We've always wanted to take a long trip overseas to see different parts of the world, and about a year ago we came to the realization that if we didn't do it soon, we probably wouldn't get the chance again until we are much older. So we started planning, during our Christmas '99 vacation in Puerto Rico, for a year long excursion overseas.
The first decision to be made was: where should we go? Nancy would probably be happy just about anywhere so it was up to Bryan to narrow the choices down. We finally decided upon two alternatives: England, and China. England, because being a lifelong Anglophile,Bryan has always wanted to go there, and China, for several reasons: because Nancy's ethnic background is Chinese and it would be good for both of us to learn more about that, because it would give Bryan an opportunity to try to learn a new language, and, most importantly, because it would allow us to see how life is lived in a very different part of the world.
Once we had decided upon a destination, we had to decide upon a time. For Nancy, just about any time from the start of her third year of medical school to the end of her fourth year would be the best time. This narrowed it down from the summer of 2000 to the end of 2001. And for Bryan, contractual issues at Plumb Design made the beginning of 2001 the best time. So we settled upon January 2001 - October 2001, which would see us overseas for 10 months, returning just in time for Nancy to finish her fourth year of medical school and begin her residency program interviews.
For the first half of the year our preparations consisted mainly of research (done mostly by Nancy) on our options for the trip - where to live, what to do, etc. Bryan began studying Mandarin Chinese from the excellent book and tapes "Beginning Chinese" by John DeFrancis. By mid-summer we had decided upon a "home base" city in China - Beijing. We chose Beijing partly because it is a cultural and industrial center of China, but mostly because, unlike most other major Chinese cities, the common language spoken is Mandarin Chinese, which is the language that Nancy would like to learn better and that Bryan would like to learn the basics of.
In the second half of the year our plans started to come together. We found a place to live - a condo in Beijing which where we can stay for ten months - and Nancy found medical classes to attend at Beijing Medical University while Bryan found a Mandarin course to attend at the Beijing Language Institute. We had our requisite vaccinations and obtained visas - Nancy has a six month student visa and Bryan has a two month tourist visa, so one of our main goals during the first few months will be to find out how to extend our visas to cover the entire duration of the trip. We also spent this time looking into other countries to take trips to from our "home base" in Beijing - right now, Thailand, Taiwan, and Hong Kong head up our list, but as to the details - we will finalize those later. We have purposely only done enough planning for this trip to see us safely into Beijing with a place to stay and some classes to take - the rest we will let happen as it may.
In mid December 2000, things really started rolling. We started to sell off what we could, pack what we wanted, and donate the rest. For months previous to this, we had been accumulating used cardboard boxes that were no longer needed so that we could use them for packing. These boxes, which had been piling up in corners of our tiny Manhattan apartment, were finally put to use as Nancy, in a whirlwind of activity, managed to cram just about all of our worldly possessions into 30 or so boxes. Bryan said goodbye to the people he had been working with at Plumb Design since June of 1998 and walked out of the offices as an employee for the last time on December 23, after a long but rewarding day installing a new server. That night we had our last dinner in New York City at Mario Batali's 'Babbo', the restaurant that Nancy had been dying to try for more than a year. We picked up our 10-foot moving truck, packed all of the boxes, gifts, and furniture that we intended to give away into it, and drove off Sunday morning into the Holland tunnel and out of New York City. Wishing the city that we had come to love a fond farewell, we turned our eyes westward.
After holiday celebrations and family visits in Pennsylvania and Ohio, we put our 30 boxes, plus six more we acquired from storage at Bryan's sister's house, onto an Amtrak train in Pittsburgh for shipment to Oakland, California. We ourselves departed a few days later from Cleveland International Airport on a flight destined for San Jose. We stepped onto the airplane amidst swirling banks of snow and stepped off under the sunny skies of California.
This brings us to today, January 4, 2001. We're ringing in this new year with a previously unexperienced sense of excitement as our trip to China draws nearer. In the past year we have received tons of advice and help, and offers for help in China, from many friends and family members. Special thanks to Nancy's family for all of their help and encouragement. It's nice to know that while we are in China we have some safety nets to turn to, in the form of family and friends in the region, should we come up against something we can't handle.
This trip has been such a long time in planning that it is hard to believe that we are finally so close. In a few days we will leave San Francisco International Airport destined for a one day layover in Tokyo and after that, on to Beijing!
On to: Packing Up and Taking Off
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