Friday, January 19, 2007

My first days abroad

My first days abroad

January 17, 11:44pm - Seatac Airport
It's so surreal. I had a glass of champagne at dinner, which only added to the effect. Now I'm so tired, while waiting to board the plane, that nothing seems real. I couldn't believe how many boxes of stuff (gifts) people were carting into the check-in line. Several suitcases and a few large moving boxes on each cart pp all labelled with Asian addresses. The family ahead of me through security had several children, all in denim jumpers, mom with outdated hairdo. My first thought was homeschool or missionary family - but one girl has a Samantha doll in her backpack.

The crew is boarding. Not much longer now. I'm so cold. I'm dressed for Asia, but Seattle is well below freezing. The flight attendants all wear purle and have short black hair. The announcements over the loudspeaker are first in Chinese. What an odd-sounding language - so obviously tonal. I can't wait to get on this plane, put on my sleep mask, wrap up in my blanket and sleep.

January 19th? - Somewhere over the Pacific

Oh gosh! What an uncomfortable flight. Both arms hurt which make finding a way to curl up and sleep very hard. Back home it's a little after 1pm on the 18th - the screen above our seats says its something like 5am in Taipei - which, by the way, is in Taiwan, not China. Shows you just how much research I've done for this trip.

As promised, I pulled out my blanket and pillow immediately upon embarking - and discovered that, actually, the under seat storage on this flight is much smaller than on a domestic flight - my backpack doesn't fit. Since there's no way I'm going to be left with nothing to do for 13 hours, I transfered everything out of the side pouches and forced it under with both feet.

I had just drifted off to the random shuffle of the ipod my sister lent me, when I awoke to my seatmate tapping my arm (Owwww!). 2:15am and they want to serve us breakfast. Unable to find my glasses I ordered blind, sleep mask shoved up my forehead. I ate my sausage, juice, and yogurt, then pulled my mask back down, covered myself head to toe in my blanket and the airline one, and curled up against the window. I slept for 8 hours I think. I'm now sure when we took off - be boarded the plane right at our departure time. We seem to be arriving only half an hour late. I know we didn't board that quickly. Sometime in this perpetual night (It's been dark the entire flight. 12 hours in I can just see the edge of dawn behind us), I looked out the window to see a small smattering of lights. An island? Maybe Hawaii, but it doesn't look like our flight plan went that far south.

They gave us hot wipes to wash our faces and hands before we went to sleep (right after breakfast, remember), then dimmed the lights. We were awoken around 9amPST to more hot wipes and chicken, rice, and hard liquor service. I can't figure out whose time this plane is operating under. Not Pacific coast, but not Taipei either.

I washed my face, put in contact and makeup, and amused myself with the contents of my backpack. I can't get to CS Lewis, who is lodged at the bottom. I played a bit of Sudoku and read the in-flight magazine. This one's funny: From my (forgive me) travel horoscope (only taken as seriously as a fortune cookie)...
"Travel plans have a tendency to arise rather suddenly at this time. You will get most pleasure from spontaneous excursions. Personal money matters and anything that my have an effect on your treasured possessions comes up for discussion."
Huh. No kidding.

1 hour to go. One. they all the joys of negotiating my way around a really international airport. Lord protect me -this is so odd. My mind is only working as far ahead as the next step. Endure the flight. Find the connecting gate. Pee. Board next flight. Get off in Bangkok. Then....!

Dawn is certainly growing behind us - the sun has finally caught up with us. the horizon is completely flat and circular around us. (Perhaps from the opposite side of the plane I could see land - or maybe an island) The magazines are all in Chinese, then Japanese, then English in very small print and poor grammar. Best movie review for "Following the sun under a Tuscan sky." Alright, I'm going to put everything away. the flight attendants are walking around handing out more free stuff. Even the wine and liquor and headphones are free.

January 19th - 9:35am/4:35pm January 18th. Taoyuan (Taiwan)

Ok. One international airport looks pretty much like another. Duty free. Seems rather more expensive than just buying the stuff outright, but maybe I'm not doing the conversions correctly. I went into a bookstore to see what they had - all Chinese (I'm guess ting) except for a few sci/fi books, and ironically enough - the complete set of the Chronicles of Narnia. it's cold int he airport. I took off my long underwear I've had under my skirt. I don't want to be confused with a Mormon missionary -- though reality isn't far from that. One more flight. the landing was bumpy, and only the man next to me talking helped me not be sick. He thought the deep yoga-learned breathing was fear. Nope, just battling nausea. When I told him where I was going he tried to talk me out of it. 'All people without contracts leave in one week.' If I got in trouble, he said, 'get a Chinese friend. Chinese government more powerful than U.S. Embassy.' Nice man - other than waking me up for the world's earliest breakfast.

that man from the last plane is waiting for this one, too. He's wearing a fuchsia long sleeved shirt and purple hat, and carrying a little mini-accordion strapped to his chest. 'Do you remember me?' he asks. Hard to forget. Gesture to his shirt and accordion. He wants to borrow some scissors from me (he saw me sewing on the last flight) but I put them in my suitcase. He played his accordion on the last flight. Trapped in a small space with someone playing accordion sounds like the Far Side version of hell. In my increasingly jet lagged state it made the whole thing feel like a French art film. Where is La Vie en Rose?

This is an international airport. There are a majority of Asian people, but lots of Westerners too. Our percentage is decreasing rapidly as the locals join us in the plane queue.

1:30 - Bangkok (actual time)

I'm in a foreign country. I can't find my ride. And I've lost my pen. I don't know why the pen and the ride are weighing in equally in my head. there are lots of people holding signs, none of them the illusive Molly. Taxi drivers galore would like to take me somewhere, but I wouldn't know where. For now I'll sit dutifully outside my disembarkation gate and hope she arrives soon. My numbness might wear off. And then I'll have to realize that I am lost. Alone. Halfway around the world...