Wednesday, September 06, 2006

We already have April in Paris, let's have September in Shanghai

And so it begins – another around-the-world sojourn.

After a typical night before – waking up every half hour to check the clock, I arose, got cleaned up and fed and headed to the airport. ABQ traffic was as expected - not too bad as long as you’re on the road early. Walked directly to the ticket counter, no one in line. The agent politely displayed the baggage tag to show Pudong as my destination, far better than sending my bags to Chicago.

Security was very backed up – new explosive scanners (no, not scanners that explode, scanners for explosives) were in place for about ½ of the lines. Basically an air shower designed to render futile all the extra time the women had spent prepping their hair before their long day of travel.

I lucked out by not getting a scanner line lest they detect the faint aroma of alfalfa on my jacket. I did however have the misfortune of getting behind two men, one an itinerant magician and another, a traveling tractor mechanic. I struck up a brief conversation with the tractor mechanic, my intention to poke a jab at the magician who was taking many minutes to clear all the pockets and hidden compartments in his garments. Three doves, two bunches of flowers, a turtle, a rabbit, countless scarves, an expanding snake – on and on it went, filling gray bin after bin with the tricks of his trade. Amazingly, he made it through the metal detector having successfully rid himself of all his props. The tractor mechanic chuckled as the unloading went on and on, and then proceeded to do precisely the same thing – pipe wrench, muffler, oil filter, a hanky that was clearly doing double duty wiping the dip sticks on his fleet of John Deeres and several parts from an 19th century slow speed seed drill. I stood patiently observing the wry smile on the face of the TSA agent. Made me wonder how much of this he sees in a given day. I cleared the search without problem, even managing to sneak my homeopathic nasal spray on board. Wonder if it’s one of the banned items?

Made it to the lounge exactly 1 hour before departure. Sat by as people filed in and soon became aware of just how chatty people are before traveling. Nerves? I don’t know, but honestly, why don’t they just shut up?

We boarded on time and looking at my pass I discovered I was in seat 17C – odd consdering that the plane only goes to 16. Well, not really, but I’m not sure 17 should really be considered a row. Had I been walking on I25, I would’ve reached the Isleta exit in the same time it took me to reach my seat. The first best news – not only don’t the seats recline, they’re actually positioned at an inverse angle so you sit with your head roughly above your knees. And, you sit so close to the flight attendant that she pretty much has to swing her legs over your lap while she’s strapped in her jump seat. The second best news was the proximity to the engine – I was lucky enough not to have a compatriot in the window seat so once aloft, I stretched out. My right ear lovingly caressed by the roar of a 5000 HP fan jet.

The view from the plane was excellent as always. Grand Canyon, Great Basin, a stupendous view of Yosemite, the valley and Half Dome. The Bay Area was socked in with the regular marine layer of fog. The hills on the peninsula sticking above and looking like islands themselves in a sea of white. Out of the plane and into the terminal we decided to take the shuttle and thus avoid the second round of security. The bus was a traditional little 20-seater and I was lucky enough to pick the back seat which was directly under the air-conditioning which was dripping “Legionaire’s Water” on my scalp. The route was circuitous – we drove about 4 miles inside a giant hairpin shaped safe track that actually took us about 15 yards from the departure zone.


Up an elevator and out into the duty-free zone where Hank was waiting to escort us into the Red Carpet Club. Wow! If they ever allowed average travellers to get a whiff of this, the starting point of the next American Revolution would be here. While the unwashed masses are huddling sorely in the Proletariat Zone, their greasy noses pushed up against the frosted glass like so many Little Match Girls, club members are dining on coffee and crumpets in an art-deco pleasure dome. I was so offended by the oppulence that I immediately went to the front desk and asked how many more miles I need to accrue before I too get the secret handshake.

Wandered the international terminal for a few more hours, stopping to have Udon noodles for lunch and slowly collecting the mass of traveling Intel employees like lint on a piece of scotch tape. We boarded on time, and took off quickly. Not much to say about the flight, except for it’s length. 12 hour plane rides are insidious in the way in which they lull you into thinking that it’s almost over and then jolt you back to reality when that first stolen glance at your watch shows you still have 8 hours left. A few interesting passengers including my row-mate who had techno playing through his headphones at a level that allowed me to hear it, over the music in my headphones with noise-cancellation on maximum. He won’t be hearing well soon.

The planes normally carry all the necessary paperwork to get you into the country. Well, normally is a flexible term as this time they didn’t. So when we deplaned, we all scrambled to find the 3 pieces necessary to get you into the country. Every time I fill out the Health Statement, I wonder how many people cop to a recent bout of “Psychosis.” Do you think the situational psychosis one get from sitting behind someone who insists in throwing themselves into their seat with the back in full down position, counts?

The in-country team did a great job of meeting us and getting us onto buses and out of the airport. Far better than 40 people catching taxis. The ride to town alternated between breakneck and gridlock but having the windows rolled down allowed us to be bathed in industrial smells and truck exhaust immediately evoking those intangible “Mysteries of the Orient” we Occidentals crave so deeply.

The hotel was where it was supposed to be, even if the van driver didn’t know it. I was able to practice my Hanyu handsignals to get him into the correct driveway. (Heard the other vans had the same experience.) Checked in, they took my picture (because I am a long-term guest, they want to get to know me better), I was pronounced “handsome” and now I’m in my room, unpacked and ready to hit the sack for an early AM trip out to see the summertime birds in my favorite park across the street.

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