How to Return
It seems much easier to go than to return. Rather, it is easier to go to some place new and different than it is to pack up and return home. At least, in my experience. When it was time for me to return home after I went to Beijing to teach a course at a university, there were enough problems to make a blog post!
Having scoped out the Beijing Capital Airport on my previous trips, I knew where to go, what the best timing was, and how to prepare for the gauntlet. My first trip I went through San Francisco, which meant a noon-ish departure from Beijing. This is actually impossible. Even when my Plan A was to go to a hotel beside the airport to save taxi time. (You can recount that ordeal in this blog post.) My second trip, I went through Chicago, which meant a 4 p.m. departure, which was much better.
This time, I made my way to the big, shiny Hilton Hotel next to Terminal 3 (the international terminal). I'm not a rich person or a celebrity but I like to play one when I'm traveling. Actually, I selected that hotel purely because it is literally the closest hotel to the terminal. So to make my send-off spectacular, after checking in and being treated like royalty, I invited a dear friend to dine with me in a very expensive restaurant on the premises.
When she finally arrived (subway from the city to the airport, then hotel shuttle from terminal to hotel), we went to the lobby cafe for some tea. I just ordered "Oolong" which is about all the teas I know. The uniformed server brought us a full tea service. We just stared at it, not sure what to do. There was a pair of cups for each of us, one tall narrow cup upside-down in the shorter, wider cup. In the middle of the tray was a small teapot. To the sides were apparatus somewhat familiar. We sipped the tea that had been poured. Still confused, we asked for instruction. Ahhhhh! It all made sense! We continued drinking our tea until we felt hungry. (*See instructions below.)
Dinner was a multi-course extravaganza that mixed Asian and Western foods, plus the right wine to go with each course. First was the bread and salad, then soup, then main course of cod and lamb, then dessert. As delicious and artistically presented as the food was, however, the best part of the dinner was the thoroughly delightful conversation about very important matters, which made the dinner seem to last for years. In a good way, of course.
Alas, finally, it had to end. Strolling about the huge hotel, all the marble walls, floors, and columns echoing every secret, we knew it was time to part. Another summer visit done. It was truly sad - but also a happy evening. It was the perfect way to end my 4-week visit to Beijing and begin my travel home.
After pleasant dreams, I arose as planned and made my way to the VIP lounge for the breakfast buffet. Plenty of time, no rushing. I had packed my suitcase full of laundry already. So I went down to the lobby at the appointed time, carefully measuring everything like a billiard player. Check out, get on the shuttle, arrive at the terminal, go up the elevator, and walk over to the check-in counter of my airline. Piece of cake.
My impeccable timing had me arriving at the counter with no one ahead of me in line. I was between the flights! Mwah-hah-hah! After getting rid of my laundry (in suitcase), I strolled to the first of several choke points in the departure process. First was the gate beyond which only those with boarding passes may go. Then the tram to the outer terminal. And so on. (You can read about the steps required in this blog.)
Due to my perfect timing, everything went according to plan. I even had a spare set of clothes to wear after going through all of the lines and sweating out the clothes I began the day with. No need to wear "used" clothes during a 13 hour flight. Plus 3 hour layover. Plus the 2 hour flight to my home city. I had tried that one set of clothing for the whole 24 hour gamut and those sitting next to me were not pleased.
Boarding the flight, I took the window seat I had chosen, thinking I could lean that way and sleep. Unfortunately, the window well did not match with the seat back, so it made my neck twist at an uncomfortable angle. Not even the soft new neck pillow I got with my last Yuan helped. Then the seatmate arrived. He was scheduled to sit next to me, the middle seat, with a girl on the aisle. She quickly claimed an empty seat in another row and the young man in the middle seat graciously moved to the aisle seat to give us both more room.
Why was more room a good thing? Because from the time this young man boarded, he was sniffling. We had to wait about an hour before we could actually take off into the sky. In that time, he rushed to the lavatory twice, his hand clutching his mouth, a sure sign of oral evacuation. I do not wish to alarm the senses of my readers, so I will allow you to use your imagination. Flight attendants nursed him throughout the flight. I tried not to breathe the same air. He began with chills, shivering, blankets all around but later in the flight had discarded them for what cool cabin air there was to bring down his fever.
Twelve hours later I was sniffling. My throat felt scratchy. I tried to hold on. Indeed, I made it through the connecting hassles in Chicago and made it all the way home. The next morning I experienced what that young man must have been feeling during the flight. Stomach malady, with chills then fever, and evacuation from both ends. A miserable existence. I doubt I picked up his digestive illness; rather, it was yet another bout of "Mao's revenge" that I had been fighting throughout my visit.
It is unfortunate that while we cannot choose our parents we also cannot chose our neighbors on an airplane. Nor can we be comfortable with whatever we may eat. That is what makes the world so exciting. Will one need to rush home at a moment's notice? Or will one need to make a pit stop in order to remain polite and decorous? There are maladies a plenty, something for everyone. At least I was not so indisposed for my wonderful send-off evening! Nor for the entirety of my 24 hours of travel back home!
Next: Mao's Revenge
*Instructions for the tea service. The tall, narrow tea cup which was presented upside-down in the short, wide cup is meant to be removed and sniffed. Yes, to enjoy the scent of the tea which has collected inside the tall, narrow cup. Then, when satisfied with the fragrance, the tea leaves are compiled into the holder inside the teapot. Hot water is added. Time will turn the tea leaves and water into "tea". Pour the tea from the teapot into the short, wide cup. (Frankly, the short, wide cup only holds one sip's worth of tea; I use a super-sized mug from the airport gift shop [see photo].) To keep the tea leaves from infusing the hot water too long and creating a bitter taste, the strainer inside the teapot should be removed and set upon the holder (on the left in the photo of the tray above). Continue to drink tea until the teapot is near empty. Because we sat in a tea cafe a hostess visited regularly to refill our teapot with more hot water. It could have been an endless, bottomless teapot but for our need to transition to solid food for the next phase of the evening.
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