We could not leave China smoothly. No. That would be too easy. This adventure, which had stretched our emotions and senses, was not over.
Monday morning we ate our final meal in China, breakfast from McDonald’s. It was cheap. Much cheaper than the hotel breakfast buffet. It was also indelibly American, made up of scrambled eggs, orange juice, sausage, and hash browns.
My wife and I checked over our bags, deciding it was best to forego one carry-on and check in four bags. It was easier to spread our clothes (now mostly laundry in plastic bags) and our loot across four bags to better meet the strict weight limits.
We called down to the hotel desk and had them send up a bellhop for our luggage and to call us a taxi to take us to the airport. This was all done very smoothly and without incident. We’re saying goodbye to Hong Kong and China. We’re going home. The kids’ moods had been much lighter and joyful since dinner the night before. They hadn’t whined, nor had they bickered with one another. Everyone was at peace.
The ride to the airport seemed quick as we watched the Hong Kong skyline race past us. At the aiport, I got a cart and piled our luggage onto it. We figured out which line we needed to wait in and moved toward it.
That’s when I said to Stephanie with a hopeful smile, “You have our passports, right?”
“No,” she said.
The crushing pain focused on my chest at that moment threatened to stop my breathing. I suddenly knew exactly where the passports were: in the top drawer of the night stand on my side of the bed back at the hotel.
Important details I could normally recall in an instant, were lost amid the cloudy dulling of my brain thanks to my cold. I had forgotten to pull the passports out of the drawer before we left the hotel. How could I have been so damn stupid? So careless about something so essential to our existence. Throughout our trip I always had our passports at-hand when needed and stowed away for safety when necessary.
You can’t travel without a passport. At the beginning of our trip, my wife and I had joked with each other that there are really only two things you need when traveling: a passport and a credit card.
Now we had the credit cards but no passports.
What happened next tells you what an awesome staff Cathay Pacific has at Hong Kong airport. I and the kids parked our baggage near some chairs. Stephanie went to the Cathay Pacific service desk. A woman named Elaine took charge. Cathay Pacific called our hotel. It took a bit to find the number. We had thrown out the hotel card we had been given. We weren’t staying there anymore why did we need it? Thankfully, I still had the map of Hong Kong that the hotel had given to us. Since our hotel was a prominent one, it’s number was included in the list of hotels on the map.
Stephanie raced back to the service desk with the map. She returned several minutes later and explained that the hotel had found our passports and they would be delivered to the airport, but we would have to pay the fair for the taxi ride there and back. Expensive, but considerably cheaper than the $100 US per ticket it would have cost to change our flights and attempt to fly Standby….and we know who many open seats there are on International Flights, right?
Meanwhile, because we had photocopies of our passports on us (we’d had the copies made in case we ever lost them), Cathay Pacific was able to check in our luggage, but not have it sent to the plane. We needed to check-in before 12:15pm for our 12:55pm flight.
After doing that, I sat with the kids and our carry-ons while Stephanie went downstairs to meet the man from the hotel. We waited and waited until Stephanie emerged and waved us to follow her. I gathered the kids and our stuff and we hurried after my wife to the check-in desk.
Stephanie had our passports, had paid the hotel staffer who had brought them and had given him a giant tip. We all stood at the check-in desk. Elaine was directing the young man behind the counter, explaining what was going on. It was 12:10pm.
Can I tell you how tired we all were of all these Just In Time travel incidents? Thanks to the people at Cathay Pacific and the staff at the Harbour Plaza Hotel North Point the four of us were able to make our flight home.
Shortly after being seated on the plane, flight attendants brought the kids some activity bags, filled with things for each of them to do and age-appropriate. We got no such thing from American Airlines on the flight over to Shanghai.
The movie and TV show selection was fantastic. The entire first two seasons of Game of Thrones, Homeland, and several other cable-only TV series. I watched the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi and the movie Tinker,Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Our kids watched The Incredibles and played lots of different games. Henry really liked the pinball game. (The best movie option on the American Airlines flight to China was Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. I like Ewan Macgregor and Emily Blunt, but that is not a very good movie.) Others I didn’t watch were The Avengers and Cabin in the Woods. The former we had seen in the theater (excellent), the latter I would have watched had I not been so tired.
At our layover at LAX we just barely made our connecting flight to Chicago because by the time we cleared Immigration, then collected our luggage, then cleared Customs, and took a potty break, we barely had time to get through the slow-moving TSA security line to board the plane right after the Final Boarding Call. (There was 2.5 hours between our arrival and scheduled departure time.)
Nevermind that TSA security is slower and less thorough than Hong Kong airport security, and in Hong Kong you don’t have to take off your shoes….
We’re back in Michigan now, after a welcoming one-night stay with my parents in Chicago.
I’m relieved to be home after such a thrilling adventure. I’m also feeling let down because the prospects of Doing Some Cool New Thing in Shanghai are gone.
At one in the afternoon the sun is out, I’m awake and vaguely tired but feel like I should be in bed. I either wake up at midnight for no reason or to pee. Or I wake up at 4am or 5am and can not get back to sleep.
During the day ot’s not hot at all. It’s warm at a very comfortable 73 degrees Fahrenheit. When I go outside I don’t feel the air and I don’t immediately start to sweat.
There’s no one out walking. There’s no rush of cars, or buses or bikes or scooters. Just big houses on big lots, set far back from the streets in this very bucolic American setting.
The air is so clean and clear. Even with my clogged sinuses the freshness of the air is apparent.
There is a month and a half’s worth of mail. Among the pieces is a class list for the Fall for our son, including the name of his teacher and the names of his classmates. There is also a packet of forms that have to be filled out for our daughter so she can start pre-school. It reminds me that I have to get over to the pre-school offices very soon. They had granted us a grace period extension for paying the tuition because we were out of the country during the period of time when the tuition was initially due.
I haven’t had access to a kitchen since before we left for Shanghai. So the first time I make something other than pasta (boiling water) with sauce from a jar, the chicken is over-salted and slightly under-cooked.
During one of my errands, I resist the urge, when I see a group of 20-30 Chinese students on MSU’s campus, to roll down the car window and shout “loawai!”
When I eat I keep thinking I ought to be using chopsticks.
We have to refill our refrigerator. Which we do after a trip to the grocery store, which is the size of a couple of football fields, where I’m able to read all of the signs, where I recognize all of the food, where no one physically bumps into me and I physically bump into no one.
I could not walk to the store. I had to get in my car and drive.
It’s only the morning after when we find out our refrigerator no longer works. My quick-thinking wife runs out and buys some bags of ice, and moves everything into the two coolers we own. It takes a phone call and a 70-dollar late afternoon visit from a repairman to find out that the compressor on the refrigerator is dead, which means it’s time to buy a new refrigerator. His explanation is crystal clear, as is the pang of knowing that a Very Big Expense is about to be incurred. Is there ever a convenient time to buy a new appliance?
I take the kids to the park, the “brown playground” as they call Lake Lansing Park South. It’s their favorite playground. Again, I can read all the signs leading into and inside the park. The conversations, mundane as they are, that the other kids and their parents have are comprehensible to me.
There isn’t a Chinese character in sight.
As I write this, it’s a week after we oh-so-luckily boarded our flight home and my sinuses are still clogged up. Though instead of the bright red mucus that was pouring out in Hong Kong, my nose emits a translucent yellow liquid. I haven’t yet shaken this cold.
I had gotten so used to frantically writing about and then posting our adventures in China, dealing with the bureaucrat-slow VPN connection, worried that I would get too far behind, that now it almost feels wrong to be writing about something so far away even though it happened only days ago. It seems so long since we were in Shanghai. Shanghai was so loud, tall, noisy, dirty, infuriating, exhilarating, and awe-inspiring, and so tiring. I need to rest.