At 4:30am, my aunt Bernadette, whom I lived with this summer, and I left for the airport, only stopping at McDonalds for a snack and some Coke to keep me awake. I gave her my phone to keep in America since I will be using my ipad to communicate with America and a cheap Australian phone to communicate with Australia. She dropped me off at the terminal and I went to get my ticket. With all the preparations that went into getting me there, I never thought to review my tickets before leaving home. The check-in machine demanded that I go to SFO instead of where I thought I was going, LAX. The man at the counter claimed that this was correct. After passing through security, I called my aunt with a payphone to check. I was wrong, they were all right; SFO it was. This flight was on a tiny plane, the kind that shakes a lot and stays in that horrible altitude that makes your ears pop everytime you move. I arrived in San Fransisco with little ability to hear.
One magical quality of airports is their ability to lead a person exactly where they need to go, even when they have no idea where that place is. I found myself at the China Eastern counter, getting my next two plane tickets. As I was about to leave the counter with my bags, the man who had helped me get the tickets started to take the larger of the two tiny bags away from me. I stopped him and let him know that would be flying with both bags. I had already checked that they were below the weight limit in lbs. He informed me that they were above the weight limit in kgs. Now, I don't know the conversion off the top of my head, but I know that doesn't make a lick of sense! This trip was too important to throw a fit over a bag of clothes, so with the promise of seeing it again in Melbourne, I let them win the tug-of-war with my bag. It was early morning in San Fransisco and I had a two hour layover, one of which had already disappeared. I searched the airport for something to eat. In a cafe I found an egg salad sandwich, a small bag of BBQ chips, and a coke. I paid the weight of my meal in gold and ate it at the gate to China. I couldn't finish the chips, so I threw the remainer away, this may be a decision I will always regret.
The plane to China was much better than the previous plane. The seats were slightly wider and shorter, a welcome adjustment. The announcements were all in Chinese, followed by what I assume was an English translation, though only a few words per sentences made it through. I sat in a mid-plane window seat next to a middle-aged Chinese woman. While I didn't directly converse with her, we were able to communicate nessecary subjects on our 13 hour flight using body language and what little English she knew. I only know how to say Hello and Thank You in Chinese, so I was little help there.
The first meal we were served was Chicken and Rice. I'm pretty sure my aunt's dog eats higher quality chicken than what I was served. It was bad, but I ate everything I could on my plate, knowing it would be a long time before another meal. The second meal served mid-flight was a ham and cheese sandwich. I refused it. While in retrospect, I probably should have taken it to nibble on the bread. I have always hated lunch meat sandwiches, and my stomach was in no mood to eat more plane food after the first meal. A couple hours after that refusal, I started to feel sick from hunger. I huddled into the corner of my seat, trying to concentrate on the subtitled version of Journey to the Center of the Earth playing through the seat back in front of me. Unbelievable happiness took me over to see a breakfast food tray coming towards me after ten hours of flight. Due to my hunger, I had to eat slowly in order to keep my stomach calm. A single grape took five bites to consume. I devoured my three grapes, doughnut-like bread, and small cup of orange juice in two hours time. Near the very end of the flight, feeling better from the food, I decided I would have another coke, after having only water the whole flight. As they served final refreshments, I asked whether they had coke. The gentleman smiled and answered "Of course!" and proceeded to pour a Diet Pepsi.
The plane landed in Shanghai and it seemed like each person I passed needed to see all of my information. After an hour or two getting there, I made it to my last gate. My back hurt too much from the previous flight to allow me to carry my bag. It sadly scooted along the floor as I searched for a buggy to put it inside. By the way, people in China don't know what a buggy is either. I needed real food, so I set off through the airport to find something to eat. Everything edible was Chinese. This is completely understandable since I was, in fact, in China! However, the last thing I wanted after this trip was to consume something I had never seen before and wait to see the results of digestive system chaos. In a corner of the airport, I located a small place that served "chicken tenders." They also had coke and ketchup. Salvation had been found! I will spare details, but this chicken was not as hoped. The closest comparison I can think of is the rubber of a tire. Try eating that. (Don't mind the R2D2 sneaking into some photos!)
While perusing shops for any morsel of familiar food, I also began looking at small figurines for sale. I wanted the snake one, but it was $50 equivilant in US Dollars. The shop owner asked if he could help me. I stated that I loved this one item, but I wanted it to be the price of the bargain bin items. I left the shop with a large Chinese snickers bar and my figurine for $10 US. I made it back to my gate just as they began calling for boarding.
This time it was a twenty-something Italian guy who sat next to me. His name was something like Varlicimo, but I'm not sure since I could hardly pronouce it with his help. He had just spent two years working at a restaurant in London and was now going to spend a year doing the same in Melbourne with an Italian friend of his. His English was understandable, but his vocabulary was still small, making communication strained. He did not know any Chinese and couldn't understand the English translations at all. It was sadly comforting to see him struggle to eat the questionable food we were all served. By this time, I had mastered the slow eating of fruit, bread, and juice to keep me going.
When I left China it was still only late afternoon. My flights had followed the sun around the world, and my sense of time had been left in America. As we headed south to Australia, the sun rushed ahead, letting the night sky finally catch up. I slept five of the ten hours on this plane. I also mastered the game of Chinese Checkers and listened to the new Fall Out Boy CD three times. (Thanks Mom!)
The plane landed in Melbourne, and I rushed off to locate my dearly missed bag. I found it immediately, but also found that my back was completely unable to support it. While passing through, I converted my remaining cash to the psychedelic Australian dollar. The customs line filled the entire airport. I stood there for an hour, hardly moving forward. Thankfully, they began allowing anyone from the UK or US to skip the line and speed ahead! My passport didn't get stamped. Instead, I went through a machine that took a picture, resembling a bad mug shot and recorded my visit electronically.
Once outside, I got in line for a cab. The cab driver was either friendly in a mean way or mean in a friendly way. He told me I was too quiet and should make conversation. I explained that I had just flown around the world and just needed food and sleep. He decided that a guessing game would be fun, and tried to get me to guess where he was from. I'm terrible at these games and am worse when my brain is tired and hungry. He gave hints, I said I didn't know without really thinking about any hints, and he acted like I was stupid for not knowing. Finally he said he was from Pakistan. Since I was hungry, he wanted to recommend a place to eat, which was something I welcomed. I explained the types of food I liked, basically anything but Chinese at that moment. He had me list my favorite dishes for each type. Instead of recommending places to eat, he spent the remainer of the taxi time educating me on how he wanted me to pronounce indian and japanese dishes.
I arrived at my hotel in the early afternoon in Australia time. It is a small hotel, sandwiched between the ocean and the creepiest amusement park of all time. I spent some time walking down the streets to locate places to buy medicine for my back, a converter for my ipad charger, and real food. Heaven has never sung so beautifully as when my eyes met the Dominos Pizza sign down the block!