I knew the last thing that would help me was to panic. Which was, of course, exactly what I did. For the last three weeks, twenty-two of my classmates and I had been awed by China. We had become real men climbing the Great Wall, stared down the Terra-cotta Warriors (and lost), and spent two weeks teaching Chinese students English and playing with foster children. Now we were in Shanghai, enjoying everything this Western Chinese city had to offer, including the third highest TV tower in the world, the Pearl Tower.
As we staggered off the elevator onto the circular observation deck after rising almost three hundred stories in seventy-two seconds, our guide said, “Meet here in twenty minutes,” indicating the large brass plate emblazoned with a “1” on the floor.
Wandering over to the windows, I gazed out at the pollution-filled city. It was more impressive from the ground, I decided. I made the round and quickly found myself back at the plate. I have time to go around again, I thought. Five steps later, I ran into a problem. A very big problem. In front of me was another plate emblazoned with a “1”— identical to the one ten feet behind me. Still being rather logical, I positioned myself between plates to watch for my group. Rule one when lost: be logical for as long as possible.
Time passed. Groups of people came and went, although mine was not one of them. When the crowds cleared I realized I was in trouble. Forty minutes had passed since our guide said, “meet in twenty minutes.” I was quickly descending into the quagmire lovingly known as “complete mind-numbing panic;” still, I had enough wits to know people would eventually realize I was gone.
Rule two: never assume. Ever. The Pearl Tower observation deck is comparatively small for being a quarter mile in the air. All I had to do was stand at the windows between the two accursed plates and watch for someone from my group. When I had been in the observation deck for eighty minutes, I was most definitely in “complete mind-numbing panic.” In fact, the panic leaked from my brain into my bones, skin and muscles.
Rule three: panic does not help. For the next sixty minutes, I alternated between panic and anger. How could they forget me? They wouldn’t have forgotten Brad or Julie. While I was stewing, a young employee walked up to me. “You are here with your family?” she asked. “No, I’m here with my tour group. Are they looking for me?” Please say yes.
She shook her head and motioned me to follow her. She approached another employee who asked, “Who are you here with?” “My tour group. Where are they?” She shook her head and passed me off to another woman. “You here with your grandmother?” NO!!
Finally the fifth (fifth!) worker motioned to get on the elevator. I need to be on the ground to get out of here anyway, I figured.
Rule four: when logic returns, grab it. I could say those seventy-two seconds were the longest of my life, but I’d be lying. They were some of the fastest, yet they provided more than enough time to convince myself that my predicament would not change when I reached the ground. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Like a scene from a movie, the elevator doors slid open and there stood our guide, two chaperones, and a fellow student. Cries of “Meagan! Where were you? Are you okay?”
Rule five: when everything is said and done, it’s okay to cry.
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