Monday, September 08, 2008

On our way home

This was a COD (crack of dawn) travel day, rising at 5:30 and out of the hotel by 6:00. A few things drive this kind of rigor among them a big unknown on checking out of the hotel (efficiency ranging from mechanical precision to pudding-like lameness), traffic jams due to overturned 3-wheeled motor-powered vegetable carts and the biggest variable of all – what’s happening at the airport.

Check-out was not that bad, a manager presented himself and allowed me to circumvent the line. The drive in was quick, probably due to the 3-wheeled vegetable cart carrying four men down the fast lane on the highway remaining upright. After a brief discussion with the taxi driver about where to stop, we decided on the single International door and went on in. After a swab of the bags and approval from the bomb-smelling system, we headed towards the counter.

Here, the primary variable kicked in. China Southern had one counter open and it was stocked very deeply, not so much with people but with dozens of suitcases. It was hard to imagine how so few people could have so much stuff. The agent was additionally tied up with a single customer who must have had some sort of oddball problem, because the work went on forever. Finally she walked away only to be chased down again and brought back from some additional adjustments to her travel plans. I was starting to come unglued while My Lovely Wife stood there Zen-like, as if crafted from alabaster. She often tells me that getting all worked up solves nothing and I often stare at her trying to understand just how women think. I have given up trying to tell her just how wrong she is.

A gang of young men came up from behind and went to an unmarked, open counter. They took a look at our languishing line and looked at the open counter and queued up there. That agent was pushing them through at the rate of 10 per minute while mine was still working on customer #1, now aided by a supervisor staring over her shoulder and reaching around every once in a while to type something in herself.

I walked over to the last of the young guys and asked if he was checking in for Seoul. Apparently there is a different word in Chinese for “Seoul” given his blank stare and lack of sound coming out of his lips which were attempting to form the Chinese for “What the heck are you saying?” His friend came by and I asked him and receiving the answer I wanted, I motioned My Lovely Wife to come over to my new-found express lane.

We were through in minutes and on our way to immigration while the old line still lazed along the traveler with the impossible problem.

Compared to Shanghai and Beijing, immigration was a complete and total non-event. No lines, no people, no questions, no nothing. The only snag came when My Lovely Wife was directed to stand behind the yellow line, she having nearly created an international incident by attempting to piggy-back on my stop at the desk. Security was next and it was nothing to mention aside from the very personal patting I always get from the Chinese agents.

We did a little shopping and waited around and I almost had a conversation with a man who asked if I was an American and then something else which I did not understand. Figuring I was just slow he asked couple of additional times and then attempted to make it clearer by drawing the question out invisibly on the palm of his hand with his finger. I just kept insisting that my Chinese was bad and he finally gave up and walked away.

The plane left on time. My Lovely Wife was bothered by the guy in front who jammed his seat back along with the guy next to her who kept cracking his knuckles and the general stench of the plane – body odor, cigarette smoke, stale breath – things I could care less about. I had a brief epiphany around this time, realizing the things that spin me up – like gate agents who open up and then sit there pretending they are not – don’t bother her a bit. Yet the little sanitary vagaries of travel as just described don’t merit the tiniest bit of attention for me. I guess we’re all wired differently for what bothers us and gets us spun up. I was happy to understand this because it might mean I am not crazy after all.

Arriving in Seoul we were once again faced with the challenge of going through the transfer security check without a pass. Clearly, there is something wrong with this process. I once again showed the security agent my luggage claim check which states I am passing through to the US as my means to prove my intent. I simply scoffed at the agents attempt to say “e-ticket”, pushing the claim check back in his hand. He gave up and waved me off to the metal detector. My Lovely Wife was not so lucky, as I had wisely purloined the check earlier in anticipation of just such a need. I went through the detector and she was held up behind with no proof of her destination. Sensing that I had a significant decision to make, perhaps life-altering, I handed my claim check to the guard and told him we were together. After clearing the situation with his supervisor, he allowed My Lovely Wife to pass.

The last time we were here we had passed on an opportunity to have a bite at a quaint little patisserie here on the food court - truly authentic right down to the trays and the tongs and the Asian Rap music blaring from the ceiling speakers. My Lovely Wife cringed, I ignored, another example of the superior capability of men to take things, important things, in stride. The score was clearly tipping in my favor following all the points I lost back in Dalian when I threw myself down and pounded my fists on the cold floor.

We wandered around for a bit in a fruitless search for a candy bar and ended back at the same place where we stocked up on some snacks for the plane. While they do feed you well in Business Class, there are occasional gaps in the gravy train that need to be filled with Dove bars. Unable to find those, I settled for Lindt.

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