Monday, July 25, 2011

Bonding with the Braces

Well, I am in Qingdao, China at last!  And what a trip it was . . .

While in Chicago on my six-hour layover, I managed to locate the Braces, a married couple bound for the same school.  I was delighted to find them, largely since it meant someone to talk to.  We had been rebooked to the same flight, which made us quite happy.

The flight from Chicago to Beijing was loooooooong, but not at all horrible.  We wound up on American rather than United, which proved to be a very good thing.  Most people here agree that United is really quite lousy on their flights to China.  They give poor service (and next to none, at that) and they tend to treat Chinese passengers very rudely, which gets upsetting for those of us who care about them.  American, on the other hand, gave excellent service and fed us to bursting point.  We had a snack and three meals, along with six beverages during our thirteen hour flight.  Each seat had its own LCD monitor, which a large selection of free movies and television shows.  I watched three movies and five TV shows, played on my iPad, and even managed to nap a bit.  There was no one in the seat beside me and I had a window, so I was able to stretch out a little and actually be quite comfortable.  The only downside for me was that, owing to my cold, my nose leaked like a sieve for the entire flight and I got a sinus migraine for a bit (heavy meds soon defeated it, however).

Our school looked out for the Braces and I by arranging us a hotel room to freshen up in while we were enduring our long layover in Beijing.  The airport there, by the way, is huge and gorgeous in the area that we arrived at (some other areas are not so pretty).  We handed in our arrival cards, got our passports stamped, and then headed to the baggage claim, which was already spewing up baggage.  I would like to point out that the Chinese get your baggage off the plain in about 1/4 of the time that it takes American airports (any of them that I have been to, which is many).  So, big kudos to Chinese airports!

My bags were some of the first out, and all four made it safely.  The airlines had done their very best to make sure that my brand new luggage got nicely scratched up.  The Braces were not as lucky as I -- none of their seven pieces arrived.  So, we headed off to the baggage inquiry area to look into what had happened.  After about two hours, we finally ascertained that United had decided to give the baggage a vacation in Chicago rather than sending it on to American so that it could go to China -- of course, they also had gone out of their way to reassure the Braces that they transferred it.  No kudos for United, and they probably shouldn't count on anything nice from Santa this Christmas.  When we went to go through customs, we were shocked to find that no one was there.  So, we shrugged our shoulders and just walked on through.  China is full of surprises!

The Braces and I then took a shuttle to the gorgeous hotel, where we all had heavenly showers and then sat around watching CNN and nibbling on the snacks we had with us.  We eventually dozed off for a little while, but we were a bit too keyed up for any quality sleep.  At 7:30 am we caught a shuttle to the airport, where we raced to get to our gate in time, arriving just as our 8:40 flight was boarding.

A word about the security check:  China, which is not nearly so full of freedoms as the United States, has a far more reasonable and easy security check in Beijing than any American airport I have been to.  Not only do you get to keep your shoes on, they also were not the least bit concerned about my pillow, which had greatly troubled the TSA agents in both Grand Rapids and in Chicago when I traveled through there a few weeks ago.  The China security people were also unbothered by my knitting needles, pens, tweezers, and nail clippers, all of which have previously gravely worried TSA officials in the USA.

At 10:30 am, the Braces and I arrived in beautiful Qingdao, and rushed toward the welcoming committee of our head principal, his wife, and my new roommate.  Home at last!

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"