surprise eggs of my youth.

Instead of a chocolate egg with a toy inside, there was a plastic egg with a toy in one half and chocolate in the other. Oh well, It was still yummy.

My toy was a little bunny with a ring that could fit around its neck or on your finger.

As we got ready to board our flight, Chris came along. “Hey, do you want some Chinese rice cakes with icing?” I asked him. (That’s what the bag of cookie-type things turned out to be.)

“No thank you,” he said. “Do you want some chocolates?”

He held out a box of fancy chocolates from one of the fancy shops. Each was shaped like a different animal. I chose one shaped like a monkey. Ben chose one shaped like a duck.

“Thank you!”

“No problem, man.”

We chatted with him as we boarded the plane. He showed us pictures of the cliffs he’d bungee jumped off of. We talked about Chinese grandmothers shoving people out of their way.

“I wish I’d brought some socks, man,” he said. “It’s cold. I brought shoes, but no socks.”

“I have some socks!” said Ben, yanking a pair out of his backpack. “They’re kind of old, but they’re clean.”

“Seriously? That’s awesome, man!”

“Merry Christmas!”

“Hey!” I said. “We all got Christmas presents today. You got socks, and Ben and I got chocolates.”

Although we realized later that Ben had given away a pair of Steven’s socks.

Hour 23 to hour 33

As you can imagine, I was very tired at this point. I wanted to go to sleep but I knew we were going to eat soon, so I finished watching The Great Gatsby, which I’d started on the way to Thailand.

An okay movie, but it didn’t seem nearly as nuanced and subtle as the book.

Then I finished watching Love Simply.

Spoiler alert: They ended up together. (Although the hilarious thing was that when he did his grand proposal with all her friends dancing along in support, one of those friends was the ex-fiance.)

We ate, and I tried to sleep. A kid behind me was yelling and yelling and would. not. shut. up.

I got up again and watched Paper Towns. Ben went to sleep. I prayed and prayed that he would sleep well, so that he could drive us home, since I knew I’d be unable to.

Tried to sleep again. Now the kid was screaming and crying, a relentless wail that would not end.

I watched It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, which seemed an appropriate thing to watch on a sleepless night after traveling to foreign places.

All in all I only got about one or two hours of sleep, off and on. But God answered my prayers and Ben got a solid 6 hours.

Hour 34 to hour 39

We stood at the carousel and watched for our bags. First came the sturdy bag, right as rain. Then, around the corner came the flimsy bag, burst open, it’s contents spilled across the belt.

Frantically I searched for the most precious thing that had been in the bag; my diary. There it was! I grabbed it, and then tripped over other people and other bags as we ran alongside the carousel, retrieving my flip-flops and my electric kettle and Ben’s copy of Searching for God Knows What. 

Everything was there. It must have valiantly held together the entire trip, only to burst at the last minute when it was tossed onto the carousel.

Our Last Hard Thing was crossing the boarder from Canada to the US. We waited inside while the officers searched our car from bonnet to boot.

Mom once had a very bad experience making this crossing, because she forgot to declare her apples from Thailand. They showed her capsules of activated charcoal they’d unearthed, and said accusingly, “is this heroin?”

I thought of every possible thing they could bust me for. Was the barley tea I brought too seed-like? I had a couple unlabeled mineral supplement pills, would they think that was drugs?

But they told us we were fine, and could go.

“Merry Christmas!” I shouted as I exited the door.

I felt sorry for them, having to work on Christmas Day.

I dozed off and on the rest of the way home.

“Hey Ben!” I said, “It’s the last minute of Christmas!”

He didn’t say anything. He was busy looking for a gas station.

Hour -3

We finally got home at 2:30 a.m. The moon reflected on the fog and lit up the night.

I went into the kitchen to get some food. When I saw the leftovers, I laughed. Smuckers celebrate Christmas the same all over the world, I guess.