TSA has nothing on China.
The plan was to stay up all night. Pack, read, clean, prepare and eliminate the stress that comes from the worry of not waking up on time. The plan was to be at the airport two hours early. A habit inherited from my parents and their parents before them. The plan was to be able to relax before my flight, knowing that I had everything that I needed and would not have any troubles. The trip was supposed to go smoothly. As I have said, this was the plan.Instead, I end up on a China fast train to Shanghai, praying that it holds to its end of the bargain.
Somehow, last night, I allowed myself to fall asleep. Somewhere between Chinese study and Bible study, I do believe. Alarms were ignored and the ZZZ's had it. Sleep took over me like a merciless poison. I was defenseless.
7:30 in the morning, my biological clock says, "Wake up!" 7:30 and 2 seconds, I am freaking out. My flight leaves in 40 minutes. Grab bag (Thank God it is packed), throw on pants, shirt, coat, scarf, boots - no, no time - boots go in backpack, slip on moccasins. Wallet, keys, cell phone, passport. Out the door. Elevator takes an annoyingly long time to descend. Floor 9...8...7...6...5... - come on, come on, come on! - 4...3...2...1...doors open! Darn it all! I forgot to pack my towel. I can sense the judging disapproval of Ford Prefect.
7:34 Taxi! No taxi to be seen. Of course, it is rush hour on a Monday morning. Finding an available taxi at rush hour in Hefei is as likely as finding a Congress of GOPs and Dems that understand the true meaning and value of the concept, 'shared sacrifice'. It just doesn't happen.
7:35... 7:38... Panic creeps up on me and begins to strangle the glimmer of hope that remains... 7:40. I get a little more proactive. Instead of standing on the curb with my arm out like a hopeless fool I confront motorists instead. Third try's the charm! "To the airport!" I say in my best Chinese, hopping awkwardly onto the back of his bike with my backpack that nearly matches me in size. He nods, hands me a plastic helmet that doesn't buckle and says "40 kwai!" I agree. There is no time to be frugal. "Quickly!" I plead and quickly, he obeys! We weave in and out of traffic, dodging buses, bicycles, cars and motorcycles alike. Worry of making it to the airport on time was replaced by a worry of making it there at all. Because this is China, we blow through red lights at minor and major intersections. Because this is China, we do U-turns into oncoming traffic on the highway. I follow each incident with a prayer of thanks after watching the highlighted events of my life flash before my eyes. 7:46.
The trip goes on and on. Road, after road, after road. The icy wind whips at my hair and bites my nose and all feeling has gone from my cheeks and fingers. Tears stream uncontrollably down my face. I wonder what percent is from the wind and what is from the fear of missing my flight, and 'how did I let this happen?!'. 7:54.
Next thing I know, we are cutting through a a construction site. Because this is China, nobody pays any mind to it. Because I am American and we ask too many questions, I do. "Where are we? Where is the airport?" He explains that he is taking a short cut. Or so he thought. We are basically dirt biking at this point. Within moments we run into an obstacle we can't maneuver around. There are dirt hills, mud puddles and fencing all around us with no access to the conjoining road. There is no choice but to turn back the way we came. 4 minutes wasted. 8:00. My flight takes off in 10 minutes. I let it go. At this point I have two options. I can either allow myself to enter into futile anxious panic, or I begin to brainstorm my next best option. I take a deep breath and choose the latter.
8:14 I arrive at the airport cringing at the knowledge that my plane is thousands of feet above me by now. I go in and ask if there are any more planes that will get me to Shanghai by the afternoon. This is China, so of course not. I sulk out of the airport and phone my Chinese teacher and friend, Lowren. Lowren, my hero!
He stays on the phone with me as we devise my next plan of action. To the train station. The clock shows 8:30. I have to be at the Shanghai Pudong airport no later than 14:00 as I have a connecting flight to Seoul, South Korea at 14:50. I find a taxi to the airport and Lowren hangs up and begins to look up train tickets to Shanghai. He also calls China Southern Airlines in order to figure out what my options are as far as postponing my flight - just in case. He is such a dear! I allow myself to calm down on the warm taxi ride and even end of having a lovely chat with the driver who refuses to accept that my Chinese conversational skills are minimal at best. Much to my surprise and delight, we are able to communicate quite well. Basic Chinese: I am from America, I am an English teacher, I live in Hefei, what's your name, No I am not 30 I am 22, my name is, etc. Apparently he is even more delighted by the conversation that I, because as we are pulling up to the train station, I am having to refuse his request of my hand in marriage. He is crushed. I muster up my best American sweetheart apologetic smile and bid him farewell.
I get out of the taxi, and Lowren calls. He has already found a few back up flights from Shanghai leaving a day later. It will cost me more than my original ticket to postpone my flight. Optimism kicks in. I ask Lowren if he thinks I can make my flight if I catch the 10:00 train to Shanghai. He thinks it is worth the risk. I am unable to find the ticket counter so I run up to a man who looks in charge. He is wearing a green uniform with lots of pins and shiny gold buttons. Security, China style. Promising. I construe my facial expression to show that I am lost and in desperate need of help. I then hand him my phone and Lowren tells him I need to find the ticket counter to buy a ticket to Shanghai. He leads me there. I get a sneaky suspicion that this sort of petty duty is not in his normal job description. Other men wearing matching uniforms see him and laugh. I continue to follow. Of course the ticket counter is not actually in the train station. This is China.
9:46, I buy my ticket.
9:52, I buy a fanta and some gum.
9:58, I adjust to a comfortable position in my seat on the train.
The train arrives in Shanghai at 13:30. I have to take a taxi to the airport. I have an hour and 20 minutes until take off.
13:36 I am in a taxi heading for the airport. Lowren calls to make sure all is well. He asks me to hand the phone over to the taxi driver in order to tell him to make sure I get to the airport by 14:30. Suddenly, the taxi driver is speed racer. We thrash down the highway, going 90-100-120 kilometers per hour in 55-70 kilometers per hour zones.
The driver seems to be enjoying the excited a little too much.
14:19! We pull into the terminal. I pay him, thank him profusely and dash to the check in gate.
Spoiler alert! I don't make it.
I get to the gate only to be told that check in is closed. I am too late. I protest. My flight does not take off for half an hour. I have no bags to check. Because this is China, they don't care. I ask why. This is China, so "There is no why." Rules are rules and now I am stuck in the Shanghai airport. I think about crying. No! I suck it up and buy a new ticket to S. Korea. I refuse to be defeated.
I call my friends in Shanghai. They have a room ready for me. Bless the Bradners.
I am now sitting on a couch in Shanghai. Glass in hand. Wine trickles down my throat and washes away the stress.
I have deviated from my original course but I am still ready for an amazing vacation and Chinese New Year is only 1 week away, so I say bring on the adventures. Adversity, challenge accepted.