I sat for a while longer there in the Coffee Port until the smoke just became unbearable. Two guys behind me were lighting up one after another and the Germans, who had left for a bit, came back. They were the most amazing smokers I have ever seen, they lit it, sucked it in in one draw and used the flaming filter to light a second one. They smoked so fast that you could see the ember burning down the length of the butt like a forest fire tearing through the hills above Malibu. Here’s a picture, unfortunately they did not understand me when I asked them to sign a release form. No hard feelings I hope.
I went over to some neutral seating near the check-in counter. Two little girls laughed and laughed at me until I said “Ni hao” which made them laugh even harder. They answered “hello” and I answered back and then their Grandma started yelling at them, I assume telling them to behave and to quit haranguing the foreigner. Made me feel bad.
Now you’re not supposed to check in before the 2 hour to go mark, but I decided to test the system and wandered over to the counter. It was about 12:55, and in theory I should not receive service before 1:15. There were 6 counters open (as previously promised) and two of them had a huge queue. The others were empty and the agents were dozing off. So I wandered up and handed that piece of paper with the scribblings on it to the guy, he took a look, looked at me, looked at the numbers and asked me if I wanted to check a bag. I handed mine to him and he did the most amazing one handed, without looking, bag claim attachment maneuver I have ever seen. Made me really wonder how I was going to get my bag back from Urumqi.
Off to security, which is light on domestic flights, perhaps explaining the recent ban on any chemicals in baggies instituted after some Muslims attempted to take over a plane last month. I cleared that and voila – peace, quiet and clean air.
The domestic terminal is great on a Saturday afternoon. Few flights going out, ample space to wander around, cool tempertures and quietude. Well, at least it’s quiet aside from the recorded Wren noises that are supposed to lure you over to the myriad kiosks selling tech goodies via music videos playing on LCD screens. I suppose it would lure me over if I was a cat.
I wandered around for a bit checking out the cafes, as I had nothing better to do. The names are real stumpers, not sure how they translate. Here are three that caught my eye. Do you suppose if you order coffee and pie that Cate Blanchett comes out and welcomes you to her bistro? And The Tuck Shop? I didn’t see any plastic surgeons in there, just cigarettes.
I was really avoiding using the rest room until I really had to, prior to leaving. It’s not that they’re bad, on the contrary, they are kept spotless by an attendant that lives in there. Rather, the design of the airport somehow missed a beat and they are located down a trecherous flight of marble stairs in a little basement. You can imagine dragging your carry-on up and down these.
Boarding time finally came with a false start. The agent at the podium told us that boarding for those traveling with childen would start in 10 minutes. At 7 minutes he announced boarding again for those parties plus 1st class and business. Everyone rushed the gate, pushing the kids to the back.
We loaded up and sat for a while, one of the attendants announced that we had not recieved persmission to leave, which did not bode well but it turned out to simply be an opportunity for the pilot to sit there and rev his engines. The plane was about 1/4 full, which probably explains why my earlier flight was cancelled. In some sort of interesting attempt at a joke, the agents doing the seat assignements put everyone in the first three and last three rows of the cabin leaving every seat in the middle empty. This was a flight where everyone could have an aisle and a window, but instead we were crammed 6 to a row. I moved back to an empty row.
I slept hard for about 1/2 hour and when I woke up, it was clear the Peanut Elves had stopped by. One of the attendants had left me a bag of nuts and a handtowel while I was in dreamland. Better that what you get in the US where they often take advantage of your sleep to give your pillow and blanket to someone up in Business Class.
We landed and since this was a domestic flight, I didn’t have to clear customs. I headed to the baggage carousel and for once my bag was not the last one off. Out the door and into a taxi, my driver being far more interested in talking on his cell phone than actually driving the car. Shifting across his lap with his left hand, right one holding the phone, while driving with his knees made me appreciate taxi drivers all that much more. It was even cooler when he took out his pen and starting writing numbers from the phone onto a piece of paper. But I made it to the hotel intact and only had to brave the attack of the bell hops who told me they would get yelled at if I took my own bag inside. I was then tackled by a floor manager who insisted on showing me across to the giant desk and then introducing me to his associate whom he mentioned was from Japan. Because I’m a big shot, I don’t have to check in downstairs like everyone else, I get priority service on the 25th floor in the Horizon Club. The Japanese fellow took me up in the elevator, apparently doubting my familiarity with such technical marvels and handed me off to the Horzin Club manager, Celine. I sat there while she rang me up, next to a less than happy customer who was yelling in Chinese at another young women who refused to be perplexed.
So that was my day – a third of the way around the globe, 8 time zones and a heady buzz from multiple Cokes and that Americano back with the Germans.
In closing, here are some shots from 3 of the 4 airports I lived in over the past day. The first two are Dublin, the next two from the Lounges of Franfurt and one showing the autobahn between terminals and lastly the splendor of Shanghai-Pudong International.