Monday, December 21, 2009

Home Again

I've now recovered slightly, after the previous 24 hours have seen me on three separate flights enroute home from China. The flights themselves totaled 17 hours or so, but add another 3 hours trapped on the tarmac in a plane with two different mechanical problems, and it was not a pleasant day.

The day began at 4:00 am in Nanjng, China, where we left for the airport in the wee hours for a flight to Beijing. Not a big deal, except for the fact that I'd been struggling with the stomach disorder that plagues many visitors to China. The projectile vomiting had subsided, fortunately, but I was still dealing with (ahem) some disorder at the other end of the digestive tract, if you get my drift. I was finding it wise to be within ready reach of a toilet at all times. Mind you, a toilet in china is very often a squat affair, not the nice porcelain throne we normallythink of.

But no big deal. Planes have toilets. Chinese cab drivers are nothing if not blindingly fast. Off to the airport.

Safely into Beijing in a nice two hour flight that required only three trips to the toilet. Plenty of time for connecting flight to Beijing, and waiting lounge had a bathroom right next door. It was even a western style toilet. And it even featured toilet paper--not a common luxury in china.

The 12 hour flight from Beijing to San Francisco wasn't terrible, but it was 12 hours, after all, which is a hell of a long time to sit on a plane. I sat on the aisle, and the restroom was always at ready reach.

It was, however, an hour late getting into San Francisco, which meant we had to race frantically through the airport. Planes don't wait, even for planes for tourists with rebellious digestive systems. Because San Francisco was our port of entry back into the US, we had to clear customs, of course, and SF airport was an absolute zoo, with thousands and thousands of people, exaggerated by the fact that many east-coast bound travelers had had flights cancelled due to storms.

But really, not all that big a deal, so far. Though feeling extremely wan and pale, I was two thirds of the way home. We made the final flight, moments before the gate closed.

Then the plane pushed back from the gate. And we proceeded to sit on the tarmac for a full three hours while two different mechanical problems were addressed. Now, I normaly love to fly, but I have a peculiar claustrophobia when it comes to being confined in small spaces with lots of people. I can ride an elevator alone all day, but cram it with people and I have to count my breaths carefully on a long ride up a skyscraper. I don't have normal flyer's phobia, but rather a fear of being confined in crowds, and on a full plane, that time between the closing of an airplane's hatches and getting airborn is one that often sees me meditating quietly and struggling against panic. Once aloft, I have no problem, because I'm quite aware that if the damned thing crashes, it will break wide apart, and I'll surely be free of the crowd. Violent death doesn't trouble me at all, but God, spare me a crowded small space.

Our plane was crammed to the gills, and I found myself sitting in the very last row against the window--you know, the seat that won't even recline. And upon announcing that the plane wasn't moving for at least two hours, the crowd leaped to their feet to line up for the rest room.

And me, fighting a stupendous case Chairman Mao's revenge.

Well, no, I didn't soil myself in public, although in reality, it really wouldn't have mattered, because the plane had at least 12 infants aboard, at least 10 of which already had soiled diapers. Nobody would have spotted my transgression. After struggling with a bit of claustrophic panic for an hour or so, I found my way over the crowds and stood in the back galley area and nervously talked with the chief steward, who seemed to recognize my brand of claustrophobia. In a place where I could pace just a bit while eyeing the red emergency handle on the back escape hatch, I managed to get by okay.

To United Airline's credit, they did eventually get us back to a gate and allowed us off to use restrooms and eat, and it was a much cheerier crowd that got on board once the plane was fixed. I made it home fine, fell asleep for 20 hours, and now feel almost human.

Perhaps I'll next be able to describe a bit about China. For the moment, though, I'm simply to have survived the whole thing.


Jerri said...

SO glad to hear about even a little of your trip. Can't wait for more.

Welcome home! said...

Wow. Glad you made it home safe & sound. Happy holidays!