Friday, September 23, 2005

Arrival

The sign at Gate 27 presented the order of boarding for Air China flights: First class, then Business class, then passengers needing special assistance, then rows 32-46, followed by rows 23-31, and finally rows 9-22.

I looked again at my boarding pass: seat 20G. Might as well get comfortable.

At ten minutes past one in the morning, LA time, an attractive Chinese woman picked up a microphone and said, at a very high rate of speed, about three minutes worth of words that had absolutely no meaning to me. She then, presumeably, repeated the spiel in English, and, if anything, only increased her prodigious pace. From it, I gathered that boarding was announced for First class, Business class and special-needs passengers. A small mob formed by the gate and slowly made its way through the door. Some time later, when that group had nearly finished exiting the terminal, a uniformed Chinese man moved a section of rope barrier near the end of the line. Apparently, this was the signal everyone else had been waiting for. With no announcement what so ever, 90% of the remaning passengers rose and formed a much larger mob at the gate. An American standing near me seemed rather incensed by the lack of order and formal boarding calls, but it all seemed very Chinese to me. I waited with a few other stragglers until the crowd had thinned, then picked up my bags and joined the queue.

As I made my way down the Tarmac, I was anxious to try out my rudimentary Chinese on the crew. "Ni hao, ni hao!" Just before stepping onto the plane, I singled out a young male attendant. "Ni hao!"

"Hi," he replied. Then, with a sheepish grin, "...er, ni hao!"

20G was an aisle seat in the plane's middle section of four seats, right behind a video screen. That placement afforded a couple much-appreciated inches of additonal legroom (though still inadequate for my 6-2 frame). It also, fortuitously, placed the aisle on the side of my bad knee. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad.

The three other seats in my part of the row were occupied by an older Chinese gentleman beside me, an older Chinese woman beside him, and a younger Chinese woman beside her, with an infant boy, in the opposite aisle seat. The way the three adults fussed over the baby, I surmised they were a family. I also surmised their English was little better than my Chinese.

I wanted to say something, so I looked up the Chinese word for "grandson" -- sunzi (soon-zee) in my pocket dictionary. I pointed at the baby and asked the older gentleman, in Chinese, if that was his grandson.

"Yes, yes!" came his spirited reply, in English.

One hour into the flight, the monitor right in front of us showed our progress. We had made it from Los Angeles to San Francisco, a distance barely discernable on the full view of our route. Wonder how to say "we have a long-ass way to go" in Chinese?

All in all, though, the flight wasn't as bad as I had feared. I still don't like flying, but once I'd resigned myself to the fact that I was going to be on the bird for a really long time, I was able to relax. . . . at least a little. I still didn't sleep nearly as much as I'd hoped, but I think I got enough to get me through the day, at least with all the adrenalyn I have going.

My first glimpse of China came through the windows across the row of three seats on my right as we came in on final approach. It was dark, and all the lights and trucks and warehouses looked about the same as the outskirts of any metropolitan U.S. airport.

Getting through customs turned out to be a breeze at 5:30 in the morning. Ours was the only international arriving flight, and within 45 minutes of landing, the Chinese had turned me loose into their country. The first thing to do was, naturally, find a bathroom. All was going well until I started looking for the toilet paper. It wasn't in the stall. I finally found it in a big dispenser on the wall near the sinks. There was only one other person in the bathroom at the time (quite the rarity, I would later discover), but I was still pretty self-conscious about unwinding a big wad of T.P. in front of someone else. So I only took a little wad, and by the time I had covered the seat, I was left with only a scant three squares to cover myself. Some creative usage was required to finish the job.

6:30 found me sitting in the "Beijing Capital International Airport" on a Friday morning, just arrived on a new continent for the first time ever, and. . . . waiting for Starbucks to open. And hoping they would take U.S. dollars, since the bank for money changing didn't open for another two hours.

Luckily for me, foreigners band together in strange lands, and a British couple mentioned that a bank upstairs had just opened. Upstairs? Where? Tucked in an out of the way corner I found an escalator, which took me up to an even bigger, more sprawling level of the airport that I would never have known existed otherwise. It took some time, but I finally got my hands on some local currency and proceeded to what is probably the most expensive internet cafe in China. The "Sunbird Digital Relaxation Harbor" charges 50 RMB for unlimited access, and that includes a mug of tea (with little green tea leaves floating in it). 50 RMB is about 6 USD. Last night in LAX, I paid $5 for 20 minutes.

Actually, though, on this strange time-space continuum that gets pretty warped on trans-Pacific flights, that was the night BEFORE last in LAX. An old Chicago song is stuck in my head this morning. Does anyone really know what time it is? Does anyone really care? It's nine in the morning on Friday where I am, six in the evening on Thursday where I came from, nine at night on Thursday where I lived, and eight in the morning where I'll go to find Maureen in a couple of months. On the flight over, we had breakfast served at 3:00am local time, a little over an hour after takeoff. Then we got lunch at 4:00am local time, which was a full ten hours later. I've had some late-night breakfasts before, but I don't think I've ever had chicken and rice for lunch at four in the morning.

But was it really four in the morning? Afterall, it was 1:00 in the afternoon back in LA. I certainly don't know, but taking a cue from the band, I don't much care either. It's cloudy and raining here, but it's time to go exploring. I hear they have a big wall somewhere in this area. Wonder if I can find it?

53 comments:

nicole said...

nice writing style. i'm excited to see more of your travels.

i like your photographs, too, even i'm not that into trains.

Mia said...

Ni Hao... good for your trying to speak Chinese... it's a tough language. I have been trying Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese much to the merriment of my chinese friends. Once you get the intonations wrong.. it means a completely different word. I once wanted shredded chicken noodles but ordered chicken shit noodles instead

Kashif raza said...

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Carol said...

I have a fear of flying and I found the 1 1/2 hour flight back home over the prairies a trial.
I admire the adventurous but enjoy my tranquility.

阳光飞翔 said...

good work!

Mars Mosqueda. said...

Hello nice blog. I have a blog too at http://onlinefraud.blogspot.com

The Stalker said...

Interesting blog

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

Good work.

I too am extremely tall and have trouble on long haul flights.

I did 12 hours to Singapore, then another 10 to Melbourne straight after.

Try and walk the whole wall. Apparently it takes years.

Fat Apple said...

Oh God, don't fly Air China! They gave my cousin a pilot license, and that's the reason why I refuse to fly on that airline.

Good luck in China. Always bring a spare pack of tissue paper in your bag. Don't learn the hard way.

rishabh_flop_ruler said...

u r description of stuff is quite amusing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Scott! Its Mere!
Just taking some time off in lab to catch up to see how you were doing. Your writing style really is fabulous - took me back to the first time I set foot on foreign soil too! The bathrooms are always important and interesting to navigate.
Hope your travels continue to go well and safe and my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Rob said...

This so much reminds me of my trips to Singapore and Thailand. In thailand T.P is much more difficult to find however even in the bathrooms.. You must bring your own with you.

click here to see hurricane pics said...

check out the pictures of Katrina & Rita

Meg said...

Hey Scott,

Just visiting, but I've already linked to your blog. I'm on an international journey, as well, although we're on opposite sides of the globe. I can relate to a lot of what you write (especially the faith bits). Good luck, and hope you stop in once in awhile.

Pat said...

"Fucking boring" i say. You see, there are too many blogs on personal travelling, and the thing is: we don't give a fuck unless you write something spicy. I don't see where is the spice in your detailed description of howyagotinthaplane. I'm not saying you are not interesting, i say you are simply boring. Try reading Poetics from Aristote. It's the foundation of all tragedies... you might wanna add some thrill between your words...

Pat said...

By the way, you may think i'm a bit hard on you. You worked in editing i see? Why should I care? I say an editor should not use blogs. I say editors should do something more interesting than posting cybershit on the so-called "new information network" also known as Internet. Is there any info source more unreliable than Internet?

I'm angry at you for some reasons. Thanks to internet, I can let you know.
And no, I'm no terrorist. And I won't highjack your planes to smash'em in the Pentagon. Poor Americans... Everyone in the world hates you...

Lydus said...

thanks for this, i enjoyed the post very much.

Anonymous said...

Man you write well!!


Gee777.

Jia Li said...

sounds like my trip into bejing...here's a good hint, don't say Kai Kai to a taxi driver unless u got a death wish, at this they will drive very fast, narrowing missing people, other cars, busses and buildings...

R2K said...

That sounds crazy :)

Reminds me of my time working in Italy: the line for the bus was just a crowd. Once the doors were open, it was every person for themselvs. Old lady pushed out of the way by some dude. It was crazy.

R2000

Toe Knee said...

Interesting blog. Will be back for your next post.

Affly,
A fan from India

Bhedr said...

Hey I used to live in Kowloon, Hong Kong. Mei Foo apartments.

Never been to China though.

John Bryson said...

If you see my girlfriends brother nathan in china, call him a fucktard for me.

A-man said...

nice writing, I like it alot. Cant wait to hear some more. How hardd is it to speak chineese? If you feel like it check out my blog at www. thea-man2.blogspot.com

Clayton said...

coming to Japan? Cool, I live there.

Chaz said...

Wow that was long. I like you're writing though. Never been to Japan, but I may consider it now.

chazinc.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Keep it going, it would help me as well as i am also planning a similar trip to asia.

http://ruchir-raj.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Cool


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Mike and Maylene said...


www.MIKEandMAYLENE.com

Mike and May - Our website is www.MIKEandMAYLENE.com and it is a photo journal of Mike and Maylene traveling the United States and Philippines. We have hundreds of photo galleries for you to enjoy on our website. There are pictures of our road trips through the United States, Texas, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, DC, and the Philippines, we have been all over the Philippines Islands at beaches and other tourist destinations mostly just eating, drinking and having fun. It is one of the most peaceful and affordable places to travel so check out our pics and sign the guestbook on our WEBSITE, not the blog...thanks, party naked!!!

michelle said...

i second emotion their praises. nice writing style and interesting blog! I like to try to speak chinese too but im not really good with intonations so i just TRY..hahaha..nice insights on china..wish i could go there someday

Barbie Baker said...

Having endured a 25 hour flight from Australia to Geneva sitting next to a large Vienese man I have such empathy for your flight.
Cheers
Barbie.

Kelley Bell said...

Pat really has some issues. Poor thing.

I say blog on friend. The blogosphere represents the first time in human history that the thoughts and impressions of individuals can be documented and accessed freely and uncensored by all.

It offers a unique perspective on social trends and individual intrests, in a way that no other form of publication ever has.

Editors and publishers are the gatekeepers of thought. By selecting what they deem "worthy of print" they censor.

Storm the gates, and disarm the gatekeepers!

Blog On!
Blog On!
Blog On!

P.S.
My best friend is in China right now, picking up her newly adopted baby daughter. In China they have a one child per family law.

Gov. Officals are promoted or demoted based on local population control. As a result, women who are pregnant with a second or third child are often foced into hiding, or taken from their homes, kicking and screaming, where they are tied down and restrained in clinics as healthcare workers inject poison into the uterus and kill the baby.

They are implanted with IUD's against their will, and without their knowledge.

Baby girls are abandoned, as boy offspring offer security for parents in old age.
It's a huge issue, and its being whitewashed and ignored by most major media and government publications.

(just an example of why blogging is so important.)

Kelley Bell said...

P.S.

I was so bemused by Pat's comments that I posted her words and a link to your blog over on my blog.

I made sure not to post your writing though, as I noted your copyright.

-Hope thats cool.

If not, let me know and I will delete the post.

Kelley

Robert said...

wow dude you like to make looong post huh ?
so you very little Chinese right ?
Are you traveling along there or hooking up with someone there ?

R2K said...

Yeah air travel is always interesting. Sometimes horrible, sometimes great, sometimes tired.

But there is something about the process that can magnify every event. Dropped icedcream cone? Like death. Got a smile from a hot chick? Better than sex.

R2000

Anonymous said...

Russian Teens!

Myrtle Beach Stuff said...

Sounds like you're in for some fun! When i did my travelling around ther was no internet. Just a journal i kept which got kind of blurry now and then. Hope you are able to stay withlocal people and away from tourists hotels. There is nothing like hanging out with people you can't understand! hostels and other Student Rentals are good but meeting a family at the market and going tostay with them is the best.

Kaya Raven said...

I've never been out of the USA (well there was that one time I went to Mexico..), but I can't wait to do some international traveling after my kids turn 18 and are off at college. Hmm I have a ways to wait since my kids are 10 and 8 ...oh well heh. Keep us informed!

Heather said...

Check it out:
http://www.blogballyhoo.com/

What an awesome blog!! Have you thought about advertising your blog for others to find? Since blogger likes your webpage, this may help provide some extra traffic for your blog.
~Heather

Gage said...

Just happened to come across you blog. I really enjoyed it. I look forward to your future posts. Dont forget to take some extra toliet paper with you.

'Thought & Humor' said...


What kind of aircraft was this Scott??? 747? Air Bus?

You have a riveting web log
and undoubtedly must have
atypical & quiescent potential
for your intended readership.
May I suggest that you do
everything in your power to
honor your Designer/Architect
as well as your audience.

Please remember to never
restrict anyone's opportunities
for ascertaining uninterrupted
existence for their quintessence.

Best wishes for continued ascendancy,
Dr. Howdy

'Thought & Humor'

P.S. Your blog's new "Word Verification"
process is a good idea but a dyslexic
person's nightmare...

FarmersInsuranceGroupSucks said...

Nice!

PriestysThoughts said...

Interesting Blog. Check out my thoughts and stuff at my blog -->

http://priestyism.blogspot.com

Chauncey said...

All must wear the ceremonial silk robes of prancing while at the Sunbird Digital Relaxation Harbor. Especially on Our Meatless Leader Day (Thursday local time).

Michele's Mumblings said...

Keep 'em coming! I wanted to go to China but I just don't like rice - so I can live vicariously through you!

Cindy and Kobus van Zyl said...

Congrats on a nice blog. I like your writing style quite a lot, just being able to sit back and have a relaxing read.

Overseas travelling can be quite a challenge, hope you have many more!

:-)

Reg of P8 said...

Hi Scott. Aside from the obvious that travel make us discover worlds outside our own, it also has funny ways of making us look back. Suddenly, little pleasures of home are again brought into focus like that omnipresent toilet paper, or the ever-so-organized queues at airport gates/terminals, and the increasingly indispensible internet cafés. It is no wonder that so much romance and introspection have been associated with travel. May China and Japan prove to be as delightful as your first article on Beijing. Cheers!

Holden said...

Great writing. I wish you all the best on your travelling...

Dancing With Tears In My Eyes

Nikky Egland said...

Sounds interesting, I hate flying as well. Had my first flight experience this year flying from Wyoming to Florida.. during hurricane dennis!

Prerona said...

hello! this is my first visit here. it looks interesting - both the writing and ur travle plans! will be back to find out how it went

john said...

Scott - I love reading about your physical and spiritual journey. I just started blogging with the express purpose of sharing my own spiritual journey. I look forward to seeing you in the cosmic oneness. Check me out at spotlock.blogspot.com

john

Vikram said...

I flew from India to LA and I know how bad it is to be on a flight that long.

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