Tuesday, January 12, 2010

free bird

Finally I get to fly across the big water!!

I am currently on the plane to Beijing and basking in all its glory. Before I go getting entirely too giddy to form cogent thoughts lets start at the beginning so that there will at least be some background.

Getting up this morning was a bit taxing I suppose. I fortunately stayed awake, but it took some considerable effort. I finally quit myself of those wonderful parachute pants and donned my suit for another day stuffed full of traveling. I ironed my favourite dress shirt to a professional crispness and slid myself into its cozy readiness. The rest of the suit gradually made its way over the remaining surfaces of my body. Adorned in a manner that represented the gravity of this journey, I set out with my friends to drop off their kids at school and then go to have tea and say good-bye to some very special people. We took a picture as a token for me to remember them by and began our next leg of the journey ~ the last of many trips to and from the vancouver airport (it has only been one week since I came from Missouri, and yet I have managed to make that journey no less than four times with another ‘short trip’ to downtown Vancouver that you can read in another thread).
I somehow survived a bounty of Christian pop and Veggie tales Doo-Wop ‘gems’ before I edged in with my Ipod and basked in the glory of Yann Tiersen and music that reminds one of my friends of summer vacation in Italy or France.... I dunno entirely how that became one of her mental categories for summer vacation - but that is Ok.

We got to the airport and my friends parked their car and had the wonderful generosity to walk me to the terminal and help me make sure my bags were all checked appropriately. Any of the fears I had about baggage restrictions were quelled without any sort of resistance. We peaceably went and I bought a round of coffees for my friends and myself and we all quietly dwelled on what was about to take place. This was one of those times where the feeling is tangible in what feels like a sort of cloud between the parties involved. It is that same feeling when you look at a hot road and you swear that you can see the heat waves radiating off of it, instead this feeling was a somber acknowledgement of everything that had taken place in the subsequent year and a half of our time spent together. Before I had even gotten half way through my overly-hot americano coffee, I knew that my time had come ~ and that I needed to move on.

Exchanging a few hugs and acknowledging that we would see eachother again in some distant reach of the world, we parted ways and I hopped into the security checkpoint line. Aside from having to part with half of my wardrobe to the X-ray machine, the scan was one of the easiest I have ever passed through. MUCH much easier than going to the US these days. Arriving at the gate a few moments before boarding started, I got myself situated - checking every other moment that my passport was still where it ought to be, and every two moments that my chinese visa was still firmly glued in my passport--- possibly an unnecessary step, but I was willing to take it just the same.

A word of advice from my friends who dropped me off was: to always be touching your wallet if is out, and to have it firmly attached to your person at all times regardless of its visibility status. I supposed that my security measures were sufficient... but I was no where near willing to tolerate any potential loss of my precious passport - nor my newest variety of funny money - the Chinese Yuan. Let me just say that compared to the Yuan, American dollars are so boring that I get the feeling I should just bury them in my wallet rather than spending them - a valid money saving strategy I suppose.

Boarding began, and I shuffled myself into the line of chinese people boarding our long adventure to Beijing -- which is now three hours over out of the 11 hours 40 minute total fly time... and I dont even feel too horribly antsy yet. Clearly I’m enjoying myself. Give me time.. I still have over two-thirds of the flight to go.

Lets go back to the flight for a minute. I made my through the entry door, one of two I believe, and the sharply dressed flight attendant directed me down the appropriate aisle. Suffice it to say that I have flown many many times in my life -- but never international. I have flown in many many different types of plane.... but never one so colossal as this one! This is no double decker monolith, so I know there are bigger out there, but this is still big to me. There are two rows on the outside edges of the plane with two seats in depth to their names, and a rather beefy four seat center column that I am sitting in. A few of the things I noticed right away were... all the seat had their own TV screen built into the seat infront of them, which was not only theirs to see... but it was at their disposal. This means that there were over 14 channels with 6 or so movies to choose from. Some in English, some were available in French, some were only in Mandaring... but ALL - had Chinese characters flooding the bottom portion of the screen.

Giggling to myself with excitement about the whole scenario (and also that my row had two empty seats between me and my neighbor- and therefore ample leg room) I touched everything that looked new and exciting. The screen could be adjusted WAY up, and I originally thought that this was super nice and accommodating of those really tall whities that would otherwise find the viewing experience unsatisfying, until I realized how very far these seats reclined! I test leaned my seat and was very pleased with the results. A little while later, I started working in my Chinese language books and and got the receiving end of the leaning range of these chairs, but I just giggled and contented myself to work in a tighter space.
Hearing all the chinese being spoken around me was really motivating and definitely a kick in the rear end to get cracking on those books.

Just giddy with my situation, I got settled in and was taking in the sites, when a wonderful little presentation about safety and the gratitude of Air China came on my own personal TV. Oh Yay! Being used to the boring American safety schpeil... I usually tune it out; However, with the tranquil Chinese music in the background, and equivalent of supermodel flight attendants being oh so kind, how could I resist? Couldn’t.

After the notifications, I noticed some other screens being used for watching movies and all sorts of other excitement, so I began to play around with my remote to see what I could make happen. Lo and behold! I found some movie with that girl from Sex in the City -- (for the white people i guess...) Madagascar two or so..., Kung Fu, Kung Fu Panda (a wonderful cliche... but im not complaining, no sirreee) and some inspiring movie about a horrible earthquake in China about how the PLA army saves the day and how great ‘The Party’ is. I am glad they got to be heroes in a motion picture. There was even a full lineup of motivational orchestral music to get your hairs standing on end as the PLA army pulled people from the wreckage of huge slabs of concrete. Very inspirational.

The announcements come in over the intercom and we are informed that we are going to be receiving a meal, a light meal and refreshments throughout the flight. YAY!! granted its an 11hr40m flight... so it makes sense, but I was excited either way.

Round one was refreshments, and let me tell you - I love flying Air China (anything is a huge step up from United...). There was good tea, in addition to a whole line of sodas and juice etc. Hell yah ill take Cha!!!

Round two was ‘the meal’. The flight attendants, some of which are SUPER young -- what they cant be any older than... (me?) With a choice of pork or seafood and rice... ill take pork please. A platter with a mini salad, multi grain roll, pork, what I think was gai lan (kinda like asparagus meets spinach...) rice, and some chocolate cake! HAHAHA says I, taking in the sights of my schmorgespord, and noticing the plastic packet containing plastic utensils, a napkin and salt. My gaze was caught by the plastic wear and something deep within me went.... AW HELL NAW!!! - I think that was my alter-ego, a 300lb black woman named ‘Loquacious’ speaking. I reached into the depths of my messenger bag and pulled out my chopstick carrier. I felt a little tacky doing it... but I got compliments from the flight attendants and what I imagine were a few envious glances from my Chinese neighbors. Effectively plowing through my meal and enjoying my tea immensely, I finished my meal while intermittently watching the second half of Kung Fu Panda.

As my inspirational ‘China is Wonderful’ came to an end, I started flipping through the chanels again... I realized that that wasnt some movie with the girl from sex in the city... it IS sex in the city. Right on...

Well -- time passes and nature takes its toll on ones various tracts. One also already has the desire to get up and walk around and one of the best excuses to do so without looking and feeling like a total vagrant is to find the lavatory. Well, lets say that Air China lavatories are pretty much the same as everyone else’s - except they also have the little hotel style folded toilet paper ends (though Im not sure why they were still folded because a ton of people had been using these lavatories-- just about non-stop.... was I supposed to fold it? yah not gonna worry about that one for now.) Anyhow, without getting graphic I’d say the key difference between this type of lavatory and the rest of the North American lavatories i’ve used is the flushing mechanism. The sneaky contraption was, I am still convinced, a supercharged hoover. Much less of that crazy blue scary business was used in the process - but much less of the job was done on the first go. If there is no suction near the port of the basin... it doesnt do its job.

So the moral of the story is ~ if your ever on an international flight and you hear someone flush four times... it might be with good reason.

-- Several hours passed much in the same way... except I misunderstood the cute little announcement being made.. we get two meals of the same proportion. This time I got some sort of pork that was done up in a style kind of like those italian roast beef sandwiches - but this was on top of noodles, and of course the gai lan made an appearance again.

All told the flight consisted of two much appreciated meals............. and a sammich HAHAHHA! I laughed on the inside when I saw this white-bread, double decker cheese, tuna, tomato, no crust sammich. Dunno if I could have been entertained by a snack any more than I was... we’ll let the future disclose that kind of information (and wonder I do).

Regardless of food the flight was definitely long, but not unbearable. Certainly this was my first time taking a seriously international flight, but I actually enjoyed it. the first 2/3rds was totally reasonable. I didnt start getting cabin fever until about the last 3 hours, and then it was easy to console myself with the fact that I have had plenty of three hour flights in my life ~ and that it really was no big deal. One simply has to find the best way of passing it. . . I chose sleep.
Rather than dosing myself with traveler’s plague by touching my eyes while taking out my contacts, I made my way down the narrow isles and made use of the lavatory sink to thoroughly wash my hands. I made my way back to my seat, took out my contacts and placed them in my container in the ‘safety approved’ see through zip-lock baggie.


An intermittent two hours later and I look at my personal TV screen and see that there is only one hour left in flight -- no time at all when you think about the breadth of the beast.
As a side note ~ I think one of the things that made the flight most bearable was the fact that they had a channel that showed the progress of the flight on a map and provides projected remaining flight times. Perhaps United could boost their flight ratings if they implemented such a thing... doubtful.
Consequently you also grow to hate Russia/ Siberia because of how much time you spend over it on the way to Beijing.

At long last I arrived at Beijing, I could see mountains in the distance, snow on the terrain, and the airport which looks like some sort of weird armadillo with its sloping ruff structure and sky-lights peaking up all over.

Being an international flight, I had to claim my bags and get them transferred: a task I was a little apprehensive about - but still trusting just the same. Fortunately Beijing airport provides free trollies, and both of my bags showed up without any complications (praise definitely be due on that one).

Checked in ~ through customs and bags rechecked, I now await my flight to Zhengzhou. I am still wondering exactly what Jet lagg is. Im holding up pretty well, and Air China was very good about making sure we had the opportunity to hydrate. I also bought a delicious green tea chilled beverage near my gate for two yuan (basically less than 50c -- HAHA! love China already!). When I gave my ten yuan bill to the cashier, he gave me change that I had not seen before -- a 5 yuan bill and two (2x) ones. At first I was a little thrown off by the one dollar bills, but I had to double take and remember: oh yah, we use those in the US too.

Little over an hour before I board my next flight, and I am very excited about what comes next in this journey. I am also glad this next flight is only about an hour and a half long, and that I get to sleep somewhere tonight... I hope :D.

Somehow I think my general peppiness is going to confuse my director... but I like to be confusing.

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