Thursday, 29 September 2011

27, 28 September 11: LA to Beijing

I can't leave the airport! I need a visa. Should've checked it out before I left. That said, if I'm going to spend a day in an airport I'm glad it's this one.

My flight from LA was comfortable and uneventful. The plane was only 80% full so I had an empty seat next to me. On both flights so far, I've been next to the window, which is my preference. I like to squeeze myself into the 90 degree angle made by the seat and the wall of the plane. I slept like crazy. Luckily, the flight attendant woke me to ask my dietary requirements. Otherwise I would've been stuck with beef and pork for dinner and breakfast, respectively. My timeline is obscured because of the amount of sleeping I did. I only woke for my vegetarian meals. For dinner, I had a greasy noodle dish, and for breakfast, I ate seaweed and onions with rice. I preferred breakfast. We arrived here at 0500, Wednesday.

It took a while to get through security. Customs seized my bike lock. Whatever.

This airport is fantastic. I found an amazing shower in the women's restroom. It's a separate room with a divided shower and bidet, as well as a huge vanity and sink. The room was spotless, and I was unsure if it was available for use. I used it anyway. The shower itself was at least 8 feet high, with double shower heads, one of which was detachable. My period started last night during the flight, and travel always makes me extra greasy and gross looking. Bathing felt so good. All the better because it felt forbidden. Why would something this nice be available to anyone? And if it was broadly available, why wasn't there anyone else waiting to use it? I took my sweet time. I shaved and shampooed and brushed. I even applied makeup. What the hell. I changed my clothes and washed my underwear. It was perfect.  When I left the shower room, the cleaning lady gave me a long, dirty look, but I'm getting enough of those in general to not know whether it was my appearance or my behavior that warranted it.

I like being foreign so far. I like looking at people and not caring. I like that anything foolish I do will be attributed to my culture and not to me individually. I like the liberation that anonymity provides. I like that when people are looking at me, it's through a lens I can't identify with, a language and culture I know nothing about. Thus far, I'm remarkably comfortable and confident. I worried that in the face of a novel situation, I'd panic, but it's been the total opposite. I'm very excited for India because I recognize that it'll be on an entirely different level than this. Everything here is organized and clean and efficient. There are international outlets in the floor every 10 feet to charge laptops and electronics. At Sky Harbor, I found only one outlet. At LAX, there were only outlets available at special stands, where you were squished between other technology users. I did have to scan my passport to use the free wifi. I'm sure the government could read this message if they wanted to. The price of all this comfort is a lack of privacy. I had to scan my passport in order to access the wifi. Also, certain websites, like Facebook, are inaccessible, and many internet searches related to China cause the browser to shut down.

Right now, I'm clean and cozy on a bench that overlooks the dismal skyline. It's so hazy that visibility is probably limited to under a mile. There are buildings in the distance, but they're just an outline, only a shade or two darker than the sky. I knew China was polluted, but never had any concrete visualization of what that pollution looked like. I'm also publicly enjoying a frosty Chinese lager that I bought from a vending machine, not so much because I felt like a beer, but because I could. I'm going to surf the internet and people watch for the next 8 hours before my flight.

I've been people watching and wandering for hours. This is the biggest terminal in the world! And only 5 restaurants. This doesn't feel like a developing country at all. It reminds me of the U.S. in the late 90s and early 00s. All ostentation and acquisition.

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