Wednesday, May 16, 2007

China - Day One (and Two)

I was going to start a new blog titled TippyTravels but thought three blogs was enough. I started my entry while on the plane and have included it here. I will try to keep it as updated as possible.

I generally keep a journal of my travels. Luckily, or unluckily as the case may be, I don’t travel often so I don’t find myself having to carve out time to actually write. Ironically, of all the trips I have taken, the one trip I didn’t keep a journal was the trip in which I got engaged and saw so much of the West that I would love to have kept a record of it. Part of me wishes I had but another part of me knows that that trip is my own that I will share with my fiancé, Jamie, and that’s it. No one else needs to see it.

A few things before I continue. This is the first time I have actually kept the journal on the laptop. This is the life. More on how much this is the life in a moment. I must comment on my fiancé. My sister and I have this discussion from time to time. We wonder if it is possible for either of us to truly love so deeply as our parents did. That isn’t to say that we don’t love our fiance and spouse, far from it. I think some of it might be the stoicism with which we react. Neither of us cried when we were proposed to. In fact, I don’t recall that either of us has cried when we weren’t actually sad. I guess that never occurred to us to cry when we were happy. That’s what laughing is for, for Christ’ sake. Crying makes you puffy, red and blotchy. Who the hell wants that when they are happy?

I get off subject often and that’s okay. This is a journal. Who gives a crap.

Back to the task at hand. My fiancé asked me if I was going to take my laptop. I did want to since it worked out really well when we were traveling out west. We were able to download our photos each night so that we could then erase our memory card and continue the next day. Part of it was because we were too damn cheap to buy another memory card, and part of it was that we enjoyed looking at the photos on the larger screen of the computer at night as we unwound in our hotel room. I told him that I wanted to do the same on our trip to China. We agreed that I would take my MacBook rather than the PC since it was a work issued computer and if it got stolen I wouldn’t be as heartbroken (sorry SBU).

Here I am typing on the MacBook. I love it!

Jamie did suggest that I also take the computer since I have 24 hours plus on planes and in terminals and may need something to do. He is truly wonderful and I do love him! Then he said that since I was finished with my dissertation, had the free time, and was going to be on plane forever, I should start writing my novel.

I was in a bit of shock. I didn’t recall telling him I wanted to write a novel. But of course I would have told him that. I would have told him many things I didn’t remember but he evidently did. It threw me for such a loop that I asked him again later on. I said, did you tell me to take the laptop to start writing? He said yes. I said, writing what? I think he thinks I am a lunatic. But I am his lunatic and once he put that engagement ring on my finger I became his lunatic forever - poor bastard.

That’s where the story comes back around. My sister and I often discuss whether or not we can truly love and I think that I can. I have to remember that, unlike past experiences, there are people out there who remember your hopes and fears and dreams. And I found one. And he is wonderful!

On to the trip.

I actually missed everyone when I left the house today. I hugged the hell out of the dogs. Almost started crying because I will miss them for two weeks. I also almost started crying when I hugged Jamie because I will miss him for two weeks. When I talked to my sister via cell phone from the Detroit airport, I wanted to say ‘I love you’ but didn’t because I thought she might think I was insane which is quite stupid to think. Two weeks is a long time particularly since that two weeks is in China. That’s a world, and then some, away.

As professors, we get the luxury or flying first class/business class to China. I knew that Ph.D. was going to come in handy.

As a general rule, I am a redneck. I don’t fly first class, I don’t act professional half the time, I don’t like to follow the rules, I am hardly someone anyone would expect to find in the first class cabin.

Guess who could get used to this?

Happy pants (that’s me) gets in her seat in Buffalo and loves it. She gets water the minute she sits down. Then she gets water while in air. In a glass. A glass glass. Not some of that wimpy and eco-unfriendly plasticware.

Then once we arrive in Detroit, I am told that since we are flying first class/business class we get to lounge in the lounge reserved for fancy pants passengers. Apparently, I am in that club now. Wow! They have booze, juice, water, cheese and crackers, fruit, snack mix, and comfy chairs.

I find out that I am flying on the upper deck on the 747 taking us to Japan/China. I have no idea what that means but have visions of Grace Kelly in a Hitchcock flick walking regally down the stairs wearing a pencil skirt with a perfectly coifed hairstyle. Whether she did that or not doesn’t matter. That’s the visual I have. The idea of me in a pencil skirt is also
absurd. That pencil skirt might fit on my big toe.

After a minor panic about the whereabouts of a student, I climb the stairs and cannot believe this sort of travel accommodation exists. I am now spoiled and cannot return to coach. I am no longer a regular redneck. Now I am a first class redneck.

The flight attendant hands us menus. That we are getting dinner on a plane let alone being given a choice amazes me. I guess for 13 hours they better feed us something. We also get slippers, a headset, our own video on demand system, a little kit with toothpaste/brush, comb, socks, eye mask to sleep. Um, what? There are directions in the seat pocket as to how to operate the seat (which reclines so that we may sleep) and the video system. Right now I have the footrest up nestling my slipper-clad feet and am relaxing.

We take off and we are offered a hot towel to wipe our faces and hands (I’m guessing since that’s what I saw everyone else do). Then we get a beverage, nuts, baguettes with pate. That’s right. I was typing this while spreading pate on my baguette and sucking that back. I thought about visiting the students in coach but really didn’t want to leave the comfort of first class.

Had I been wearing a stunning Grace Kellyesque outfit, I would walk regally down the stairs to visit my fellow compatriots in business class but I didn’t really want to.

My sister commented that she had only heard about the planes with the second floor. When I said I would be on one, I don’t think she knew what to expect. Hell, I didn’t.

I am a nervous flyer. I hate flying. It gets me from point A to point B faster than driving most times. This time for sure. Take-off always throws me for a loop. I hate turbulence. We were just warned that we are going to be flying through a cold weather system and we should expect turbulence. I hope it doesn’t spill my ginger ale.

I would like that sentence to have read, I hope it doesn’t spill my Shiraz or cause me to drop pate on my blouse, but I haven’t started drinking yet; have finished my pate; and am wearing a St. Bonaventure long-sleeved shirt.

Ah romance.

We did encounter quite a bit of turbulence once we got closer to Asia. Who knows why. I managed to take a walk through coach to check on our students. Actually, I just wanted to see how the other half lives. And they don’t live very well. I felt horrible for them, actually. Here we were in the lap of relative luxury and they were scrambling to find a comfortable place to sleep amid the chaos. Children were on board. It always amazes me how crazy parents can be. I would never take babies or toddlers on a 13 hour flight. I would rather kill myself. But people do this.

The cramped quarters would have made me claustrophobic. They also had to suffer through Charlotte’s Web. Who wants to watch this? In business class we had our own video screens with video on demand. I had my choice of music, movies, etc. I chose Pan’s Labyrinth knowing that Jamie wouldn’t want to watch it. Wow. Great movie. And it was all mine. No one to share it with. Beautiful.

I finished dinner - great choice between beef, chicken or ravioli. Then had dessert. Ice cream and fruit! Yummy!

They woke us up about an hour before landing in Tokyo with breakfast. Omelet, fruit, the strongest coffee I have ever had. Sublime.

We are forced to deplane in Tokyo. I recognize the arrogance and sense of entitlement felt by certain members of the party. As if the rules don’t apply to them. Oh well. It isn’t me I have to live with feeling so high and mighty. Again, we are ushered to the airline lounge. I do feel horrible about leaving the students downstairs while we sit upstairs in comfy chairs. They also have this really cool beer dispenser that I suggested we get in Murphy (our building on campus) but I doubt it would receive budget approval.

They feed us again when we get back on the plane. Champagne supper is what it's called and it contained smoked salmon, shrimp, garlic bread, fruit, roast beef, you name it. And it all went in my belly!

By the time we arrived in Shanghai I couldn't tell if I was extremely exhausted or getting sick. I hoped it was the former. My suitcase arrived without a wheel. Somewhere along the way, the poor bag was trashed. It looked as though someone beat it up. I still tried to pull it along on its one good wheel. That seemed to work.

Driving on the bus through Shanghai was pretty cool. The new skyscrapers and buildings contrasted next to the buildings of old China you have seen in pictures. It was quite interesting. We would drive by this high-rise, presumably living spaces, and see clothes hanging in the windows. I don't know if that is the closet or the laundry drying area. It was 11 p.m. and quite dark. But that was interesting. Also, the scaffolding is bamboo! Everyone we saw scaffolding, we saw these large bamboo poles. I will have to take pictures of that.

The bus would drive by alleys and narrow streets. People would be out in their chairs sitting at tables eating or playing. I couldn't tell if the people cooking on the street were vendors or people cooking out of their homes. I have no frame of reference yet.

Our hotel is by the river (I forgot the name of the river already - they told us so late last night). Most of us just want to shower and go to bed. Exhausted! We are completely exhausted!

My bed is itty bitty and harder than a rock. Luckily I like hard bed. It could be a bit longer, but tall people in China are a circus side show so I won't complain. The shower feels so good. We are warned not to brush our teeth with tap water. The hotel has bottled water. We may shower in the water, but we may not use it to drink or brush our teeth.

I go to bed at 11 p.m. which is really 11 a.m. at home so my scedule is completely screwed up. I wake up at 3 but figure I better get some more sleep. Dont' really and end up getting up at 5 because I can't sleep anymore. Thought I would try to operate the computer - which I am having success with.

I realize (after calling and looking for someone who speaks English in the hotel at 5:30 a.m.) that we have broadband access so I may do this sort of thing! Jamie is able to call me, but I can't call him. But it seems that everyone can get my emails. With any luck, everyone can get my blogs too.

If they care.

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