It’s been seven whole days since I made the trip to Southeast Asia. A tremendous amount has happened since leaving my flat on Page Street. The day of the flight began quietly. I went over and over the contents of my bags, determined to not forget a thing. I paced the floor, held my cats and said my goodbyes to a place I called home for the past 13 years. I cried as I sat on the cold toilet seat one last time. The crying was a relief, letting go of what I found uncomfortable in order to make room for the inconveniences I would experience here in Vietnam. The crying was also from disbelief that I was actually making this move. I use to sit in an office day after day thinking about a day like this. Needless to say, I was quite overwhelmed with my own decisions.
My best girlfriend took off from work to drive K and I to the airport. My heart was heavy leaving her. She had been through so much in the past two years and fortunate for us our friendship grew stronger as we leaned on one another for support through some stressful times. Curbside goodbyes are never the best, but that is what we had to do. K stuck with me and my huge bag and assisted me at check in.
Check in was just a preview of what was to come…Because of weight requirements I needed to purchase another bag to check. It was urgent to take care of this as I must have been on the last AirChina flight from SFO, they were closing the ticket gates. After being directed to a proper luggage store, K helped me repack my suitcases. Time ticked away too fast.
K bought me a sandwich before heading through security which I needed to get to in order to call my parents before boarding the plane. Our good-bye was rushed and way too short. I wish that as I was leaving and even planning this trip I had had more time with her. Time was sliding through the universe, slipping through my hands and conscious. Without my insulin pump I went through security with ease. I slipped my Chacos back on and rushed to the gate. I called the last of my last people and set the phone to airplane mode. The 747 was packed to the gills. A flying Chinatown. I ate my sandwich and settled back to watch The Lincoln Lawyer which my buddy Rob luckily loaded up on my computer. After the movie I slept.
13 hours later we landed in Beijing. It might have been fog we landed in, but I feel it was otherwise. Once inside the terminal we made our way toward the connecting flight. This airport is immense, pointlessly. Maybe ten percent of the airport is actually used. It seems that they insisted on parking the planes at the furthest gate creating a long distance to do anything. We were very late and even if we landed on time and hour is not nearly enough to make a connecting flight. The lines for transfer and immigration were tremendous and confusing. Two of us missed our connecting flight to Ho Chi Minh City due to the plane’s delay. We needed new boarding passes and to reheck our luggage, if we wound it.
There was another man who had been redirected by AirChina. He was originally suppose to have a direct flight to Hong Kong, but was sent through Beijing. He was trying to get home to see his dying mother. He ended up having to get a hotel room to wait for his next flight out the next morning. We ended up banding together through the confusion and headed through immigration together and looked for our bags, which luckily were still spinning around on the carousel. He left us to go to his hotel and H (a nice young woman from a small town in Pennsylvania) stuck with me as we navigated the immense airport to check back into our flight, now to Singapore and then HCMC. I am so grateful to have been in that situation with her. She’s a seasoned traveler and I was able to gain a little strength from her attitude. I think we both agree, though, to avoid AirChina.
We waited for our flight to Singapore checking mobile access.I was able to send texts to K and let her know a bit of what was happening. I didn’t find place to charge my laptop though. I really wanted to watch another movie on the next flight, but figured I would try to get as much sleep as possible. I didn’t feel tired, but I totally feared the effects of jet lag and I wanted to do whatever I could to lessen it’s effects. It wasn’t a bad flight. It was another 8 hours I think, or at least it felt that way. I began watching 4 Lions but the accents were hard to understand through my headphones. Then the battery died. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep some more. I was also obsessed with staying hydrated. A week before leaving for my trip I had another corneal erosion. They are the most painful things. I know I have tattoos and all, but when the pain is close or in my head, I have a hard time tolerating it. Upon some research I learned that hydration plays a large part in this condition. I chugged water and added hydration tables to help me absorb said water (thanks Alma).
H and I made it to Singapore without any visible scars, mine are emotional, and were able to get boarding passes and make some internet contact with people. We both took turns watching each others bags as we did some self care. I found a Burger King and had a whopper meal for breakfast. They gave us change in Singapore dollar which I promptly spent at the Starbucks on the way to our gate. The airport and it’s employees are so awesome. Once we had landed from China there was someone at the gate with an iPad to give us information as to where to go for flights and tickets. Purchasing our tickets we found that our boarding passes didn’t list a gate. Another young man was able to check his iPad and show us on our way. Walking through the airport they list the time it will take to walk to the next gate or bathroom.
If possible make your flight arrangements with Singapore Airlines. The planes are nice and clean. They hand out warm towels as you take your seat. The fight attendants are not just good looking, they are fine…and they smile. No one in China smiles. The food was much better and we had real silverware to use. I watched TV on this leg of the flight. Anthony Bourdain in Cambodia, which I have seen like ten times. Watching it this time was totally different. I became more and more anxious as we began to make our descent. I had long missed my flight from HCMC to Da Nang. I knew once I landed I would need to buy a new ticket. Not a problem, I was just playing it by ear at this point. H stayed with me through the visa processing and we headed out to get our bags.
H met up with her fiance, a Vietnamese national, and I headed to the domestic terminal fighting off taxi drivers trying to convince me of a ride…the terminal was a three minute walk. I pushed my cart of bags to a ticket counter and got my ticket to Da Nang. The flight was full except for business class. Hell, I needed to get there, and why not fly in a bit of style the last leg. It cost me just over a 100 bucks to do that. Ticket bought and bags checked in they told me to run to my gate, which I did. I showed my passport and boarding pass and was led to a shuttle that would take me to the plane. I sat on the shuttle a little confused. I asked an older man if I was on the right shuttle for the flight to Da Nang. He said yes and we began to talk.
He asked me my business. He told me he was a factory owner who worked in Saigon, but was from Da Nang. He flies in and out of HCMC weekly for his work. We exchanged business cards and the first thing he mentioned was to get a SIM card. I needed a phone number. We spoke the whole way to the plane. I disembarked the shuttle and rifled through my cargo pocket for my passport and boarding pass. Shit! They were gone. I stood to the side as the shuttles for both business and economy classes left to return back to the terminal. It had been my habit to place my paperwork in my right cargo pocket and I have no idea how it didn’t make it back there when I was at the gate. I stood at the bottom of the stairs with about 6 to 7 airline employees standing around me helping me go through my back pack and looking in places I know I didn’t put my passport, but just in case. Once the last person was on the plane they asked me, “Do you want to go back or fly?” I told them fly.
I needed to get to Da Nang. I had made it that far I needed to go on. I was so disappointed in myself to have made it this far and I effed up so bad. I spent the next hour brushing off the feeling with a Heinekin and pineapple and prosciutto sandwich. An hour later I was claiming my bags and then reporting to the airline my missing passport. After haggling for a cab ride I made it to my hotel. I wasn’t tired, but I laid down to rest a bit.I struggled with the fact that I lost my passport. I began to feel queasy at the thought of what to do next…I called Hiep, the business man I met on the shuttle. He told me he knew someone at the airlines and he would do some questioning. The problem was that the next day, Friday, was a national holiday. Everything was going to be closed. I decided to hunker down and relax the first night. Grateful to have a contact, I settled in to look at the places I marked on my Google maps and try to devise a plan for the rest of the weekend.
I wish Bunny(K) was here with me. I took out my bag of trailmix she had hurriedly mixed for me and turned on the TV. I laid back turning the AC up to high and waited to skype with K and then fall asleep. Heading to Hanoi by overnight bus as this is being published to get a new passport.