Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Oh, the joy of flying!

Well, I can check "missing a flight" off of my "not to do" life list. I'm sitting in the Hong Kong airport awaiting our international flight to Los Angeles a day later than intended. Since the actual flight fiasco experience is still fresh in my memory and clouding my mood, I'm going to copy and paste Brian's updated blog with his first installment chronicling the last thirty six hours. It's aptly titled:

Our naivety exposed - expecting things to go well in China
by Brian Neal

Well, it's 7am CST on July 9th. My flight from Chicago to Nashville will leave soon and should land around 9:20. You may be wondering how I'm able to blog while on an airplane. Has American Airlines suddenly become the coolest airline ever? Hardly. I'm able to blog right now because I'm sitting in the Hong Kong airport, enjoying their free WiFi internet connection. I just finished enjoying their overpriced bacon cheeseburger. Now I suppose I should tell you WHY I'm in Hong Kong when I should be practically home. It all started with a dream.

Angelyn and I always dreamed of being treated well by our school. So to pursue this dream, we pestered them until they agreed to drive us from Shiyan to the Xi'an airport. This was a big deal for us because this meant we wouldn't have to bother with buses, trains, or taxis, which would be a big deal with our luggage. China has been changing quickly. Just last year a car ride to Xi'an would have taken 12 hours. Now there's a highway scheduled to open in December that will cut that down to 3 hours (thanks to about 100 bazillion tunnels they dug straight through 350km of mountains). Now the drive is expected to take 6 to 8 hours, depending on traffic and road conditions. To make a long story short, we took the opened portion of the highway for almost an hour, off-roaded on a dirt/gravel road for two hours or so, and spent the rest of the time mostly on two-lane paved roads winding through the mountains of Shaanxi province. While the view was breathtaking and our driver was fun and friendly, the drive ended in disaster. We got to the Xi'an area around 5 (about 3 hours later than expected), and got on the expressway to head to the airport. Somehow (I still don't know how because I saw with my own eyes the signs we were following toward the airport) we ended up on the wrong side of Xi'an. By the time I figured it out and showed the driver where we were on the map (ironic that I used a Chinese map better than the Chinese driver could), we were 70 miles away from where we wanted to be. So we turned back and sped towards the airport. The driver didn't seem too concerned when we saw a sign saying we had another 30 minutes, even though our flight was scheduled to leave in 60 minutes. Plenty of time, he said. Well, we pulled off the highway at 7, found the right terminal and pulled up to the door at 7:10, jumped out, barely said thanks to the driver before running inside, and arrived just in time to get totally lost inside the Xi'an airport. We were flying to Hong Kong, so we had to go into the international terminal, which was set off from the rest of the terminal by a frosted glass wall. We couldn't figure out how to get in. People in there had us running back and forth down the terminal for 30 minutes, handing us off from one person to the next, all of whom had no idea where the international terminal was. Finally, at 7:40 (the exact time our flight was taking off) someone let me through into a roped off area so I could ask his boss. It seems he couldn't ask himself. Turns out, the guy was guarding the rope blocking us from where we needed to go to check in. And he didn't even know it. Even though I said "where is counter 52?" (because that's where we needed to check in) and it was ten feet around the corner where he could SEE IT. Airport employees are smart sometimes. So we missed the flight to Hong Kong, which means we missed the 3 flights after that.

All in all, we arrived at the airport 5 hours later than we were told we would arrive. We spent 400 yuan on phone calls, expensive airport hotel rooms, and expensive airport hotel ramen noodles because we had to rebook tickets and stay the night. I really don't know what to say except that it's a lot easier to enjoy speaking with airport employees when you're NOT running around with over 100 pounds of luggage flopping around you. On the upside, it seems we would have missed our other flights even if we had made it to Hong Kong because American Airlines and Dragon Air are dumb. But I'll have to blog about that another time. There's so much more to this story, you should expect at least one more installment. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


One of my all-time favorite movies is Angel and the Badman. It's as corny as the title suggests - a John Wayne film no less. I've watched it many times since childhood which is probably why I love it so much. Anyway, in the film, John Wayne - resident badman - has been shot and subsequently rescued and cared for by a Quaker family. Upon arrival to their home, he's put in bed and though nearly unconscious, he appears restless, like there's something he's missing and needs before he can find peace. The Quaker father runs downstairs, empties John Wayne's gun, returns to his bedside and places it in his hand. John Wayne immediately relaxes and passes out. That gun was so much a part of John Wayne's life, he couldn't relax without it.

Last night for the first time in several days, I slept well. I woke up this morning well-rested and even perky. Did I mention Brian's back? After a week of playing tour guide for some first time China visitors, he made it home late Thursday night. Yesterday was a normal day - him doing his things, me doing mine, our paths crossing for meal times - nothing special. But like John Wayne's gun, Brian has become so much a part of my Shiyan life, it's difficult to feel at home without him. I can't imagine next year making cinnamon rolls without him in mind or meeting any meal time without waiting on him to finally get his shoes on so we can go. Anyway, Brian, I love you, brother.


We failed miserably at celebrating the Fourth of July in China. It would probably have helped had we been able to stop forgetting it was Independence Day. Here are the highlights of my first Fourth of July in China: I finished Jane Eyre (a reminder of what famous piece of literature we could have claimed as our own had we not declared our independence from using words such as "hither" and "thither") and later had a dinner of grilled fish - which did not compare in Americanicity with grilled hamburgers or hot dogs but was delicious nonetheless - watermelon, and ice cream. We ended the evening with an attempt to watch Independence Day illegally downloaded from a Chinese website, but it didn't work so we watched an episode of Monk instead and went to bed sans a grand Fourth of July Fireworks Show. But, we figure, we've seen enough fireworks daily in China since we've been here to last a lifetime of Fourth of Julys.


For anyone interested, I'll be back in the great state of Oklahoma Wednesday afternoon - the 9th. See you all soon!