Tonight, Tonight . . . won’t be just any night!

T-minus . . . ZERO! We have liftoff!

Today is the day you’ve all been waiting for! Yippee! Yahoo! Yea! Alright! Yeehaw!

Okay, okay, settle down. The Journey East group arrives back home tonight! Family and friends will be on hand at Bradley airport (Hartford, CT) as the gang bursts through the doors with smiles of satisfaction and relief! What a wonderful moment for all on hand! Cherish is the word . . .

We have FINAL PERFORMANCE photos!! We also have reports from Kim Stafford and Elise Stine. But first let’s read Tom’s final remarks from China, minutes before they leave for the airport. By the way, as you read this, the group is in the air, on their way home . . .

I'm sitting here in the hotel business center feeling a little like Edward R. Murrow or Lowell Thomas might have felt in many years past. We're finishing up with the packing, hoping that we won't be overweight on any of our bags, trying to get the last scrolls into our bags in such a way that they won't be crushed. Beautiful, sunny day here now after a couple of days of rain. We lucked out? with shopping yesterday. Silk Alley, (shopping mecca) will be closed for the next three days for "security reasons." No idea what that means, exactly. Do know that the U.S. Embassy is less than a brick's throw from Silk Alley. Periodically, there have been piles of bricks strategically placed within that compound. (1999 after the bombing of the PRC Embassy in Belgrade, for example). The American flag is clearly visible over the wall and barbed wire less than 100 feet from where we shopped yesterday. Based on what we see on CNN here in Beijing, anything could be happening. It's been nice not having CNN available for most of the last four weeks.

Surprised at the apparent openness here on SARS. It's on the news channels and in the papers. China appears to be on top of the situation and is clearly being much more open about it and more prepared to deal with it than it was a year or so ago. Frankly, it is not something that we are concerned about or something that we think we need to be concerned about at this point.

Leslie Li, who lives in Saxtons River and in New York wrote a book entitled "Bittersweet." I've used the term with our students many times over the past few months. I'm not sure that many of them had the "bittersweet" experience prior to now. They now have more than a dictionary definition of the term. Their experience has broadened. They are growing up. They've experienced some real joy, happiness, close personal relationships with Chinese and Mongolian kids and the pain associated with parting. It's beautiful and sad, at the same time, to watch the process. I've truly enjoyed being with this group. They have been fun to be with and it has been a pleasure to watch them come to truly enjoy immersing themselves in a culture that I must have been born into in an earlier life.

See you at 9:14 pm in Hartford. Tom

Now let’s read the final two student reports from Kim and Elise:

April 24, 2004

Today began with an aching in my stomach and in my heart. Looking back, an indescribable feeling of sadness, pride, happiness and love fills all my senses. I continue to peel through the layers of memories I have gathered throughout the trip and through the connections I have made. As rich as they all are, there will never be a feeling comparable to the one I had in leaving Hohhot.

After breakfast we went sightseeing and then shopping in Hohhot and then headed back to the hotel to get ready for the final banquet. As soon as that began, the exchange of letters, feelings and gifts began and lasted through the meal. We shared songs that ended in tears; we shot photos, whispered words and gave hugs with tears.

Qi Muge, a voice student at the performing arts college, will always be part of my life: This I know. I may never understand how we connected, but because we did, I embrace her friendship. Teacher Sun, a great woman whom I will miss, was beginning to cry while she translated for Qi Muge who was saying that no matter where I am she will send her blessing to me everyday and that I will be in her heart forever. Qi Muge and all the others I grew close to in Hohhot-Lin Ruigi, Tian Yuan, Na Qing, Si Li-are all friends now and I'll never forget them. We're connected now.

Once again, my path has been changed. Once again, traveling has affected me so deeply that I'm compelled once again to try to figure out who I am. At this point in life I am so young: I feel I will never know what I'm supposed to do or see, or whom I supposed to meet. But as Tom says: "Life's a ride: You have to jump on and go where it takes you." At least I know that my life will lead me back to this beautiful country and its extraordinary people.

I thought, having been to Japan and knowing the routine of goodbyes, that it might be easier to leave here, but it's not. The only comfort comes in knowing that my return to China is inevitable. I don't remember a time when I've cried so much because of happiness and unbearable sadness -- all at once. I know part of me will be left in China and that I will take part of China home with me.

-- Kim Stafford

April 25, 2005

For me leaving Hohhot appeared to be the hardest thing we have done yet. As we left the airport at an early hour once again, you could see the people fighting off tears while some of them clung to the friends that they would most likely never see again. We had said our goodbyes, and most off us cried as our friends left us the night before, but due to there undying hospitality, some of our closer buddies cried with us again that morning as they saw us off. Tom said leaving them would be bittersweet, and it was.

As the day moved along we arrived at the same Beijing hotel where we had spent our first nights in China. We all unpacked the few clean clothes we had left and prepared for a visit to the Summer Palace, a delicious lunch and dinner, a small host family visit, and unfortunately, the first bit of bad weather we had seen yet.

Today’s lunch was my favorite I think I’ve had yet. We had a dish, in my words called, “Chinese hash browns.” This looked like shredded potatoes with hot peppers, and other yummy unidentifiable seasonings. We also had a fried apple for dessert. I don’t think it made itself around the “lazy Susan” more than once: Everyone likes them so much, that they were gone as soon as they were set down. Everything we have here is so different from what we usually get at home, but we have become used to the flavors and have developed certain favorites we look forward to. There are on the other hand many things we do miss at our luxurious table each night such as cheese, Mexican, and hamburgers. So parents, get ready, cause we have developed quite an appetite here.

The Summer Palace was beautiful like all of the sites we have visited. But I would have to say it was my favorite attraction I’ve seen yet. The beautiful park welcomed us in with green trees. As we walked farther into its maze of buildings and pagodas, we came upon a beautiful lake, which we crossed later on a boat. Due to the weather we only had a partial view of the beautiful land, but in the fog on the lake, we all stayed comfortable as Janet serenaded us beautiful jazz tunes. We were sad to leave the familiar smell of the lush trees that reminded us of summer and home, but also very grateful to get out of the rain.

Many people have used the rain as a metaphor for going home. Some say China is telling us after a month of beautiful weather our time has come, or that the rain is cleaning us out of China’s system: She’s had enough of us. Others say China is just sorry to see us go. Most of us would say, though, that we have not nearly had enough of this interesting and beautiful land, and that ---despite the weather --we sorry to leave.

-- Elise Stine

Note: Well, all. I think Harrison’s [report] will have to be sent from Chicago—if I can find an Internet haunt at the airport—or maybe from Williamsville. It’s an absolutely glorious morning in Beijing. All are in good spirits, eating one last Chinese breakfast, packing the goodies they’ve bought for you in Beijing, feeling a little melancholy, but really excited about seeing you all again. Until then . . . Ann Landenberger

This is what we’ve been talking about. The education and tools these kids have gained through this journey will touch many lives in their future. Powerful, powerful stuff . . .

And now, settle back and let’s enjoy some fabulous photos of our Journey East 2004 troupe’s final performance in China!

Wow, wow, and WOW! Un-be-live-a-ble ! ! ! ! ! These photos bring all of the glorious magnificence of the collaborative performance work with the Inner Mongolians. I know each of you are sitting there looking at these photos in complete awe - speechless - and appropriately so! Wow.

Well, tomorrow we’ll have confirmation of the group’s safe arrival back in the states. We’ll also wrap up any final reports, information, and reflection on this journey. For those of you that took the quiz, the answers (as if any of you will need them!) will be revealed.

Don’t forget, the Journey East 2004 welcome home performance is this Saturday, May 1st. Show time is 7:30pm. Don’t miss it!

See you tomorrow, one more time . . .