Chaos and confusion begin the journey
Likewise, I can’t think of a more perfect phrase to fully describe the trip to Shandong. My departure crept up on me so quickly, it was like a lazy sleeping dog that instantaneously awoke and begged and pleaded to be taken for a walk. Not just any walk, but the most brisk, half energizing yet evermore tiring, sweat-your-butt-off walk I could easily recollect.
And yet, just as it began
... just as I ate my “last meal” in the states at Donna’s, a quaint Williamsport diner, joking and smiling with my Dad and boyfriend over coffee and a delicious (another understatement) sausage, egg and cheese sandwich.
... just as I drove (standard) five of the most exciting hours possible through hot, smelly, cut-throat NYC traffic.
... just as I checked my bag in and welcomed the remaining of my group, introducing my professors and saying a quick farewell thanking both my dad and boyfriend for taking off work so they could make it.
... just as I positioned myself into my cozy airplane seat aboard the largest bird resting on the strip, “37C” (window seat!).
I began to brace myself for take-off, frantically chewing Oribtz sweet mint gum to help my ears adjust.
4:30pm. Five minutes until take off ...
“... we apologize for the inconvenience but thank you for your patience as we attend to a mechanical problem.”
The stewardesses pass out drinks. “Whaaaat,” I thought.
In the half hour or so we were waiting it provided enough time to check out all the airplane freebies, fiddle and adjust everything and sit in eager silence. As a half hour turned into an hour I began reflecting on my “good-byes,” got nervous about flying so far on such a huge plane (apparently, with mechanical problems) and wondered what exactly I was doing right then and there with about four hundred or so foreign looking and sounding strangers.
I started piecing each event that got me to that point. I felt a bit crazy and slightly hesitant.
I texted my older sister, a glorified veteran in flying, asking if mechanical maintenance was typical and quickly received, “It’s fine. It can be as simple as crew management.” Alright, no big deal. Let’s get this program moving.
A turkey sandwich for everyone on board, a newborn baby screaming in terror and three and a half hours later the intercom comes on again. “Ching-chi. Shing-shi. Wing-wang. Blah, blah,blah.”
I have absolutely no clue what the stewardess is saying but the emotion of “pissed off” renders universal in any language as I witness reactions. I turned to my only neighbor, a younger Chinese-looking boy about my age and ask if the flight has been delayed.
He declares he doesn’t speak Chinese either. No more directions are given in English except for “Please remove all your items.”
All 400 passengers funnel out of the boarding dock into Terminal One. Airline workers pass out chips and soda. More bribery. More stalling.
Passengers and luggage pepper the waiting room in exhaustion. Eventually, we receive word that the flight is delayed until 10:30 p.m. After a small riot at the front desk the crowd begins forming a snake-like line. I reluctantly grab a spot before it consumes the entire room.
I ask my companions if they have Dr. (Jing) Luo or Dr. (Jim) Pomfret’s number (they had left just earlier to speak with the main desk and negotiate our schedule). Dan (Copes) calls and updates Dr. Pomfret. From what we can tell the flight is now delayed until 4 p.m. the following day and the airlines are securing rooms in nearby hotels or paying for taxis home.
A young girl with intricately braided hair begins chatting with Morey and I in line. She appears maybe ten and firmly informs us of all pertinent details.
“My dad gave my mom $1,000 so we could come see him. He worked very very hard for that money and this isn’t fair at all. They say we won’t be able to get on another plane ‘til two tomorrow! They can’t do this to us.”
She clutches her stuffed animal more tightly and frowns. Morey and I look at each other and I squint my eyebrows saying how adorable she is.
At nearly 11 p.m. we arrive at our hotel and check-in. The man at the desk argues with Dr. Pomfret regarding the number of rooms we will occupy. Dr. Pomfret argues for ten, one for each of us. Meanwhile, the other seven students notice a sign saying “China East Airlines Buffet” with an arrow.
We are gone in a hurry
After filling ourselves to the brim with food of substance (much unlike our plane ride), we all go our separate ways and settle into our rooms (ten of them, go Dr. Pomfret!). I throw my bag in the corner, begin charging my laptop and phone, and jump into the shower. I barely dry off and pass out in the bed.
1:30 a.m. — call from a random number, roll over and close my eyes.
1:44 a.m. — call from another random number, “what the heck,” pass back out.
2 a.m. — knock, knock, KNOCK!
Very disoriented I go to answer the door. It’s Dr. Pomfret. He says, “let’s go, they called us back to the airport.” I grab my stuff and am out the door. A shuttle is waiting in the front entrance for us all.
We arrive at the airport and are quickly shipped out. Again, Chinese people pepper the waiting room, they look ridiculously tired.
Roughly 14 hours later (and I do mean 14) we arrive at the Shanghai airport. I have never experienced boredom like that in my life. Like all things, it seemed better once we arrived and I didn’t have to sit through it any more.
The rest of the trip to Shandong University of Technology was pretty standard ... wait in the airport, grab the second flight (this one only lasted a little more than an hour) and take the bus to the main gates.
That’s all you’re getting for now. Stay tuned for the good stuff.