After about five hours of sleep, I left the house at about 4:15 a.m. last Thursday morning. I'm fairly used to getting up around 5 or so, so it wasn't really that bad. The plan: 2.5-hour flight to Chicago, 14-hour flight to Shanghai (up and over the N. pole), then a 2-hour flight to Beijing. Coupled with layovers, it would equal a total travel time of almost exactly 24 hours.
There were lots of very interesting people in the waiting area at the gate in Chicago. There was an old Chinese man wearing a single gray glove, kind of like a weird, Twilight-Zone, Chinese version of Michael Jackson. There was a gay couple--one white, one Chinese--who were watching episodes of The Family Guy on a laptop way too loud. The funny thing about these guys is that they both had headphones around their neck. I guess they were more like fashion accessories than actual functional headphones. And there was a couple from Dallas who were on their way to pick up their Chinese adopted baby. What a trip it would be for them!
I got to my seat on the long flight before my seat-mate arrived. I was hoping for good luck here -- a bad seat mate on a 14-hour flight can be deadly. A middle-aged man approached and gestured to the seat next to me. I noticed he had a surgical-style face mask on his back pack. I thought maybe he, too, had heard about the awful pollution in China and had brought it for his trip. I was wrong.
Turns out the guy was a germ-a-phobe. He brought the mask so that he wouldn't contract TB on the flight. He then launched in a diatribe about "nasty" blankets and pillows that we are given. Super. Kind of just made me want to snuggle into my American Airlines blanket and sneeze on him.
The flight was really ... really ... really long. Although there were movies and TV shows on the little seat-back screens (30 Rock just never gets old), 14 hours is still a hard flight. I finally got to see Juno, though. Liked it. We were also an hour late getting out of Chicago, and I knew I only had a two-hour window in Shanghai in which I had to go through customs and then make my connection. It was a little stressful, but I knew that at the end of it all I would see Alex's smiling face waiting amid a sea of strangers.
Except that I didn't. He wasn't there. After 24 hours of traveling and the stress of making my Shanghai connection, I was devastated to realize that my struggles weren't over quite yet. I walked around the receiving area for about 15 minutes, looking for him in vain. Alex is so much harder to spot in a crowd of Chinese people than he is here!
Finally I found him. He had just arrived after sitting through 2.5 hours of traffic on the way to the airport (a trip that should have taken him about 45 minutes). He, too, was understandably stressed out, since he thought he might have missed me.
So that was the story of getting out there! It was long and at times harder than I had hoped, but it all ended well! Tomorrow I will post pictures of our first day in Beijing: Tian'anmen Square, Lama Temple, and Confucius Temple.