Some long haul international flights are as peaceful as a library. Others are like the night market in Taipei. Our flight to Beijing was firmly in the latter camp. Perhaps this group had had too much coffee. Or maybe they were excited about their impending collision with the Mysteries of the Orient. Whatever the case, they never settled down. Hundreds of visits to the overhead bins and lights that were never turned off. Loud crunching sounds and unmuffled sneezes. Window shades that were never drawn “Out of courtesy for your fellow passengers who want to watch the video entertainment.” So many open blinds that I never felt like “that guy” when I snuck a couple of dozen peeks at the sea ice choking the Bering Strait and the snowy volcanoes on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Being on this flight was like being on the local bus from Hermosillo to Yecora on a hot summer’s day – noisy, busy and irritating. It pretty much drove me to conclude that I would never ride in coach again, even if it means heading out once a year instead of four times. I could hear the people up ahead in Business quietly snoring and gently rustling their covers as the rolled over in their sleep. I hated all of those people up there for their obscene luck and purported specialness. Including those I didn’t know and would never meet. Even the ones who worked with orphans in Myanmar. Never again I vowed.
Flying to Europe seems like such a breeze in comparison. You look at your watch and see that 5 hours have gone by and know that it’s probably time for your in-flight light breakfast service. Look at your watch at 5 hours on the flight to China and you’re not even half way. It’s still 5 and a half hours until your light breakfast appears and maybe an hour until your Ramen snack. It goes on forever and it feels like longer than that. The time passes as you dedicate yourself to catching up on reading or work or season’s worth of television that you downloaded from one of the remaining piracy sites. Or you devote yourself to trying to understand why anyone would want to spend 30 minutes in an aircraft bathroom. Some of your trip will undoubtedly be devoted to that because there is nothing else to do while you’re waiting for them to come out. Eventually it comes to an end, ideally with a safe landing and a short line at Immigration. Then a taxi ride into town and you’re at your hotel, sitting in the lounge, looking out the window and planning your evening. We chose to dine on the free meal – chicken satay and Kentucky Fried hot wings – before heading out for a brisk walk to my favorite Starbucks for an iced americano. And being truly adventurous we tacked on a trip to the counterfeit market for a little abuse by the vendors. I think the persistent sleeve tugging and pleas to “Look, look!” were a bit of an eye opener for My Lovely Wife. But she survived and we left for a cool evening stroll back home.
Somehow we’d managed to offend the minor deity that controls social harmony, because the perceptual abuse we’d suffered on the plane continued back at the hotel. When you take a long flight that gives you a 15 hour offset in time zones, you’re pretty much dead tired by 9 in the evening. The kind of tired that I don’t like, where one minute you’re watching BBC and the next you’re in a coma. With no dozing in between. It was like that for me, at least until some people started screaming out in the hall. Somehow we’d received a room next to a suite that was full of drunks. Drunks who had other friends down the hall that they needed to yell to as well as send secret messages via a code beaten out with slamming doors. Our room also shared one of those doors with locks on both sides that allow for expansion. The drunks also needed to make sure it was locked judging from the number of times they tried it before becoming completely convinced of their security. The din was sporadic and not quite enough to force me out of bed. And this being China, I knew that if we could even get our point across to the front desk, the mediation would take the form of an offer of a new room for us. The prospect of packing and leaving was not appealing. I selected some Brazilian jazz on my phone, put it on softly as background noise and rolled over, figuring we’d solve it in the morning.