15 June 2008
This One Time, At The Airport…
Or should I say, seemingly every time at the airport something goes wrong. While I was more hopeful for my trip to Guilin and Yanghshuo with Lianne, alas, it would not be so. It all began at lunch. The storm, that is. The thunderstorm that chucked 5 inches of water down in about three hours. It was complemented by thunder and lighting unlike any thunder and lighting I have ever seen, and that includes the wild thunderstorms in DC and torrential rains of monsoon in India. I mean, it was raining!
We called to check out 7:20pm departure and the agency said we were “on time, good to go.” So we grabbed a cab, hopeful of a swift departure. We were two hours early (I have a constant, innate fear of something going terribly wrong with my flight. I do believe I have a trip around the World with United to thank for that fear).
Just in time for the first incident to occur. There are absolutely NO liquids allowed on domestic flights in China. NONE AT ALL. Lianne and I had spent all day resorting luggage and slimming our necessities so we could avoid checking luggage. Alas, not so. We puttered over to the luggage zone and checked our tiny backpacks. Mine weighed all of 8 pounds. Who checks 8 pounds of luggage?
Security line goes fine (you can keep your shoes on and leave your laptop in your bag here but you can’t bring an ounce of contact solution. Go figure) and now we’re searching for our gate. “Gate 9. Gate 9,” I’m saying as we walk past Gate 7 then Gate 8 before arriving at Gate 10. Hmm…Our eyes are reading everything in site for a clue as to where Gate 9 may have gone. “Mobile Phone Electizing.” No, that’s not it. “”If to over on, under and above.” No, that’s not it either. Finally Lianne notices a piece of A4 paper taped to a pole that reads only “9” with a hand-drawn arrow pointing down an auxiliary staircase. Super. Apparently Gate 9 leads to a path that allows you to walk to Guilin.
We leave the perfect temperature and calm atmosphere of the main terminal and descend into the depths of Chinese travel madness. This auxiliary terminal and hot and sweaty. Every seat is taken. Announcements are running constantly over the PA, repeating the same message again and again and again. There is no place to buy water but there is a luxury jeweler. A man stands up and we wedge ourselves onto one chair. A little girl in a pink skirt is doing donuts around our row of seats screaming and poking at people. She stops in front of us each time, looks at us as if we are aliens, sticks out her tongue, bites it, does some lamas breathing and scurries away. Donut. Tongue. Bite. Lamas. Donut. Tongue. Bite. Lamas. I am emtranced. The parents are nowhere to be found.
We watch the status screen as the word “Delayed” appears next to our flight. We’re now departing at 7:50pm, thirty minutes late. “Not too bad,” I concede. Lianne nods in agreement. We get to chatting in between lamas breaths and before we know it it’s 8:15pm. We’re still sitting in the waiting area. The announcer comes on. “For flight to Guilin, please wait a moment.” Will do. She makes this same announcement every minute on the dot for the next 15 minutes.
8:30pm rolls around and the woman mixes it up by announcing boarding. Then, all at once, as if there were fewer seats on the plane than there were people with assigned seats, every single Chinese traveler stands up and charges the gate. Pandemonium ensues. Pushing. Shoving. Wedging. Lianne and I linger back a while until the crowd dissipates. We then pass through and board the bus. I’m wondering to myself, “did we by plane tickets or bus tickets?” I can see planes all around us and I’m hoping this is just a shuttle to our aircraft. Hey, it’s China, you never know.
Our bus pulls up next to a plane sitting all alone out on the tarmac. Doors open and people run for the stairs, still not convinced that there are actually enough seats for every person. But wait, what’s this? There’s a hold-up! A woman at the stairs is rechecking every single ticket and passport, as if we could have somehow snuck out onto the tarmac, just dying to steal someone’s seat and offset the entire balance of this flight. Lianne and I linger again. The buses pull away and I begin to notice that we are literally alone out in the middle of the tarmac with nobody watching us or guiding us. We could easily turn and run in any direction. In fact, that littler girl in pink is doing just that. Donuts around the plane. Another flight takes off 50 feet to our right. I can’t help but wonder, “no contact solution but I can wander freely around the open tarmac?
Finally everyone else boards and we approach the ticket woman. She looks like she has been attacked by a pack of dogs. “Xie xie,” I say. Thank you. Shocked, she smiles in bewilderment. We take our seats and the waiting game begins. It’s now 9pm. The captain comes on. “Please wait for a moment.” Will do captain. Will do. The storm is firing back up and it appears that we have missed our window. Five minutes later they pop in a movie and I can smell food being cooked. The Captain returns to the airwaves: “Please wait a moment and enjoy some noshery.” Will do captain. Will do. The flight attendants proceed to serve dinner to us sitting on a plane in the middle of the tarmac. We’re approaching 10pm. We left the house at 5, which means we’ve been “traveling” for 5 hours and have made it a whopping 15 miles from the apartment to this airplane.
Post dinner Lianne and I nod off. Our plane finally takes off at 11pm after tow hours of sitting on board. We arrive in Guilin about 1am and our thankfully, so do our bags. Lianne’s is pristine. Mine looks like it was dragged through the mud for a few hours. We share a taxi with a French guy who was also on our much-delayed flight. We chit-chat while our driver spends the entire 40-minute drive talking – no screaming – on his cell phone, only to arrive at our hostel to discover that they have lost our reservation. Of course, there is no way of knowing what exactly that means, as there is no computer behind the desk to store reservation numbers. Just a giant paper ledger with a lot of boxes and lines on it. “You have reservation number,” She asks. “Let me get it,” I tell her. “I need reservation number,” she asks again. “I’m getting it. Just a second,” I say, a bit more insistent this time. “I have to have your reservation number,” she says again and again and again. “LISTEN LADY, HE’S GETTING IT. CALM DOWN,” Lianne says from behind me. She giggles. We look at each other, totally confused.
I pull it up on my computer and they look at me as if I have doctored some online confirmation email. “Do you not have any rooms,” I ask. “Is that the problem?”
“Oh no,” she says. “We have plenty of rooms. Only two people staying.” I’m thinking to myself, then why are you creating an international crisis if the hostel is empty? Out of nowhere she says, “Oh yes, here it is,” while pointing to an empty box on her giant pad. No clue.
All we knew is that it meant keys, which meant sleep. Which was exactly what we needed.