Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Start of the Journey

The First Rule of International Travel is that something will go wrong.  This rule is more dependable than the ability of telemarketers to sniff out the dinner hour and the dishonesty of politicians.  This rule is an absolute certainty, in a world of few absolutes.  Something will always go wrong on an international trip; the only uncertainty is how one will deal with the problem.

With this in mind, let me say that so far, my journey to China is remaining faithful to this rule.  I knew when my visa came to me in only two days that, owing to the First Rule of International Travel, something was bound to go wrong on the trip itself.  Being a seasoned traveler, I was right.

I arrived at Grand Rapids airport three hours early this morning, and was promptly informed of a storm that would be delaying my flight to Chicago.  I figured that this meant that my "something wrong" would be having a delayed flight and then having to run to my gate with the frantic speed of a warthog fleeing a lion.  Silly Stephanie!  No, no, no, no delay at all.  Instead, my flight was cancelled.  Few words have quite the same heart-stopping impact at an airport as that always-in-red word "cancelled".  I immediately jumped into action, rushing back to the ticket counter to beg for mercy and rerouting (I had not yet passed through security, since Grand Rapids airport is such a small one).  The ticket agent sprang into action (kudos to United for having some very nice employees in Grand Rapids).  She got me completely rebooked for all of my flights, a complicated process that took even longer than Superman's usual efforts to save the world (not her fault).

As a result, I left Grand Rapids at 3:25 pm instead of 11:27 am.  It meant a few more hours to spend with my parents (yay duck! -- see the previous post for an explanation of yay duck).  We had a leisurely lunch at a Mexican restaurant, since I figured it will probably be quite some time before I eat Mexican food again.  My first flight was quite painless, made even more so because the kind United employee upgraded me to Economy Plus.  My knees, unaccustomed to not being smashed up against the seat ahead of me during a flight, were quite grateful to her.  Now I'm stuck in O'Hare for my first of two big layovers, a six-hour one (yuck duck -- again, see the previous post).  At 9:05 pm, I will finally depart for Beijing, where, following the thirteen-hour flight, I will have my other mega-layover, this time for eight hours.  Finally, at 8:30 am on the 24th, I'll arrive in Qingdao, which is beginning to take on the image of the Promised Land for me (fortunately I just have forty hours of airplane/airport journeying rather than forty years in a desert).

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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"