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Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014

Dragon Air: Not exactly Paradise on Wings

Posted Thursday, March 5, 2009, at 5:43 AM

Oh yes.
I think a lot of people only hear about China from movies or tv shows much like India or Africa. The western world tends to feign interest in an entire other society but really just picks up bits and pieces which are extrapolated and then blown up to massive proportions in movies such as Kung Fu. This can be illustrated from the various Americans who ask my cousin's African husband whether he hunts tigers and lives in trees when he visits Africa.

So you can understand how I scoffed at people when they told me that I shouldn't go to China. "It's a Communist country!" they would say, "you'll die and never come back!" Despite all of these radical comments -- I went.

Now all of those same people are asking me to describe the place upon my safe travels back. Apparently amazed that I'm back in one piece, I'm incapable of truly describing anything substantially. Everything from the cracks in the buildings (which are more numerous) to the sheer noise pollution I experience on a daily basis are both abstract and foreign to those who reside in the place I would call home.

I remember pacing around Hong Kong airport for about 12 hours. I walked or, more correctly, rode; the flat escalators to each end and back. At one point I tried to go into the business areas of the lofty Marco Polo and Cathay Pacific only to be refused for not having a membership. It isn't like anyone was actually using the showers. Sheesh.

The first time I noticed some things were not quite right was when I was boarding the plane. Sure, the international flight had amazingly attractive stewardesses in cute uniforms rather than frumpy old ladies in drag but this was horrifyingly new. The entire plane cabin had a glow of yellow lighting which seemed oddly terrifying in its poor quality. The tops of the cabin had air conditioners puffing smoke out to cool the passengers rather than air conditioners which went unnoticed. I couldn't fit into the seats. And all around me, Chinese people were staring at me. Disturbingly so.

A middle aged woman with a child like curiosity turned around in the seat in front of me and stared at me. I noticed her sparkling eyes and wrinkled forehead with long coarse hair dangling down. She didn't pop up above the seat further than eye level but she seemed genuinely interested in just staring at me. The other passengers did as well but not as obviously. It was a truly mystifying experience. Why are they staring at me? Is my hair sticking up? Do the black rings around my eyes show? Do they see a red "S" on my chest?

After feelings of what only seemed like awkwardness and shyness mixed together subsided I realized that the seat I was in was small and finding the seat belt was such a chore that I became tired. My seat was an aisle seat. I don't know if any of you are the "big ones" in the group but apparently Chinese airplanes aren't made for "husky" people -- mid-range is probably a stretch as well. I had to get up twice to let my new elderly Chinese friends in the seat next to me thus having to search around for the seatbelts several more times than I wanted. Buckling up was about the same difficulty as steering the plane with my mind.

Chaos ensues - Chaos which I generally only attribute to China. Gone are the hushed whispers of small-talk which I'm generally used to in civilized planes. It is replaced with deafening chatter and screaming. It seems like everyone on the plane knows each other. How could so many family members be in one place at the same time? Are they going to a family reunion or some sort of baseball tournament? That's big here, I thought. Apparently this is how new people create small-talk in China, by deafeningly shouting to and fro. This is not good for my sleep cycle.

Matters only become worse later as we start to play music chairs. The gentleman next to me wants to sit with his "sister" who is still staring at me in front. He gets out, which means I have to unbuckle my seatbelt for the 4th time and get out of my seat. The lady next to him agrees with him and moves to another place in the plane, but only after I've fumbled with my seatbelt for another 10 minutes. My suffering is enjoyable to them, somehow. The foreigner who sits in the seat much like a baby cocooned in a car seat. Finally I am alone with 2 other seats to my left. At least I can wave my arms around without striking an ancient diabetic.

Although this plane ride was one of the most annoying I've ever taken, it was a terrific introduction into the inner workings of Chinese society and all was not a total loss as I did learn one thing from my Chinese English-speaking grandfather,. "Shuai." The Chinese word for handsome. At least I got an ego boost.

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

I have heard that China is actually very receptive to Americans traveling there and living there. Did you find this to be true?

-- Posted by sameldridge on Thu, Mar 5, 2009, at 2:46 PM

Almost 99% of the time, yes. America is #1 in their minds, their goal, if you will :)

-- Posted by natejames on Fri, Mar 6, 2009, at 3:54 AM

Antoher question if you don't mind.

The dollar is still fairly respectable there, right? I heard that you could actually live in China for about 400-500 hundred bucks a month. Is that true?

Thanks, and I sure would like to hear more about your travels there.

-- Posted by sameldridge on Sat, Mar 7, 2009, at 10:02 AM

If you want lengthy responses and are interested in traveling here, look me up on msn. Piccolo3nj@hotmail.com.

I'll be able to give you a lot more information that way.

-- Posted by natejames on Sun, Mar 8, 2009, at 10:13 PM

Your experiences seem very different from mine and I have traveled to China many times. One would assume that Chinese Airlines would have smaller seats since Chinese people are smaller due to genetics, social norms, and diet. However, having flied with both United and Air China, I have found that Air China's seats are wider and more comfortable that United's seats. I agree with you on the stewardesses. They are both more beautiful, and more attentive to your wants and needs. Customer service is simply better on Chinese trans-national flights than on American ones. Maybe next time you should take a night flight on Air China?

-- Posted by feisnik on Wed, Mar 25, 2009, at 1:04 PM

I'll remember Air China for my future needs :) I think we just got one of the old beaters for the HK to CSX flight. The other planes were actually quite nice.

-- Posted by natejames on Wed, Apr 1, 2009, at 10:52 PM

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