Hello to all of Chelsea’s blog followers. Once again, Chelsea has a guest blogger. This time it is ole dad. I came to SW Asia about 20-plus years ago, but this is my first time to East Asia, Anyway, the trip over was your typical international, multi-leg, multi-airline, 24+ hour day.
I got up at 5am Monday and my bags were packed. I haven’t gotten up that early since school ended (I am a high school teacher) but my body adjusted well. Abby (Chelsea's mom) dropped me off at IAH since she had to go to work, and my trip had begun.
I knew something was up when I was checking in and they asked for my travel visa to China. Since China was only a layover, I shouldn’t have needed one. Well the lady at the ticket counter started typing away and sure enough none was needed. (This will tie back in near the end of my travel.) While I was waiting at the ticket counter, I met Command Sgt Major Claus, and he said to drop his name if I go to the DMZ, since he was stationed there not too long ago. So my extended time at the counter might be a blessing in disguise.
Then I boarded my flight from Houston to Los Angeles. I didn't get the aisle seat I requested but I had the window seat, and thankfully I didn't have to share half my seat with the person in the middle. The flight was uneventful, but I was happy to be going to Los Angles and not San Francisco after this weekend's happenings.
The layover in LA was fine. I had plenty of time to get to the gate and grab a bite to eat, my last “American” meal for 10 days. Naturally, it was a Burger King combo meal. Loaded up on grease and calories, thinking the inflight meal would be well into the flight, since it was going to be a 12+ hour flight from LA to Beijing, China. Once again, I hoped I would get my reserved aisle seat.
I boarded the flight (lots of Asians on board, go figure). I did have my aisle seat in the middle section of the 777-300. Great news: no one between me and the person on the other end of the three seats, so my backpack got a ride in the empty seat. I did have my own TV display with lots of movies, TV shows and music. The music was all Chinese but the movies and TV shows were a mix.
I would say we were about an hour and a half into the flight and the inflight meal was coming around. Needless to say I wasn’t real hungry but took it anyway, since I figured I should, since it might be my only one. It was a Chinese stir fry, fruit, yogurt, and a roll with butter. I ate some but not all, washed it all down with a Chinese beer. Not bad tasting beer, surprisingly.
For my inflight entertainment, I went with a Chinese movie (no sound needed, just read the subtitles) called Cold War. Not a bad action adventure. I was half expecting the bad guys to hail from the Western Hemisphere. They were Chinese wanting to bring down Hong Kong. Movie number two was an American film, Jack Reacher. If I was a Tom Cruise fan, then this flight would have been perfect for me. There were 5 movies of his to chose from: MI-II, MI-III; Collateral, Minority Report, Ghost Protocol and Jack Reacher. I watched Jack Reacher since I’ve seen the rest and didn't have a desire to see them again. My final movie was for the Chief: The Magnificent Seven, a classic western.
After a few hours of rest, another meal was being served, but needless to say I was not hungry from the last one. I took it and ate at it (once again not sure when I'd have another meal...). Again, Chinese stir fry, again.... I was quite surprised by the selection. We were about 4 hours out of Beijing well over land, Russia I think.
The layover in Beijing was fairly quick. I had a long wait at immigration. There was only one person checking passports, and a rather long line of people. My first thought was, "This is a country of over 1.6 billion people, can't you get another person to check passports?" But then a second person came up. Between the two of them (males) they had the personality and interpersonal skills of a rock. No greeting, no smiles, no nothing, I guess this is ops normal for them. China can have all the free enterprise activities they want but they are still very much a communist nation, and there seems to be little room for the individual and his/her personality. I also saw quite a few armed security personnel during my walk to the departure gate.
I thought security is bad in the states, but we've got nothing on China. I got a personal pat down by one person, and when my backpack was scanned, a couple rolls of nickels I was bringing for Chelsea's students (a going away present from her) showed black. A legitimate concern, ok. But then they proceeded to remove everything in my backpack and rescan all the contents. The officer was all business, too. At least I wasn’t the only one being searched to this degree, I would say about 80% of us had to have our carry on stuff run at least twice.
I did find one friendly face at the ticket counter at my departure gate. The airline agent was being harassed by a foreigner (non Asian and not an American). He was complaining about something or other... I just laughed and was glad it wasn’t me, because she sent him back to the ticket counter and I bet he had to get searched again. When I got to the counter, I was friendly and she was friendly back. So not all Chinese workers at the airport are rude and lack interpersonal skills!
Finally, the last leg of my flight. A brief 90 minute flight to Gimpo airport in Seoul. Once again we hit altitude and out came the beverage... and FOOD carts. More stir fry, this time I said no to the food but yes to the glass of red wine. That was all I needed. My day of flying was now approaching 24 hours. Local time was 8:30-9:00 pm on Tuesday but my body was saying, “dude it’s 4:30am, what the heck are you doing awake?” The flight was again uneventful. There was no middle seat neighbor to try and converse with and as I was the only non-Asian on the flight, anyone who sat next to me would have a hard time chatting anyway. So I just plugged in my music and listened to some classic rock and read my Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Preview.
Upon landing, I again went through immigration, but it went faster than in China. However, the friendliness wasn’t much better. When I got to baggage claim, guess what, my bags were missing. Yep, they got the visa and opted to take an extra day in China. My bucket list has "visiting the Forbidden City" and "see the Great Wall," so I guess bag 1 and bag 2 decided to do the visiting for me.
On the bright side, Chelsea was there to greet me at the arrivals gate. Bonus, we didn’t have luggage to haul around on the subway/bus to get to her apartment. And so my blog and voyage to Korea come to an close. I figure Chelsea’s blog followers are just about as tired of reading about my trip as I am experiencing the whole thing. More to come...