8. Leaving China
As the time for departure approaches, you will need to decide how to ship belongings back to the United States, particularly if you have accumulated much more than you arrived with. You have several options. Parcel post is one. Air freight is another, although it can be expensive. Check with international airline offices in your city. Sea freight is a much less expensive alternative, although you should count on the shipment taking about three months. The Friendship Store in Beijing will crate and ship your belongings, and so will several other companies. Check with the U.S. Consulate in your area to find out which companies they recommend for their diplomatic personnel or check with foreign affairs personnel at your host institution.
If you are returning during the busy tourist season (May through October), plan on booking your return ticket early (about six weeks before departure). This is especially important if you are exiting through Hong Kong, since eastbound flights from Hong Kong tend to be booked well in advance. Remember that most airline tickets are good for one year after issuance. Confirm your flight directly through your airline or, if there is no office in your city, through CAAC. Bring your passport with you when making reservations. If you have any doubts about your ticket, fax your travel agent in the United States to confirm you are properly booked, and be certain to reconfirm your ticket three days before the flight. If there are things you want to leave behind, consider donating them to your school, giving them away to friends, or selling them to newly arrived foreign colleagues.
Do not wait until the last minute to pack. Just as China has rituals for greeting foreign guests, so there are rituals for departing. Friends and colleagues will come to say goodbye, and some may bring small
farewell gifts. You, too, may want to present them with small tokens of your friendship—books and tapes, for instance, or that old manual typewriter you are not likely to use again. You may want to treat friends and officials to farewell dinners, and they may want to do the same for you. You may be asked to speak to colleagues and research collaborators about the fruits of your stay. And the interview you awaited for months may finally come through. Your last week or so in China is likely to be hectic.
If you are concerned about exiting China, or have more luggage than you can manage, ask a friend or officials from the host institution to accompany you to the airport and plan to arrive two hours before your flight departs. Be prepared for a very busy airport. The people who have come to see you off will be able to accompany you only to the customs checkpoint. After that, you are on your own. Most customs officials will simply wave you through with no questions asked, but you must put your checked baggage on a conveyer belt for a security check. A sticker will then be placed on your luggage. You must pay a departure tax, which in the summer of 1993 was Y60. After paying the tax and going through the security check, proceed to check-in at the airline counter servicing the flight. After check-in, you will go through exit formalities, presenting your passport and boarding pass to Chinese officials. After your passport is stamped, you will be in the departure area, where you can exchange your Chinese currency for U.S. dollars. It is safest to have exchange memos equal to the amount you want to exchange, although few clerks ask for them anymore. You have a chance to purchase a few last-minute duty-free items before proceeding through the final security check, where your carry-on luggage is examined, and on to the gate where your plane will depart.
Yilu ping'an, "have a pleasant journey"—and welcome home!