Wednesday, June 03, 2009

It's the destination, not the journey

So I find myself on the road once again, heading home to wrap up some work before heading back here for the meat of my assignment. This year has been very different than last, I'm not living in airports like I was and trips have gone back to being special instead of my regular fare.

In the spirit of the mercurial nature of Dalian traffic, I allowed 2+ hours for the trip to the gate and check in. You never know here, the last time I went out I barely made it through the luggage check, the crowds were that deep. I figured I had nothing better to do and so planned to sit at the airport if necessary.

This morning was crystal clear as it is on some days before the automobile traffic picks up. Perhaps the power plants have been off line for a couple of days, because we've had a short string of mornings and evenings that have a clear view of the ocean, and in today's case, Dalian city proper.

I had dinner with friends last night and on my walk down my newly found special street I once again stopped to watch the purple pajama grandma doing her nightly Tai Chi, this time joined by eight other women. Again it was a mystical moment, watching the women slowly doing the moves in unison, illuminated by a single street light.

When he dropped me off yesterday, Mr Jiang had given me a box of cherries and pears, freshly picked as it's now the season here in Liaoning, as a gift for my journey and I had left it with my dinner partners. When he picked me up I told him how wonderful they were. He was in a good mood this morning, collecting my bags and putting them in the trunk.

Per our regular routine, our conversation turned to weighty topics. I saw a hawk land on a power line and told him about it, adding that I like to look at birds. He replied that birds were very good to eat, especially the bird dishes prepared in Luxun, the next big city down the peninsula. He added that there were not many birds in China, and I wonder if he made the connection between those two points.

We talked about population and compared that of the US to China. The Chinese have different terms for numbers than we do and it can make translation difficult. They speak in terms of "wan" which is 10,000. For example, they would say "30 wan" when we would say 300,000 and "300 wan" when we would say 3,000,000. "2000 wan" would be 20 million but then it changes and the term "yi" is introduced for 100 million. It took me a moment to calculate his statement that China had "Shi si yi ren" or 14 - 100,000,000 people or in our speak, 1.4 billion souls. I took it to the next step, bringing the population of India into the calculation and he said, "yes, China #1, Hindu #2" he went on to compare American family sizes to the 1 child policy, adding that too many people and too many children are very expensive when you consider food, clothing, shelter, school and everything else it takes to provide a life. The more I talk with him, the more I realize that he is a very informed fellow.

We arrived in about 30 minutes, the benefit of driving to town this time of day. The airport was just as it ever is, I had to switch lines three times due to people arguing across the gaps, trading luggage and cutting in front of me. I finally picked a line that seemed to be moving and it was sped up further by the two guys in front of me, one who just left as he had no intention of checking in, he just thought the line was a good place to stand. The second guy had stood in line merely to ask a question by way of yelling at the agent for 30 seconds before walking away. It took me 90 seconds to complete my transaction, even receiving a priority sticker on my bag, a first for this place.


We left Dalian a bit late but arrived in Beijing close to the scheduled time. The connection here is a bit tight - about 2 hours - which can be problematic if security or immigration are bogged down and it was making me a bit tense waiting for my bag which didn't seem to me coming. When it did show up, it came in one of those hard plastic bins that the normally reserve for oddly shaped things (mine being a standard big suitcase). The bin with my bag crested the chute, shot down on the moving surface, hit the rail and popped straight out onto the floor. Another passenger made a point of walking around it, as though it was some sort of invisible yet detectable obstacle.

What I had forgotten from previous transfers here was that it's just a short hop from domestic baggage claim to international check-in and so now I had plenty of time. I lined up in the special status line but one of the attendants (in China they often have young women waiting by the international check-in lines to facilitate things) offered me an open counter down where the proletariat usually checks their bags. So I accepted and actually managed to clear the area before the remainder of the fancy passengers.

The train car I picked for the ride out to the plane was loaded with young security agents heading out to their shift. A gaggle of 20-something Chinese is a sight to behold - you'd swear you were in the cafeteria at an American middle school. A couple of the girls were eating cherries and spitting the pits on the marble floor. They found it hysterical when one of their co-workers almost slipped and ended up on her backside.

There really isn't much to say about the long flight aside from the fact that of course the one doofus that refused to close his window shades happened to be at the end of my row. I had just fallen asleep when he pulled his shade up and hit me with the concentrated solar laser beam which put an end to my dozing plans. There's always one, on every flight and this guy felt that he needed the light to pick at the skin on his hands, which for some reason he was eating. Scratch, pick, munch - that said just about everything. Well, that and the weird two-toned sort of boat shoes, sort of loafers he was wearing. A bit later when he fell asleep a kindly flight attendant went over and pulled it down, giving the rest of us a break.

About now it's 1 AM as far as my body is concerned but I am feeling pretty chipper. Probably the huge pastry carb load I have going, or maybe it's just over-tiredness. One thing thing that does feelo really good is the fact that I'm back in a place where I can write my story without having to sneak onto the internet via my corporate virtual private network. It's been a real pain these last few weeks, being unable to write or even review my blog from my apartment, without the added subterfuge of using my work computer. I think it's a pretty strange thing to be in a place where the powers that be are so worried, that they block something as insipid as Blogger. I mean honestly, most people are just complaining about not being able to get a good parking spot in front of their building, right?

1 comment:

JosephinesMountain said...

Nice read TerryB.

Thanks for writing it up!