18 May 2008
If It Looks Like China…
I leave DC incredibly excited for this next big adventure – a return to where it all began: Shanghai. But first it’s three days in Boston and five in California. Part work, part pleasure. It’s easy to get used to the comforts of your childhood home. The cupboards are full of the same delicious snacks. The laundry is magically “done.” The sun shines into the kitchen the same way every morning. The showerhead feels the same way as it did at 5am in high school. Same neighbors. Same siblings. Same arguments. Same hilarious moments. It feels like a complete escape from my hectic post-college life, only this break is a return to my childhood. And so I must soldier on. Back to China and all of it’s “character,” both good and bad.
Of course I have “honeymoonized” China in my mind, remembering only the delicious food, great people and happiest moments. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Still, I’m returning and all those goods will be matched with not-so-goods.
My parents and I arrive way early to the airport. I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll need extra time. We wait a solid hour in line to check my bags. I approach the counter and the woman asks me for my ticket. “It’s an e-ticket,” I reply. “Did you ever change the flight date,” she asks. Immediately I switch into “international traveler who has braved the storms of China” mode. “No, it was an e-ticket. I bought it on Orbitz. I have the confirmation number. I got confirmation. I have a ticket…” I ramble on as she punches away on her airport computer, a phenomenon in technological terms because it always takes about 300 different keystrokes to accomplish a task.
I’m starting to sweat. Surely something can’t go wrong BEFORE I leave. “Oh, ok. No problem Mr. Taylor. It’s right here.” She giggles. It hits me. I’m actually going back to China.
The security line takes another 30 minutes. I arrive at my gate, welcomed by the sound of an emergency exit door alarm that is filling the waiting area with a high-pitched squawk, complemented by constant announcements being made in Mandarin (I definitely heard something about windows and chicken), gate attendants frantically running here and there and a large consolidation of people forming around the plane entrance. They have yet to call for boarding. It hits me. I’m actually going back to China.
I turn on “China mode” and push my way to the front, ready to board as soon as possible. They call rows 60 and higher. I’m in row 52 and proceed to board, along with EVERYONE ELSE on my flight. I have my passport checked for the 12th time and they scan my ticket. Success! I’m through to the bus that will take me to my plane. True to Chinese form, there are a million people on the bus and we’re packed in like sardines. It hits me. I’m actually going back to China.
The bus takes off, driven by none other than a portly Chinese man who is smoking a cigarette. Naturally. We are driving for what seems like hours to the other side of the enormous tarmac, dodging luggage carts, people holding batons and enormous airplanes before reaching our plane, which is attached to a small building that could easily be mistaken for an abandoned auto repair shop. The bus doors open and everyone takes off running, determined to board the plane first. I follow suit, taking out a few rolling suitcases and small children on my journey to winning what appears to be a “first one on the plane” marathon. I dart up the ramp and onto the plane, taking that last step like I’ve just won the 100-yard dash in Beijing. I look around at the folks trailing me. They look defeated but determined. It hits me. I’m already back in China…