Higgins: How to: lists + lists in China

BY CHRIS HIGGINS | JULY 20, 2015 5:00 AM

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BEIJING — Lists are important. Lists are useful. Lists are necessary. Lists are literary.

Lists can, in fact, make the world go round. That’s a mantra I wish I could say I live by in my quest to become more organized, but my list-making skills have remained steadfastly rudimentary. Perhaps now is a good time to start as my time in China starts to wrap up.

To-do list:

1. Pack

More like, shove as much clothing as I possibly can into this backpack before locking the door behind me (after one last frantic passport check). In two days, I’ll head off to Xi’an for the first leg of my 10-day break from work courtesy of my section at China Daily.  I’m sitting right by, as I count them, seven crumpled up hypothetical travel schedules. An eighth that took days to coalesce.

From now on, I will always and forever commend my mom for her uncanny ability to carefully layer together itineraries with her laptop right on the arm of the couch. Back in the days of the Capital One Bowl, she even used her Hawkeyes message boards as her crystal ball to divine which bowl game they’d play in that particular New Year’s — before the announcement on ESPN — and reserve hotels accordingly.

Xi’an, home of the Terracotta Army, is about 13 hours away from Beijing by car and 228 hours on foot, according to Google Maps. I can probably leave the hiking boots at home, however, because I’ll be able to hop on a high-speed train and make the journey in under seven.

Last weekend, I attended the University of Iowa’s pre-departure session for Chinese students here, a sort of quasi-orientation before they arrived on U.S. soil. My heart shattered when I had to inform two budding freshmen that, no, there isn’t a passenger train from Iowa City to Chicago. They appeared a bit shocked. Hey, maybe the funding will come through by the time they graduate.

The second leg of my trip will take me on a romp through northeastern China: Harbin, with its heavy Russia influence; Shenyang follows as a natural halfway point between Harbin and the final stop, Dandong, which has, frankly, carved an industry out of tourists staring at North Korea. The nation is right across the river border.

But that’s not for over a week now. I still have plenty, too much to do before I jet back to Chicago. There’s that southwestern cuisine restaurant my former boss implored me to try. There’s the central business district and its skyscrapers I’ve only seen from afar. There’s that university right down the street, where one of my Chinese teachers is stationed this summer.

There’s scorpion to eat (maybe).

I’ve been saying that it never really hit me that I’m in Beijing, but I think that moment came when I realized I would leave in under three weeks — that moment when I realized I probably wouldn’t be able to cover every square inch of this city or this country. At least, not in 2015.

I still haven’t packed.

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