A Chinese miracle
Just to prove that miracles are not the sole (soul) domain of the Western religious-philosophers-‘we-are-the-chosen’ we discovered that even in China miracles do occur. I am defining miracle as that which is outside the ‘normal’ realm of our flitterings through life; those events that happen with some possible intervention beyond some dim bats occasional form of self-interpreted helpfulness. I grew up (really I did) with the notion that according to the Methodists anyway that China’s communist darkness would never allow in a sliver of light that would guide a couple of lost Westerns who were not lost until the Chinese directed them toward a path that could have led directly to disaster – disaster in the sense of experience deprivation of wanted experience, not a disaster of impending doom.
OK! The story.
We left Campus Village all excited about getting our sorry asses to Adelaide in time for Narda’s sons and one of their 30th birthday parties; one son flying in from Atlanta, Georgia, one from Hanoi and birthday boy at home in the Adelaide Hills with granddaughter in tow; and us popping in from China just for a party. We booked our flight six months in advance knowing that everything would be booked for Chinese New Years. We got to Dalian Airport three hours in advanced knowing how they have a tendency to stuff things up. We had gotten an email the night before saying our flight was on-time and wishing us a great journey or ever what they say, in Chinese. At the China Southern counter, ‘flight canceled’! After recovering from the shock of that news we were informed that another flight to Guangzhou was leaving in a few hours, which of course would be too late to hop onto our flight to Melbourne.
These are the same people, I am sure, at least it is the same airline, who lost our Piggly Wiggly umbrella – see the previous post https://neuage.me/2013/02/01/a-piggly-wiggly-story/ after it made the journey from Atlanta, Georgia to NYC to Melbourne > Adelaide > back to Melbourne to Guangzhou – then somewhere between Guangzhou and Dalian China Southern managed to lose it – the umbrella.
After finding someone with some English to understand that we could not miss our flight to Melbourne they said they could fly us to Shanghai then put us on another airline, China Eastern – which we hate, but we had to get to Melbourne by the next afternoon to continue our flight on to Adelaide to get to Narda’s son’s birthday party in the Adelaide Hills. We had even taken two days off from work without pay to do this. Plus Narda surely wanted to be at her granddaughter’s christening – which a fellow worker wondered how we got two days leave to attend a pagan festival – which is Sunday. We had to get to Australia.
We got ourselves OK to Shanghai and ran through the airport dragging too much crap as we do, getting into line – body blocking aggressive Chinese passengers trying to pass us in the queue and collapsed in front of the ticket counter as we tossed out suitcases of too much crap onto the weighing machine. ‘Flight full – no seats, take your bags off’. Holy guacamole – did they really say that? We told them about China Southern saying we could switch airlines – we had our vouchers but they said to go and wait at the standby counter. Narda was fighting back tears, I was trying to keep us from annihilation, and the crowding people around us all looked like enemy foo fighters – whatever that is.
At the standby counter they said the flight was overbooked and already full. Narda said we had to get on the flight to get to Adelaide for her son’s wedding. Me, never being good as a spy or secretive person said whose wedding, which of course upset Narda all the more because I am a bit of an idiot in these situations.
They said we would be moved to the top two if any seats were opened which would only happen if there were two no-shows, the chances we none to slim. We looked at the options which would be to try and get to Guangzhou the next day and hope we could get onto the next night’s flight which too was booked full and we would miss Narda’s party which was the whole idea of this trip we had planned for months.
At 7:30 the flight was closed and at 7:32 we got the call to the desk with a simple ‘passports’ and that was it. We quickly got our suitcase onto the conveyor belt and got our boarding pass plus a sticker to put on our clothes that indicated that we were to rush through lines like customs and passport control and all those other things the Chinese like to check us out with. These things always tax me – running through airports with camera bag, computer bag, things falling out of my pocket – it is easier for Narda – she is organized with stuff in one bag, and she is seven and a half years younger than me and I get out of breath trying to keep up with her but of course what man could keep up with such a vibrant chick on a very focused mission of seeing her sons within 24 hours? Puffing and panting, waving off potential heart-attacks, leg cramps, a very real stomach ache, and head ache I followed her through the VIP lines and somehow we got to the gate panting and puffing to find the flight was delayed by an hour.
We use to fly through Shanghai on China Eastern as part of round-the-world fares with Star Alliance and every time, this would be at least four if not five times, the flight from Shanghai to Melbourne was hours late. Now our concern was the flight Melbourne to Adelaide which Narda said left Melbourne at 11:30 AM and we were due to arrive at 11 AM the next day. Thirty minutes to get through baggage, customs and get our boarding pass at Qantas domestic which is a long hike from the international terminal
Bottom line was that we were on a plane finally though 20 rows apart but at least on the same plane. I told the first hostess that I saw about our changed flights and that I had to have vegetarian. Two reasons for that is that one I am a vegetarian two even Narda orders vegetarian because the meat meals on Asian airlines are shockingly horrible and taste worse – so I am informed. I was told there were no vegetarian meals but she would check first class and lucky there was. I asked to trade my economy seat for a first class meal to a first class seat but her English was not good enough to understand my request, or else she thought I was not funny, or possibly just stupid, nevertheless, I did get a good meal for din din and again for brekky.
We got to Melbourne at 11ish and the impossible task of getting the next flight loomed. We discovered the best thing about being the last onto the plane meant our luggage was the first down the chute at the end of the trip. ‘The last shall be first’ of my Methodist upbringing was actually realistic. Now I wish I had listened to more of their fairy stories. Whilst waiting for the baggage we changed over some 26,000 RMB that we had stored away and got about $3700 Australian for it, a bad deal by hundreds but we were not fretting now. It was good to have some real currency again. The passport line was long as several flights arrived in Melbourne at the same time. For the first time ever we tried using the kiosk for checking in with our passports because we had the new ones with electronic chips in them and it worked saving us another long line. At baggage inspection the line was incredibly long and Narda pleaded with some official type and we got sent through a very short line and no one checked our bags which is very unusual coming into Australia we had saved about 45 minutes so far but we only had 15 minutes to get to the gate so again we ran through the airport panting and puffing and collapsing at the counter pleading to get onto the plane leaving at 11:30, it was now 11:15. The counter person said there was no 11:30 flight that in fact our flight left at 12:10 so for the first time since leaving Campus Village 24 non-sleeping hours earlier we actually had enough time to walk to the gate and sit and wait.
So that is our miracle.
Arriving in Adelaide Narda’s three sons, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter were all waiting… of course Maggie burst in to tears – probably not of joy – of seeing us. Ooops
But she made good a few moments later for a good family photo
And we got to Stu’s birthday party, worse for wear, and even stayed until about 11 PM last night. Now, the next day, Saturday, we are booking my flight to Melbourne next Thursday for me to see my son, Sacha and his partner, Georgia, for a couple of days before going back next Saturday to arrive Sunday night in time to be at work Monday morning. And tomorrow Narda and sons are all excited about baby Maggie’s christening.
A fun week we will have next week. We have rented a sea side place for Narda’s three sons and a couple of wives, granddaughter and us for four days; Pt. Elliot, which is where I use to live with my two sons back in the 1980s when I was a single parent wondering what would become of my life. And now I know thirty years later, married, living in China with one son left to share it with and my new great family.
In general I must say life is good.
Now I am really really upset with China Eastern. It is not bad enough they have the worst food of any airline I have ever been on (and I have been flying internationally for 40 years with many airlines). As we are leaving the States for good (except for our three houses there which somehow keeps us attached) and moving way too much stuff to China and storing way too much in Australia for someday when we are settled in one place we have five overweight suitcases and several carry-on bags with us, I thought putting Leigh’s ashes into my checked-in luggage would be fine. Not only did they break open the box to see what was inside (there is a label on the box clearly stating “the remains of…”) but the box, which had also been inside a plastic bag, was left to spill all over my clothes and other articles. Since Leigh died in 2003, throwing away a successful career as a LA Dodgers’ pitcher for a girl, I have had his ashes with me. I was bringing them back to Adelaide with the thought of someday putting them somewhere. It is a traumatic thing to begin with now China Eastern has made my life a bit more difficult. Sacha has some ashes too and he does not know what to do with them. For now they are in his recording studio because he too wants to keep Leigh nearby.
It is so cold in Melbourne, a rainy winter storm night. A few days ago it was 98 degrees in New York City now I realise my winter clothes are in storage on a dock waiting to be shipped to China.
It is five AM, Narda is happily asleep probably dreaming of someplace warm and I am wide awake, shivering (they do not have central heating in houses in Australia) thinking it is 5.00 PM the evening before this morning. ‘Hey body clock get with the program.’ But it is great being here. From 1980 to 2002 Australia was home. I was poor with two children in tow those years. I am still poor but I get to fly around now instead of taking buses. So much has changed but decades changes everyone. Back in the 1980s I had a tenth grade education (that is why my syntax is still budget often); then for some strange reason at 43 years old, that would be 1991, I thought I would try and educate myself as it was obvious I was not going to become a well loved, sought after poet with no learnin’. I applied for, tested for, was accepted for a BA program at Deakin University in Melbourne. I thought, sure, easy, two kids, a failed tofu business, almost homeless, I can get a degree. Well I worked really hard and four years later I had a BA in literature and journalism. Then I thought, hey maybe I am smart and capable and applied to do an Honours degree, did that, and went for a Masters, did that and went for a PhD, which almost killed me and took seven years on two continents, but after 14 years I had gone from a tenth grade drop out to a doctor something. So I taught at university in Adelaide and then in New York then became a high school computer teacher then a middle school computer teacher then a primary school computer teacher and then it seems I was too old for any school in the States to want me so I went and got my teacher’s certificate from Darwin University. I did that off-campus whilst living in NYC watching Narda go off to work everyday, teaching. I did my ten-week practicum at Torrens Valley Christian School in Adelaide last July – September and lived upstairs from Narda’s parents whilst she was happily teaching in NYC. Got the teaching degree then got hired by Dalian American International School, Dalian China to be the middle school computer teacher and technology integrator. I am so excited. And sitting here, shivering in the dark, so as not to wake Narda, not even 24 hours back in Australia I realise what an interesting trip this has been. Not sure why I never did well with schooling in the States and Australia I do so much. Perhaps it is because my Mercury passes through Adelaide, like if that matters.
I suppose I am not a Yank anymore. After fleeing the States of the past 9 years I am totally using my Aussie passport. Lived here 22 years, and the States 41 years but now my China work visa says Aussie. ‘Hey World I’m OK.” Yet everyone says I sound like a Yank. Just don’t get it.
Sacha is doing so well, so maybe a little bit of my parenting rubbed off. His new DVD is so good but of course it seems everyone is doing a new DVD (except me – I am just writing an e-book on tofu – tofu.neuage.us). And yes Facebook/Twitter/youtube was blocked in China but it seems my blog links show up in Twitter and Facebook even if I don’t see them in China.
This is our second home in airbnb. In Harlem we lived for 17 days in Penny’s pad, we learned a -lot about her from her photos and poems all over the walls. In Melbourne we are at Imogen Manins’ studiom http://elwoodstudio.com.au/ which is only a few blocks from Sacha’s house. From the posters on the wall we learn that Imogen, http://www.imogenmanins.com/about.htm, is a cellist with lots of awards.
Staying in airbnb places http://www.airbnb.com/ is so much better than hotel rooms.
Now it is 6.30 AM, still dark outside, mid-winter and all, and I am ready to go back to bed. But I am starving and all we have is a loaf of bread. See I am wealthy.
We had a good stay at the Grand Mercure with a special interest in the loo: heated toilet seat, massage/vibrate, spray wash in various directions – dry; if this was not China (blocking youtube) and not the Shanghai Airport (blocking my uploads to my server) See the video clip, not of anything more than the toilet control box. If you are unable to view it, well you must be in China.
We popped into a cell phone shop to see how much a new Google phone would be. Unbelievable, there were eight floors of cell phone stalls, mostly iPhones and Android – OK what is left? There were a few Blackberry stalls. The building was packed with 20-year-olds. We must have looked strange; tall, not-Chinese, old – and confused. There were hundreds of cellphone stalls on each floor. I was unable to decipher the price. I thought we would be trampled by the youth of China – all 1.2 billion of them, in Shanghai to get the latest phone on the same day we just were having a look-see.
So another flight is delayed. We are not having a good time with China Eastern and probably rarely have. The food they served between JFK and Shanghai was so bad we could not eat it. I had the vegetarian slop which I could eat, barely, but Narda’s chicken was uneatable and her scrambled eggs – we have no idea what they were but they not only smelt revolting but we both spit out the first bite. But we have learned that China Eastern has the worst flight food of any airline we have ever been on.
OK so at 8 PM (our boarding time was 7.30) not only was there no check-in people but there was no plane in sight. At 8.30 someone appeared and said the flight would probably leave at 11.55 PM. If after midnight then we would have to wait until tomorrow. My son has taken a day off from work in Melbourne to meet us. Luckily I was able to Skype him and say at this point it looks as if we will be four hours late. The last time I saw him Virgin Airline had a computer problem and I was stuck at the Adelaide Airport for twelve hours and I got to Melbourne at 1 AM. Sacha collected me at the airport but he had to be at work that morning so there was no visiting time then. I suppose I am unwittingly getting him back for all those years during his adolescence when he… well all those nights of worry….
We were told we would be fed as it was a four hour delay. Sounds good, we are starving and tired, and jet-lagged frustrated.
The ‘meal’ was a pack of cookies and bottle of water. When it comes to China Eastern and food forget it. Why do we fly China Eastern? It was about a thousand dollars cheaper than any other airliners to get between the States and Australia and after a few trips, times two people, we have saved enough money to eat a proper meal every once in awhile, and stay at a nice hotel. And the staff have been good. We know it is not Singapore Airlines and we know they are at the bottom of the world-flying heap but hey….
The workers have been good to us. For example, we ask for exit-row seats and usually get them. No other airlines does that for us as they always get some young fit looking people sitting in exit-rows ready to rescue the passengers if the plane gets into strife. Not China Eastern. They have never asked us to read the safety card, or whether we were willing to help passengers through the exit if the plane lands in the Hudson. Actually they never talk to us. Being the tallest on the plane I suppose makes us look like able candidates. We love the extra leg room and the fact that no-one sitting in front of us will push back and there is no one in front of us in the exit-row. Of course we have had some better luck on other airlines such as Lufthansa upgrading us to Business between Bangalore and Frankfurt two years ago and an upgrade to business from Seoul to Singapore a few years back; both times for various reasons such as overbooking or being late and us complaining so much.
And our luggage. Shanghai airport has some good stuff: free wifi, storage facilities (we checked in three overweight suitcases last night and headed into downtown Shanghai), free baggage carts (JFK charges five dollars for the use of a cart with no-return funds) and there are probably some other good things. Back to our luggage; five well overweight suitcases and there was not a blink, they just went through, both at JFK and at Shanghai. We were charged $130 at JFK for an extra suitcase and at Shanghai we showed the JFK receipt and they did not charge us. So all our worries of the past few months of getting so much crap to Dalian is past. Our shipment was like 800 pounds overweight and they tried to charge us an additional $600 but we managed to wangle out of that and now we have more.
When at Shanghai Airport eat in the domestic terminal. The food is reasonable, if not almost tasty, and cheap. In the international terminal the food is very overpriced. We just bought two sandwiches and a coffee for 195 yuan ($30.29 USD) and the coffee was absolutely terrible.
Announcement ‘the Shanghai – Melbourne flight has been delayed. We will announce information’ – OK that was two-hours ago.
Let me be clear, we are not complaining; love China, happy to be moving to Dalian, looking forward to seeing family in Australia, loving traveling – just keeping track as we forget stuff so easy or get one trip meshed into another. We have finally left the USA after nine years and about fifteen return trips between the States and Australia with lots of countries explored between. Hopefully we will explore a lot more of the world over the next section of time.
I normally would write a short blog but being stuck at an airport for half a day brings out these musings in me….
It is one of those moments when one realizes the suitcase is still ten-pounds overweight, the last-minute list has few things crossed off of it: ‘Go to Hoboken and change the insurance policy from home-owner to four young computer guys from India are renting our house’, ‘redirect mail to Australia’ which would be fine if the post office actually redirected mail. Since having redirected to our apartment in Harlem from our home in Jersey City 15 days ago we have not received one redirected piece of mail and I am now off to meet up with one of the Indian dudes who is bringing all our non-redirected mail into Manhattan to save a trip to Jersey City – though it does not save us a trip to Hoboken because our insurance company said they will not send our policy or any correspondence to Australia or to China, then that pesky ‘last-minute-list’ of Narda’s (she has been hanging last-minute-lists on doors and walls for the past 11 years, as we always seem to be packing and headed to an airport somewhere): close T-Mobile – we hate that company, return scales to school – probably because we are always over weight, not us, just the baggage – and to think the shipment to China which was like 800 pounds over weight is waiting for a ship that won’t sink to drag it over to Dalian, mail packages – that is because we are overweight so we are posting stuff at $58 per 12X12X5 inch box, book town-car for Friday, good golly that is two days away then we are off to JFK, cancel New York Sports Club – which I can’t get to today because of this damn last minute list, something about changing something with the airlines, order my vegetarian meals for China Eastern – oh no – they take out the meat and give me an extra serve of sticky yucky white rice, purchase excess luggage from Melbourne to Adelaide… and I just do not want to read on. I just wanted to go to the gym and work on my six-pack-not and biceps and those other saggy 63-year-old bits.
So what does one do when they get overwhelmed by ‘yes we are leaving the USA after nine-years, hoping renters in three-houses will behave and pay rent and not party too hard, and all those things we were going to do in NYC and the rest of the USofA and never did and all the people I was going to look up and say hi-bye to and all I did was get nine-years older with yet another to-do-list in front of me? Well what I do in these situations is work on my webpages and blogs and think OK I will give the gym a miss and this list will just get done through some cosmic virtual abstraction.
Just looked in the mirror – something I usually avoid – and saw two grey hairs – oh no! I had planned to wait until after 65 for that… This is what leaving the USofA has done to me.