These are some thoughts I had during a layover on the way to Nepal... If you find them fascinating, praise the vast depths of my cultural observation skills. If you find them trite and unentertaining, blame it on boredom and jet lag.
There’s a sinking feeling in your gut when you arrive at a layover airport only to find that your next flight hasn’t even been posted on the board yet because it’s still six hours away. If there’s a choice in the matter of layover location, however, it is in fact possible to assuage that restlessness and boredom inherent to waiting. My top choice is this place—Hong Kong International Terminal—because within it are reminders of all the places I call home.
My most obvious home, my lao jia—America. Nestled among the rows of high priced shops like Prade and Louis Vitton, I found a bookstore. A pretty standard airport installment to keep bored travelers at bay, but this one is different from the one I’ve frequented during the past two years of international life: it has books and magazines I can read. Books and magazines I recognize. Books and magazines in English. For once, I can pass over the coffee table books featuring a pictorial tour of the 56 minority groups of China and the National Geographic global photo shoots (my only choices due to the unfortunate reality of my illiteracy here). In this treasure of a bookstore, I even found a rare jewel in a copy of Runner’s World magazine. So what if it’s the British version whose articles use strange language like jog prams instead of jog strollers and PB (personal best) instead of PR (personal record)? I can easily overlook these bizarre choices in vernacular for the simple, glorious fact that these odd words use letters instead of characters. America—home of the alphabet.
My next Western surprise came at lunchtime when my stomach sent me on a quest to quell its rumbles. And I’m using the word “quest” in the literal sense—this place is a two story expanse of 530 gates where you can easily get lost looking for Starbucks (I would know, I did in fact get lost). But when I finally did happen across it, guess what else I found? Chai latte, the only Starbucks fare that I consider worthy of my money (not that it really matters how much my drink costs because these Hong Kong dollars are still like Monopoly money to me, considering that fact that in my whirlwind of itinerary changes, I forgot to check the exchange rate). While it is true that China boasts thousands of Starbucks stores, my favorite chai latte didn’t make the menu cut at any of them, and I haven’t yet developed an affinity for red bean frappuccino or green tea latte. And what’s more is that I got to drink my hot, spicy goodness from a festive Christmas cup. America—home of lattes & disposable holiday cups.
Then there are reminders of China, the new place that is slowing working its way into my heart as home. Reminders that even though I passed through customs and received yet another exit stamp in my passport, I’m not that far from the mainland. I can still spot quirks that used to be annoying but are now just a part life (and on good culture days, even an endearing part of life): the gentleman that spit up a loogy in the middle of the food court (at least he aimed into a trash can) and another man who decided the 15 person deep line at Starbucks didn’t apply to him and went straight to the front (at least the cashier sent him to the back instead of taking his order). And even though English is widely spoken in Hong Kong & Cantonese is more prominent that my second tongue of Mandarin, I can still overhear familiar, comforting traces of it hear and there. There’s also the safety of knowing that I’ve got two languages that can come to my defense should trouble arise (and I’ve certainly learned my lessons now that trouble most certainly can arise!). China—home of…well, Chinese people and Chinese language.
Finally, there are reminders here of my long-awaited home: heaven. I’ve been reading recently though the Old Testament book of Daniel where King Nebuchadnezzar calls all people, nations, and languages to bow down to him in worship. How much more will it be when God gathers His own from all people, nations, and languages to worship him in spirit & in truth. Just like this airport terminal, heaven will be international. A beautiful blend of colors & shapes, tongues & tribes. Heaven—the home where all things different come together with one common confession: the eternal enjoyment of Jesus Christ.
So while I still have three hours left before my flight, instead of dreading how long this day is stretching on, I think instead I’ll choose to enjoy the busyness & bustle, the faces & places, the eastern & western contained here. I think instead I’ll choose to enjoy the traces of
America—the home I left,
China—the home I love,
and Heaven—the home for which I long.