This morning, the dogs started barking at 4:45, making me wake up and wonder where I was. There is no small irony in the fact that I spent the last 28 hours traveling a quarter of the way around the world to be awakened by some dog with precisely the same bark pattern as the idiot German Shepherd that lives to my east, back in New Mexico. Sometimes it seems that no matter how far you go, you’re really still there.
The last leg of my journey was mercifully short, we left on time and it only took one hour. The only excitement came from the squirrely little man who had the window seat in my aisle. He very antsy and 15 minutes into the flight he asked to get out, apparently wishing to use the rest room at the rear of the cabin. He stood for a moment in the aisle and then reached back across me to get his cigarettes, an odd gesture considering that it’s a non-smoking flight. He went back and returned a few moments later. I passed on the food and drinks having just heard a bad story about the food on a domestic flight from one of my regular traveling companions. I dozed off for a moment or two and woke up noticing that my friend was handling the magazine I’d placed on the seat between us. He handed it to me and made some gesture about his ears and moved into the middle spot. I took this to mean that he wanted to get out again, but he shook his head and made it clear that he just wanted to sit there, suddenly losing interest in the window. The captain came on and told us to buckle up and the plane began to head down. In the middle of this rather steep, bumpy descent, he once again grabbed his cigarettes, unbuckled and stood up. I moved my legs to the side as I was not about to disconnect from my seat during landing but as he tried to squeeze by me he thought the better of it and returned to his seat. We landed, I handed him his bag from the overhead and that was the last I saw of him.
I received the double-special scrutiny going through immigration last night, the first time it’s ever been anything other than a routine stamp. The agent looked at my passport, looked at his computer and called over his supervisor. She looked at the passport and motioned for me to follow her to another desk, off to the side. She called her supervisor who took my papers, sat down and looked something up on yet another computer. A minute or so later, she handed them back to me, returned me to the care of the first supervisor who then escorted me back to the place I started where the agent gave me the stamp and sent me on my way. Nothing frightening, just different and different in situations like this always feels a bit off.
One of my bags was already there and the other showed up seconds later so my greatest fear – no luggage – was once again addressed in the positive. I had procured a cart, knowing it was going to be hard to manage all that bulk and so I loaded up and wheeled around the corner where I had to unload everything a second time in order to run them through one last x-ray machine.
I was met by the representatives of the relocation company and the car rental company who grabbed my things and led me out to my brand new Honda Accord. In basic black of course. We’re not allowed to drive here so we are all assigned a driver, an element of this assignment which I find a bit off-putting. This guy is temporary, and his name is James, the irony of which I pondered as I resisted the urge to say “Home, James” we driving through the rainy streets of Dalian listening to the most raunchy rap CD I’d ever heard.
I’m staying in a service apartment (sort of a Residence Inn) in a Japanese hotel close to work. I was checked in quickly and met by the manager who praised my Chinese. She and the bell hop took me up to my new home on the 9th floor and brought my gear in. It’s a nice little place – kitchen, bath, living room nook and a good sized bedroom. Clearly adequate for a month or two but I think it would become claustrophobic beyond that. My view is of a courtyard formed by three other high rises and I imagine that somewhere out there, that dog is just waiting to tune up again.
Today it’s off to the police and the immigration office to register for my residence visa and to let them know where I will be living lest I go wandering around unsupervised. Right now I’m just sitting here waiting for the driver to get back to me about my request to change my pick up time – I decided today is a good day to buy a local cell phone.