Ok a little background first... When I was an exchange student to The Netherlands (1997-1998) I immediately hit it off w/ a girl from Australia. We immediately became friends and were just inseparable. Her name is Amy. We literally had THE best times together: taking pictures, hilarious videos, telling stories, travelling, and just simply getting to know each other. It was no surprise to me when we instantly became best friends. We even got matching tattoos! The sad thing, though, was that we lived across the world from each other. When we went back to our respective homes we still spoke occasionally, emailed, etc, but we missed each other terribly.
So how surprising was it when I walked into my house one Friday evening in June of 2000 and saw Amy standing in my kitchen!! I about DIED!! (It had been 2 years since we saw each other last.) She came to surprise me for my high school graduation. Boy...what a fun couple of weeks we had! I showed her all over our town, introduced her to some American high school partying (tee hee), and just had fun catching up. We even got to go down to my cousin's (Leah & James) wedding in San Francisco. Of course, I couldn't be away from her for long, so I planned my trip to go visit her. Instead of going to Australia to visit her, though, I went to Singapore in April 2002 (another 2 years since we'd seen each other). Her parents moved there for a few years b/c of her dad's job, so she went with them. I'll never forget the 100 degrees and 100% humidity that met me coming off that airplane!
Singapore was absolutely amazing. It was my first exposure to driving on the opposite side of the road...which scared the absolute you-know-what out of me when Amy had me sit in the front seat of our taxi! We did so much on that trip...went to the Fountain of Welth (which has yet to "bless" me!), went to Bintan Island in Indonesia, had high-tea in a skyscraper, went on boats, saw SO many touristy things, and just enjoyed one of the cleanest countries in the world. (Oh yeah, and that was right smack dab in the middle of the whole SARS scare. Let me tell you though, that during my entire trip I only saw like 2 or 3 people wearing masks!)
Just over 2 years later Amy came back to the states to be one of the two maids of honor in our big wedding. (Yeah we were already married, but no one really knew that at the time.) :o) She flew here to MT and we drove down through Yellowstone to CA. I took her all over So Cal...sightseeing and doing touristy things. It was so much fun. Then, of course, the wedding, which still to this day was the funnest day of my life.
So back to now...it's been since 2004 since we've seen each other. TOO DANG LONG!!! I was extatic when she called me just about a year ago and told me she was finally getting married. I mean, my gosh, she'd been with Adam for years!! :) They planned their wedding for the day after Dustin's and my anniversary...easy for me to remember! And her parents graciously paid for my ticket to get there. We wanted Dustin to go with me, but he'd taken too much time off work for all of Brooke's surgeries so he didn't have any extra leave. So it was going to be a solo trip. I searched and searched for the cheapest tickets. Believe it or not, it was cheaper to have a long lay-over in an Asian country than it was just to go straight from LA to Sydney. Heck, my favorite thing to do is travel so why not have two long layovers!!! I found a ticket from LA to Sydney, via a 12- and 18-hour layover there and back, respectively, in Beijing, China! I'll take it!!! That ticket, PLUS my ticket from Billings to LA was LESS than a ticket from just LA directly to Sydney. Quite the deal...and I was so proud of myself for finding it! :)
I researched all there is to do in Beijing, then realized I needed a Chinese Visa AND a visitor's Visa for Australia. So I got those, got a small Beijing travel book, and was on my way!! I was gone from home for exactly 2 weeks, but was only in Australia for 10 days. I was taken to the airport by Dustin and the girls on Wednesday the 17th of October around 10am, flew to Denver, then got to LA at 2pm. I got to see my grandma and some family for about 9 hours, then my Air China flight left at 1:30am that night (which was now Thurs the 18th). I landed in Beijing 11 1/2 hrs later, but it was now Fri the 19th at 5:30am! Thankfully though, I was flying in the middle of the night so I could sleep on the plane and then it was morning time when we landed! Best time to take a super long flight is over-night I tell ya!!
Another thing on my bucket list was to see the Great Wall of China...not just see it, though, but to walk on it. This first lay-over in Beijing was the shorter of the two (it was just shy of 12 hrs) and I mainly used it to get my feel of the place. I had to figure out how to, first, get out of the airport; then figure out where the baggage hold was so that I didn't have to take my whole carry-on with me. Next, I had to figure out where the train left from. I'd done all my research before-hand...so I knew what I was going to do, I just had to figure out WHERE it all was. I got off the plane and just followed the people through customs, got the stamp in my passport, then kept following people through baggage claim (which, of course, my bag was obviously checked all the way through to Sydney), then search around this HUGE airport for the baggage hold. I had transferred money in LA, so all I had to do was give them my bag and some money, then look around for the train. I paid for a ticket to the main train station, got right on the train, and then got out my phone to let my family know I was ok. It was probably right around 8am in Beijing by now, but I wasn't in a hurry. I'm fairly good with the subway, as long as I have a map...which I did in my little Beijing guidebook. I made it to the subway then made my way to the Forbidden City stop. I walked around Tiananmen Square first, but didn't realize I was actually at Tiananmen Square because there were military marches, bag searches, and metal detectors! I thought I was at some sort of rally!!! I crossed the street and just stood there for a while looking around before I finally realized that you have to go through the bag checks and metal detectors just to get into the square! So that's just what I did...along w/ a whole bunch of pushy Chinese people. Seriously, it's no joke...the saying about how Chinese people don't know what personal space is is totally dead on. I just made sure to keep my purse at my front, be polite, & try as hard to blend in as I could!! Haha!
Holy cow...when they say that Chinese people are pushy, they are RIGHT. It's not a rude kind of pushy...it's just that they don't have the whole "personal space" attitude that we do. I was closer to more Chinese people that day than I ever have been! It was QUITE the culture shock.
So I made my way through the square and went to the Forbidden City.
The first entrance to the Forbidden City
I got the guided audio tour and walked through, took pictures, got my picture taken, and then realized that there is only one exit...on the total OPPOSITE side of the entrance. You can't walk back and forth in the place; you go in, walk straight, and walk out. I mean, it's absolutely HUGE, but it would have been nice to know that you can't exit where you entered. This meant a big problem once I exited the city! I needed to get back to where I entered from, because that's the area I was newly familiar with, and that's where the subway was. [The Forbidden City is this ancient rectangular "city", which is 168 acres, or 8 million square feet, surrounded by high walls and a big moat.]
So I went in, walked through it while listening to my English-speaking guided tour, then exited and started walking around the entire thing...which was just HUGE. I had no idea how else to get back to the starting point. There were quite a lot of Chinese men trying to get tourists to get on their mopheads to take them to the front but I had the time...and I was alone...so I just thought I'd walk. It was about 1pm now and I needed to get back to the airport for customs, etc for my 5pm flight. It was pretty interesting walking the blocks & blocks parallel to the City. I kept up a fairly quick pace, dodged others on the sidewalks, missed all the potholes, & dodged the Chinese men on bicycles. I finally made my way to the front of the city, then totally re-traced my steps by getting back on the subway, and went back to the airport. I made it with plenty of time to spare!
My next Air China flight from Beijing to Sydney was at 5pm Friday the 19th and was 13 hrs long. I landed on Saturday, October 20 at 8am...which, I might add, was my 31st birthday!! Ummmm...my 31st birthday in Sydney, Australia......HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!! :o) Just like the first flight, this second flight was at night, so really, my circadian rhythm wasn't off at all! If you ever need to fly, I HIGHLY recommend night flights so you can sleep and your clock won't be off at all.
I went through customs, got my bags, went through immigration, and found Amy and her parents standing there waving their arms w/ a Happy Birthday balloon and this beautiful national flower of Australia...all for me.
I tell you what, 8 1/2 years was too dang long to not see each other! It was so great seeing her and her parents again! We loaded in the car and headed to her parents house (Amy actually lives about 2+ hrs south, in the capitol, Canberra, but we were staying w/ her parents for a couple days). Her sister, Vanessa, was there, whom I'd never met before. I'd heard so much about her sisters but hadn't met them yet, because they weren't in Singapore when I visited in 2002. I settled in & took a much-needed shower. It was Saturday morning & I hadn't layed down flat since the night of Tuesday the 16th!! But I was much too excited to even think about sleep! I called home, then we left to go get Amy's other sister, Fiona, who I'd also never met, and go to a couple touristy places. We went to Bondi Beach and put our feet in the water for a bit, then we ate lunch (I had fried pineapple...yum! and tried various other "new" foods).
Then they dropped Amy and I off at the dock where they were having a street sale where I got myself a beautiful pair of earrings...something I'll wear forever & remember that awesome 31st birthday of mine! I was able to see the Sydney Opera House, the Harbor Bridge, and go on a boat ride to the other side of the bay where Amy's parents live.
When we got back we sat on their patio and had a glass of wine until dinner time, where we went to a great Greek restaurant. Amy used to be a vegetarian so this was actually the very first time I'd ever seen her eat meat! It was quite the sight for me! :)
Proof!!!! She DOES eat meat! ;o)
Sunday the 21st we woke up and went sightseeing again. We walked around Sydney, went to get me a shirt at the Hard Rock Cafe, saw some WWII ships, went in some department stores (and Yes, saw Christmas decorations up already), then went back and had an amazing lamb and pumpkin dinner made by Amy's dad.
Monday the 22nd Amy and I packed in the car and drove the just-over-2-hour drive to Canberra in the Australian Capitol Territory (ACT). It's like our version of Washington, D.C. I got to meet her son, Landon, & her fiance, Adam, for the first time. It was so surreal. I'd only ever known Amy as the single girl w/ no responsibilities. That's how we both knew each other. Neither of us had ever seen each other with a spouse (until 2004 when she came to our wedding), but most importantly, neither had ever seen each other w/ kids! Every time we talk or see each other we just pick up where we left off. But this trip was different. Yes, we totally picked up where we left off, but after that first couple of days it was like "woah...you have a FAMILY!!!" I mean, I do to, but she's never seen me w/ my family. It was very different...but an awesomely GOOD different! I'd known she was a mom since she called me & told me she was pregnant, but actually seeing her as a mom was just awesome.
And now that we were at Amy's house...let the wedding fun begin!!!!!!
...To Be Continued...