Saturday, October 20, 2012

Asian Chronicles-1

Getting There 9/26/2012
“How’s preparations for China going?” my friends asked.
    “I have a suitcase parked at the edge of my living room - at which I throw things,” I replied. Two-days before departure, I laid it out in an organized fashion. I would be traveling for 24-days; what did I really need? Passport - check. Camera - check. Wilderness and Travel Medicine handbook - check. Two skorts and long-sleeved shirts - check. Bikini and sarong - check, check. Sling-shot, sock monkey for sister Gina - check. 

I set my out of office response: Traipsing through China, hanging in Hong Kong, munching in Macau. Ne hou ma? Email communication is best. A hui hou kakou! and boarded Hawaiian Air for Honolulu. There I joined my family and our tour group.

Early the next morning, I donned the forest-green, "Grande Holiday" lanyard holding my name-tag. At 10am people congregated along the wall at Korean Air’s check-in counter. Decibels grew steadily with the crowd. 
Lael, Mom, Gina, Michael, Collin
Mom had signed on with a small tour of twenty - perfect - but Air and Sea Travel had tossed our tour into a larger one. Some lanyards were green, others red; I knew not why. The group grew to eighty. Many were elderly and I felt some relief for my niece and nephew upon spotting a few twenty-somethings wearing name-tags. Most travelers had lunched in Chinatown on September first - for a tour debriefing. There I presume, they met our guide Derek. 

Derek is a slight man of Chinese descent. He wore a striped pull-over, faded jeans, and Keen sandals. Mostly Derek lives in hotels and out of suitcases. His wife and children however, live in Beijing while he straddles the dateline. His English is heavily accented in a way that is both familiar and homey.
Derek gathered us round, "They change the plane; I like this one better, it's bigger. We have ten rows. The seats are arranged two and four and two. Yup? Alright? Two, four, and two,” his fingers, extended overhead, reconfigured themselves from two, to four, to two.  “So married couples can sit together - two; easy. And one can have the window and one can have the aisle and you can switch so no one is trapped. Okay? Alright? And if you are in the middle four, you can go out on the right or on the left." His hand waved, gesturing right, then left. "Okay? Alright?"

I was reminded of a friend who passed his camera to an oncoming hiker for picture-taking. "You look through the little hole here," he said stating the obvious, "And you push the  little button there." That my eyes weren't captured rolled to the welkin was pure luck.

Derek continued, "The alcohol on board is free. You can have red wine or white wine. They will show it to you and you can tell them. Please enjoy but DO NOT GET DRUNK," he giggled, softening his caveat. Yup, okay, alright Derek.
My nephew Collin, a big, Hawaiian kid, mimicked, "If you in da middle, you can exit right oh lef. Alright? Okay?" We giggled our way to security.

We flew a newer, Korean Airlines airbus A330 with individual eight-inch LCD screens and USB ports for charging. We would travel 9.5 hours and 4,549 miles, crossing the dateline into a Korean evening nineteen hours ahead of Hawaiian-time. I watched several movies, made preliminary journal notes, and cracked the cover on a new and highly recommended book, The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.

    In preparation, I loaded my iPod Shuffle with favorite instrumentals - classic and modern - purely for escape and relaxation. I downloaded three audio-books into my iPad and iPhone. I however, still gravitate to paper and The Corrections was no exception. So when I say crack the cover, I do mean it.
    The Corrections is a best seller, winner of the National Book Award, and Pulitzer Prize finalist. It was also a recent finalist for NPR's top 100 by American novelists. It is a must read for those who are or have aging parents. Did I get everyone? Within its pages I felt revealed and known and expressed and celebrated and devastated and illuminated and transformed.

    Many hours later, we processed through Incheon International Airport in Seoul, Korea to catch our connecting flight to Beijing. It was 11pm Hawaiian time. Incheon was clean and spacious, its surfaces gleamed, its air - fresh. These features hardly impressed me at the time but would assume new shimmer and shine upon my return.
    Our China Airlines carrier was lackluster after the Korean airbus, sans individual LCD screens and USB ports. Domestic carriers, even in the states, have few amenities. We landed in Beijing at 6pm local time and 3am Hawaiian time. Darkness fell as we collected luggage and cleared customs.
    The barricade outside Receiving was lined with eager greeters including, not surprisingly, Starbucks. Our bus awaited two-blocks away, across a densely packed street that rose in resentful and incessant blaring at the mere notion of stopping to let 80 people cross. We negotiated uneven and unlit sidewalks, shiny with rain, and waited in the bus while the lost were found.

    My head spun and circled on approach for landing on a Beijing pillow at approximately 9pm local time,  6am Hawaiian time - after a full 25-hours of wakefulness. I was tired but with the jittery alertness that comes with sleep deprivation and a body driven by will and necessity.


  1. Oy. Long distance traveling. Not my favorite. But you are there! (or were) Can't wait for your next installment.

  2. Mahalo Patricia! I will catch up on your blog this week! Promise!

  3. Okay, one post down and 2 more to go :-) I am taking my tour of your trip tonight. Having fun !