Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I have arrived

Turns out that my flight from Newark was only 13 hours.

The embraer, though small, was comfortable enough for me, and I liked not having to sit next to anyone. It wasn't a very full plane though, and the other passengers were mostly jovial suited men. I slept, obviously, and upon arrival at Newark was so dazed that I could barely follow the trail, which bent oddly, that they had set up on the tarmac. There was a man with a few pieces of paper stapled together and so I thought I had better see if he had an opinion about where I should be heading, considering I had no idea. He directed me to a small shuttle bus sitting off to the side. In it, there was a fellow passenger also on the trek to my terminal, so I decided that I must follow her wherever she went, because she was alert and I was not. I assumed she was alert because she was able to ask questions of the driver. The bus took us to another bus, which I also boarded, ever behind this other woman. That bus did arrive at terminal C.

Terminal C at Newark has to have some of the worst airport bathrooms I've encountered. Concourse C at Dayton wasn't that great either, by the way. Earlier this month I had planned on writing an entry exclusively rating the airport bathrooms I've visited recently, but never got around to it. It's on the table though.

Somehow managed to pass 3 hours there. I think a lot of it happened when I leaned over my backpack for a moment and then promptly fell asleep. I woke up just in time for them to announce that everyone needed to form a single-file line to check in again-- so that they could examine our passports.

I'd thought I'd be seated in 40E (smack center of the plane), but somehow last night I guess I managed to change my seat to 24D, which is an aisle seat in the center row. It was bizarre because when choosing seats after booking, nearly all seats were shown as occupied except for a few non-window-non-aisle seats in the back of the plane. When I unsuccessfully attempted online check-in, though, nearly all of the seats at the front of the plane were available, so I tried to switch. After my attempt failed though (they need to check your passport in person, I guess) I went to view my itinerary again and my seat hadn't changed. And then when I went to look at the seating chart again, I got the original mostly-booked chart with my original seat. So I just ignored it and moved on.

Anyways, it wasn't a very full flight so while boarding, some people got spread out a bit so that people could have more room. The center seat in my row was unoccupied, so not only did I get a second blanket, but I also got to take advantage of the tray table. This excited me.

The 777 had personal TVs on all of the seats, and while they were a pain to navigate, there were some interesting things going on. I watched two movies during the flight: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, and How to Eat Fried Worms. The first one was all right... I probably would have enjoyed it a lot less if Lee Pace hadn't been in it. However, I would like to recommend right now that everyone go watch How to Eat Fried Worms. I very very vaguely remember this book from either the 3rd or 4th grade... I think it was well-recieved. The movie though is adorably funny. A lot of those "pffffft" laughter (originally typed lafter... hm) moments, and a lot of those snorkly back of the throat chuckles too.

Did a ton of sleeping. Well, not a ton, but I tried to spend most of my time in a sleeping position with the though that it wouldn't hurt to actually fall asleep. I also spent a lot of time staring at the flight show, at the little airplane making its way along our route and all the info about tail wind speeds, altitudes, and outside temperatures.

A few hours in, we started hitting a lot of turbulence. It's probably not something I would have thought too hard about before this past January, but since the wind-shear/Fresno experience, I've become really paranoid about rocking turbulence. I was wondering what on earth was bouncing such a big plane around so much, and, seeing that we were off the northeastern coast of Canada, concluded that it must have something to do with Kyle, maybe. Maybe that was not the case, but it's all I really had in terms of an explanation. Eventually it subsided, but no one else really seemed that bothered. I was getting rolled around in my seat and folks were still standing up for a leisurely stroll to the bathroom, and only one of them got reprimanded at all.

Yes we were off the northeastern coast of Canada. Our route did not take us over North America and the Pacific like I had for some reason envisioned, nor did we go by way of the Atlantic and Europe as a friend had guessed. Instead, we went straight up over the Artctic and came down through Siberia. Somewhere between 6 and 7 hours in, I got up for a bathroom break and took some pictures of the north pole (or somewhere near it) through the window in the emergency exit. Surprisingly, no one had their windows open. A few of us gawked out for a couple minutes, commenting on the sunlight, then I did my business and went to sit down again.

Meals were eh. I don't think I'll be having the salmon again, though it's partly because of a bad cilantro experience. Dinner came with Milanos though, which I saved, as well as a salad topped with smoked salmon that tasted all right. Later there was a beef and swiss sandwich (more like an oblong sparse swiss burger or LaRosas style hoagie) and a little thing of vanilla haagen daaz. Not bad (kind of a weird combination and if you're lactose intolerant you're screwed), butI don't think I will be eating a whole little thing of ice cream in the future either, because I definitely got like heartburn or something from one or both of those things. Dairy? Lastly came breakfast, which was eggs or "dim sum" and caused a lot of confusion among a lot of passengers. Eventually the attendants started asking "eggs or noodles" by way of clarification. I didn't really know which way to go this time, but ended up going with the thing less likely to make me sick later, meaning not-eggs. The noodles did in fact come with some dim sum items: a pork bun that might have been a bbq pork bun though the filling was odd, a piece of shiu mai that had a large chunk of inedible animal part within, and a leaf of baby bok choi. The accompanying fruit tasted kinda like dish detergent. I haven't had sub-par airline melon in years though, so that was a surprise.

Anyways, that was the obligatory critique of the food, though I should probably follow it by stating that I still appreciate having had the opportunity to enjoy it or not during this flight. I love being served food on the airplane.

Landed in Beijing, just as I remembered it. Entry forms are currently the most straightforward and simple iteration that I've experienced and I wasn't made to fret over an irrelevant customs form this time either.

Got my things and came to the realization that not only could anyone there have just picked them up and walked off with them, but that there's even less safeguard against that in domestic baggage claims in the US. In fact, in Dayton or CVG, anyone could really wander in through the front doors, stand by baggage claim, take however much they wanted, and walk back out through the door. Awesome, right?

Found the driver no problem. Initially I thought I'd have the task of getting on a bus to get on another bus to get on a train to get to where I was going. But my host was really cool and sent a driver to collect me. He took my suitcase and my bag and we made our way into the garage, which is also how I remembered it. I got really nostalgic in there actually. Then we sped through a pedestrian walkway and then nearly ended the life of a sprinting child. He really wasn't paying any attention, though perhaps he wasn't planning on actually running into the path of oncoming traffic in the garage. Even though he stopped in time (he was trying to get some people's attention) he gave me, the driver, and probably his whole family a good pump of adrenaline.

We chatted for a bit and then I was told to get some rest. I tried to say something along the lines of how I'd been resting for the past 13 hours, and I think it worked, but lapsed into silence anyway. I watched traffic patterns and roadside foliage and read the street signs. But then I inevitably fell asleep. I woke up once I think while we were going through Tianjin (or did we go straight to TEDA?) and thought that I should remain conscious to see the city, but fell asleep again until right at the end. The area looks nothing like I expected it might, and the place I'm staying is way nicer than I expected it to be. Mrs. L came down to get me and the two of us moved my things into her apartment.

I got a tour of the rooms and then set up my computer to let my parents know that I'd made it. And there's wireless internet. I also took the opportunity to brush my teeth. My dad was really excited that I'd get to eat his friend's food, so obviously I was excited to. Mrs. L boiled up some squash and chicken dumplings for dinner and they were delicious. Doubly delicious because there was also vinegar involved. God I was so happy when I saw that.

Afterwards, Mrs. L insisted on taking me out to get my feet massaged so that I'd be able to sleep tonight. I'm pretty sure that sleep was always on the docket, but I'll admit that I was enticed by this prospect. Well, enticed and extremely wary because I have a very low tolerance for tickling and that's all I hear when someone says "foot massage."

We walked TEDA's long blocks and she pointed out the landmarks to me. I'd forgotten how positively terrifying it is to cross multi-lane roads here. Maybe I was still in a daze, but there were a couple times that I was confident that the way was clear to walk when a car would advance from the least obvious direction with no intention of sparing anyone in its path. Fortunately Mrs. L saw them all coming.

The massage parlor I guess is run by a friend of hers? We sat down in a room in two comfy chairs and took our shoes and socks off. Two girls came in with buckets of very very hot water that I splashed around in until it was cool enough to just submerge my feet. That felt pretty good. Then the girls came back in and gave us hand and arm massages. Not being a massage person really, I liked this part a lot. My arms have been all out of sorts for months and while this probably didn't do anything to help, it did feel good. Um, it was a bit awkward though because at this point I could look my masseuse in the face and just couldn't think of anything to say to her. So I looked at the ceiling or watched the floor and a little cockroach that was traversing it. At intervals, I'd look up and see it on the wall or on the flat screen TV and wasn't as repulsed as I could have been.

Next I was moved onto a stool so that she could do my back. Ah, ok, I did not like this part. Some of it was appealing, yes, but a lot of it was just pain and her beating the crap out of my lower back. I have no doubt that most of my other friends would have enjoyed this segment of the massage, but it wasn't really for me. At one point the other girl turned around and saw me making the gritted-teeth-wide-eyed cringe and I had to turn it into a smile real fast. She asked me if I was ticklish and so I said yes. I didn't want them to know that I'm a wimp.

Last up came the feet. At first I didn't know if I could make it through without an outburst, but it actually went pretty well. For the feet-- not too ticklish though she kept hitting like a pressure point or something on my instep that was uncomfortable. Also included was a leg massage up to the thigh. I'd closed my eyes at some point and it's possible that I dozed off for a while or something.

And then it was over and we caught a taxi back. I showered, checked the blogs, and then wrote this. Sure, not a masterpiece or anything (unfortunately it looks like it's not entertaining enough to double as an e-mail), but at least now I have all the details accrued thus far.

Monday, September 29, 2008


I’m currently about an hour away from boarding my 6:30am flight out of Dayton airport… I’m feeling good. Also, did you know that if you carry several dollars worth of spare change in your purse, it will get searched by TSA? According to the nice man who had to hand-examine my book, notebook, camera, wallet, ipod, cell phones, and various other paraphernalia, a large cluster of coins creates a dark spot that the x-ray can’t read through. WOW.

Anyways, since I’ve got all this time, I think I shall use it to answer a few Frequently Asked Questions, or FAQs, about this trip.

Q: You’re going to China again?

A: Yes.

Q: How long will you be gone this time?

A: Starting with 3 months. I’m coming back on December 22 (missed too many family holidays the last couple years) and sticking around for the beginning of January. Unless something absolutely ridiculous happens to preclude my return, I’ll then be going back until next summer, June-ish.

Q: Where in China are you going?

A: Tianjin, specifically TEDA, the Tianjin Economic Development Area. Actually I’m only guessing on what that stands for, but if I’m wrong I’m at least very close. And no, I’ve never been there before, so this should be interesting.

Q: Ok, wait… where is that?

A: Haha good question! I thought I knew, but yesterday my parents told me I was wrong. It’s a port city southeast of Beijing, and there’s a high-speed train that connects the two cities with something like a 30 minute ride.

Q: Are you going to be teaching English again?

A: That is not my primary directive, no. Honestly I think I’m more or less past that now, although I do expect that at some point over the next few months I will be helping someone with their English in some capacity. Yeah, ok, now that I think of it, there’s a very good likelihood that they’ll make me teach at the local college.

Q: So what exactly are you going to be doing while you’re there?

A: Uh, as of right now, it’s not entirely… clear. The back-story is that there’s a friend of the family who works with the TEDA Community Service Volunteer Association (they have a website in English!) who thought that I might be able to help her out. So she’s willing to take me on and keep me busy and show me how the organization operates. I expect to be volunteering with some of their projects in the city, but also hopefully getting a little administrative experience too. Most importantly though, I’m going to have a chance to observe and learn and I also get to work my Chinese more than I have before, hopefully picking up a lot more technical vocab.

Q: Hold on, does this mean you STILL don’t have a paying job?

A: That is correct!

Q: You’re not going to get robbed again are you?

A: I’m not really sure why this is so frequently-asked. I’m certainly not planning on it.

Q: What are you taking with you?

A: One medium-large suitcase of random crap that evidently weighs 53 lbs., a frame backpack full of clothes, and old faithful, my trusty backpack.

Q: Can I come visit you?

A: Absolutely! I expect to get an apartment relatively soon, at which point anyone is welcome to crash with me for any period of time. I’m an enthusiastic hostess and will stuff you with delicious foods and take you wherever you want, um, within reason. I recommend coming anytime between March and June.

Q: Are you excited?

A: Yeah, sure. I’m definitely glad to be doing something again and I can’t wait to explore more of China.

I’m flying Continental for this trip and I’m actually looking forward to a nice series of flights. First of all, since I don’t have to switch airlines, my bags are checked all the way through to Beijing. After LAX last time, and DEFINITELY after friggin JFK, I’m glad not to have to drag everything between terminals and wait through check-in a second time. Second, I get to fly in an A seat on an Embraer between Dayton and Newark. This has to be the most comfortable small plane I’ve flown so far, and A is a single-seat row. Bwahahahaha. From Newark, it’s an 18 or so hour non-stop flight to Beijing, middle seat in the middle row on a 777. Oh well, at least I’ll have options?

Is this too much information yet? Well, you can look forward to more. I arrive in China right as they kick into their national holiday! So I guess I’ll just get to hang out for a couple days and get acquainted with the city since there will be absolutely nothing for me to do since everything official shuts down for the week.

I think I'm packed...

So... that was almost too easy. I know I'm forgetting something monstrously important. But honestly, as long as I have underwear and face wash I'm probably OK right? All of my clothes are piled on top of each other in my large backpack. I'm assuming that will be enough to get me through. The suitcase is honestly just full of random things like tampons and shoes, packed more or less inefficiently. A lot of it will be gone when I make the return trip. I did some quick searches and I think I might be able to climb a bit while I'm gone, so at the last minute I went ahead and stuffed my gear in on top of everything else. Worse comes to worse I can shop there (everyone know how much I LOVE shopping in China... PSYYYYCHE), and if it gets worse than that, I'm coming home in December.

Looking forward to that, by the way!

OK, I feel feverish... I think I should shower and have some frozen yogurt while watching one of the movies I rented when I thought I would have time to watch them. I don't think I shall be sleeping tonight, since I have to get up at 3 to leave for the airport anyway.