I slept about six hours before I had to get up. Breakfast was included in the room, thankfully, so I devoured three or four croissants with bacon before catching the shuttle to the airport. The staff at the hotel were so nice that it seemed things were finally looking up . . .
But then I got to the airport and went to check in for my 12:30 United flight to LAX. The woman behind the counter rifled through my papers, entered some things into her computer, and told me that they couldn’t locate my baggage and therefore United was unable to accept me on their flight.
Of course. That would happen right about now. So I went over to the Cathay counter and basically parked there for the next four hours as they bungled their way through their jobs. Between trips to the counter, I listened to music to keep my soul from exploding in a ball of hatred. There was one song in particular, Summercat by Billie the Vision & the Dancers, which Carlos played for me on the beach my last night in Xiamen. It’s about leaving on a plane, but one line seemed especially fitting:
And the man next to me said “Everything is gonna be alright”.
I said “Nothing is gonna be alright, but thank you anyway”.
They eventually located my luggage and got me on a 4:15 Cathay flight to Los Angeles. I was happy to have a tentative plan for getting home, but I wasn’t all that hopeful. During those four hours of waiting I had noticed some ominous signs mentioning a incoming typhoon and standby measures, and it just seemed like weathering a typhoon in the Hong Kong airport would be a fitting way for this trip to continue.
Luckily, the typhoon only delayed us two hours. Eventually, we took off and headed across the airport, me wedged securely into my middle seat for the 13-hour journey. As I crammed my luggage into my scant legroom, I thought fondly of the hard sleeper berths I had traveled all over China in. Is flying really the best way to travel?? But they had a pretty good selection of movies and power outlets in each seatback (the entire reason I wanted to fly Cathay, honestly), and I figured that this would be the best part of this entire cursed journey.
They say that mothers forget the pain of childbirth; otherwise they wouldn’t be willing to do it again. I think I’m that way with international travel. Thirteen hours is a LONG TIME but I always seem to forget that when planning trips and buying tickets. “Eleven hours,” I think, “is not bad. I’ve done 15 before!” Yeah, and probably hated it! Without fail, this is what I do on these transpacific hauls:
- Sit down and think deep thoughts of leaving and going and home
- Scan the movie selection, identify 5 I wouldn’t mind watching
- Realize that watching 5 movies would basically bring me to home, and delight in how short the length of 5 movies is
- Watch one movie
- Pull out computer and do stuff until I fall asleep with my hands still on the keyboard
- Wake up feeling refreshed, certain that we’re almost to America
- Look at clock and realize two and a half hours has passed.
The only slight variation in this routine was the time I spent eating the bag of lychee I had brought with me from Xiamen. Funny that this fruit was completely unknown to me a few months ago, but when I opened the bag the smell immediately brought me back to the beach.
Somehow the time passed and we arrived in Los Angeles, either 20 hours or 2 hours late, depending on which standard you’re going by. I borrowed the phone of the guy next to me and called my parents to tell them that I had arrived in the U.S.!
My bags somehow made it (really a miracle, considering the baggage tags were written in red permanent marker) and they had carts available for free, so getting through customs was unexpectedly smooth and easy. I rechecked my bags and then a helpful baggage guy told me the flight I was looking for was with Alaska Air, so I set off for Terminal 3.
I made good time and confidently swiped my passport at the self-check-in terminals, ready to be home already. But my passport wasn’t recognized . . . and the Alaska Air people told me that they didn’t have a flight AS5367 . . . or any direct flights to Minneapolis, for that matter. After a few minutes of extreme panic (“Then where are my bags headed??”), they figured out what had happened. The flight number had been made up, but I was booked on a direct flight to Minneapolis leaving at 6:30 . . . from Terminal 5.
By now, it was 5:30 and I had major retracing to do, across the enormous LAX airport to Terminal 5. When I finally got there, they told me I was too late to check in, but must have seen either hopelessness or rage on my face and let me through anyway. Luckily (about the only stroke of luck in this entire journey), my gate was the third one after the security check; even with that I was the last passenger to board, walking directly onto the plane without having to wait in line.
My computer wouldn’t turn on for some reason, so I just slept the whole way back. (I later found out that the backlight had died so I just couldn’t see the screen at all. I am not sure whether to be annoyed that my computer broke, grateful that it waited until after I got out of Hong Kong, or just amused at this one last addition to this utter fiasco of a journey.)
My parents were waiting for me at baggage claim with a sign.
Only one suitcase didn’t make it; again considering the luggage tags scrawled with red permanent marker the fact that the other two did make it is a small miracle. The missing suitcase was the one that held ALL of my clothes, but it was okay. My parents and I got in the car and drove back to Coon Rapids where my room is full of the clothes I didn’t take to China. I won’t be going naked anytime soon!
I showered in a bathtub surrounded by sliding glass doors, went to the bathroom on a toilet with a dry seat, and then went to sleep in my ridiculously soft bed. (Honestly, it was ridiculous. I started laughing once I sat down, because it felt the way I imagine clouds do. I guess all it takes to make a 20-year-old mattress feel good is a year of sleeping on what passes for a mattress in China!)