A version of this story was published as part of monthly series that ran in the Warrensburg, MO The Daily Star Journal from Oct. 2000 through May 2001.
People have asked Sara and me many questions about our decision to spend a year teaching speech to future Chinese diplomats at the Foreign Affairs College in Beijing. Probably, the most frequently asked was, "When are you leaving?"
Ignoring the possible implication that the person was anxious to be rid of us, I still had difficulty answering. We needed to be out of our house by August 1; however, our plane was scheduled to depart on August 22. So, the answer could be either of those dates or a date between the two.
I began to answer, "When we are ready," not meaning to be evasive, but simply to reflect the uncertainty and the difficulties involved in being ready.
The other question which was typically more implied than actually asked was, "Have you lost your mind?" We asked ourselves that question many times in the weeks before and after we departed our home.
With adequate retirement incomes, many wonderful friends in the community, loving pets, a nice estate and no debts, we were packing everything we owned and leaving it all behind. We had to be insane!
So many decisions to make! Who would care for our pets? What would we do with our cars? How would we pay our regular bills and manage our accounts from so far away? Who would care for our house and property? What would happen in case of an emergency?
June went so well. A wonderful family wanted to rent the house and was willing to care for our cats. That offer encouraged us to make some needed repairs to the house; but contracting for these repairs went well. We make rapid progress for a yard sale. We purchased around-the-world tickets on United Airlines. We bought a new lap-top computer for use in China. We began medical tests and the series of shots.
Then, came July! A car would not run for us, but after having it towed, ran wonderfully for the mechanic. The new lap top made our phone lines go dead, but worked perfectly at the authorized repair center. Our water-to-air heat pump sprang a leak flooding our basement which was intended for storage for us and our tenants. Our year-old lawn mower stopped after the rains provided an opportunity to mow the acreage. The banker called to say we had two liens on our house and she could not advance money to pay the contractors unless we could get a release on at least one of them.
I omitted all the small problems such as the Secretary of State's office refusal to certify three of our eight health-related documents based on specific (and controversial) interpretations of the laws on notarization. The refusal only meant an additional trip to Jefferson City and then to Chicago to get the Chinese Consulates validation in time. Others told us that the trip would help prepare us for the red-tape in Beijing.
Three short calls to the out-of-state mortgage company and another hour-long phone chat were sufficient to get both liens released from our house. We decided on a new earth-contact heat pump and managed to have it running by Aug. 11, after the kind-suffering tenants were without air conditioning for three days. The basement was dry a few days later. The lawn mower was under warrant and only took ten days to replace the motor and other parts.
Finally the car stopped running at a time when the repairman could come. It remains at the shop; but a friend had a check to pay for the repairs and store the car. The computer still would not access the on-line network; but we were optimistic that we can get it fixed, if need be, in China.
We are indebted to our neighbors for storing our travel chests while we journeyed to Chicago, and to friends for their generous hospitality while the heat pump was being installed.
Certainly, in light of what we have experienced thus far, the most important question asked us was, "Why?" It is also the most difficult to answer.
The question is difficult because there is no one response which satisfies. We definitely want to go for the adventure. We want to go to experience the culture and see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Terra Cotta Soldiers and many other wonders that the culture has produced. We want to go because we are teachers of communication in an rapidly reducing world where an intercultural experience is invaluable to an understanding of our field. And, not least of all, it seems like on opportunity for us to perhaps make a difference in the future of world in which we all live.