After waiting and waiting I was finally at the boarding gate in Detroit standing in line for Flight 189 to Beijing. The announcer kept switching back and forth between English and Mandarin Chinese, “We would please like to ask someone to switch to another flight. We will offer a full voucher.” The plane was overbooked and people kept looking around anxiously. The Chinese-American next to me looked at me and said, “I better not get bumped.” I nodded, “Me too, I can’t miss my orientation.” I approached the boarding attendant and handed her my ticket. To my surprise, she scanned it and then threw it away. I swallowed and began to panic. She looked and me with a blank face momentarily before punching a few buttons on the screen and then printing out a new ticket. Her face looked a little shocked while she said in heavily accented English, “It’s your lucky day”. I hadn’t been bumped off the plane, I’d been bumped up to first class. I smiled and wheeled my bag onto the plane. I showed the man at the door my ticket and was directed to my seat up in the front of the plane, only it wasn’t a seat, it was like my own little personal bubble cubby. I put my bag in the overhead and as soon as I sat down the flight attendant brought me a flute of champagne. 13 hours wasn’t going to be so long after all. I escaped my back of the plane middle seat. It would have been torture for sure.
I got to know my flight attendants very well. They had surprised looks as the came up to me, a kid wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and flip flops amongst the rich business people. I stuck up conversations with Michelle and Janet. Michelle was from Chicago and Janet had a daughter going to USC, where my younger brother goes. They were really friendly and we always had nice chats whenever they brought food around, or the wine bottle. Unlimited wine was nice, very nice. They both wished me luck several times after I told them I was a student and gave me some advice since they had both been several times.
As I sat in my bubbled chair/bed I was handed a customs/immigration form. I had forgotten the address of my dorm and my mom had given it to me via text in America but I was wondering if just the name of the university was enough. I knew there was another girl on the flight in the same program as me so I asked one of the attendants if I could page her. He kind of laughed and said, “I’ve never done it before but I guess why not”. After being paged the girl wandered up the main aisle and asked if something was wrong, to which the attendant pointed toward me. After confirming the address we both agreed to wait for each other so we wouldn’t be alone waiting for our ride, and with a smile she returned to me seat.
The flight was nice in my delta provided slippers free chocolate, wine, and the gourmet meals that just kept coming. I also had a personal swivel T V so I could switch back and forth between Sex in the City, The Social Network, and listening to Korean music. For the first time I could actually recline fully in my little cubby and sleep however I wanted. I felt like a king, Janet told me, “Once you fly first class, you’ll never want anything less.”
Landing in Beijing I saw the rain soaked city lights everywhere. Michelle smiled at me and said, “You have a great future kiddo. Good luck!” For the first time in my life I was one of the first people off the plane, and was met with the familiar blast of heat I remembered from Jaipur and Saigon. On the jetway were three dolled up Chinese flight attendants in red uniforms waving and greeting us. Jenny, the other girl in the program, and I caught up with each other and proceeded to baggage claim. After we had our bags and a quick restroom break (my first Chinese bathroom visit showed me that the Chinese government is preserving thousands of gallons of water a year with flushless urinals. If you are wondering how I know this, it was printed inside the urinal. He smell was quite lovely). We departed the main part of the airport into the arrivals waiting area. I had to smirk a little when the glass doors opened and there was a Starbucks sitting right there. Ok, first store to see in China is a Starbucks. Interesting. Just a moment later Jenny and I found two Chinese guys holding a TBC sign. We found our ride without a hitch. Thank God! We greeted and exchanged names. They were both roommates on the program, and one of them was fortunately mine. I began talking to the two roommates, Elvis and Jonas, my roommate, as we walked to our waiting bus. I thanked them profusely for waiting around for our flight and told them I knew the feeling since I had done the same for several Japanese students in Chicago last year. As we were exchanging little details about ourselves I couldn’t help but think back to when I landed in Vietnam and my roommate Nghiem jumping up and down in the crowed and meeting him for the first time. I was presently surprised when Nghiem greeted me with a Vietnamese scarf so this time I came prepared with a little American gift to give to my Chinese roommate, some peanut brittle from Northern Michigan. We all munched on the treat after several other Americans arrived and we all got on the bus and headed toward campus.
During our 30 minute drive two different camps sprung inside the bus- those who wanted to eat, and those who wanted to sleep right away. My roommate was a proponent of the late night dinner and so I decided I would be also. A nice ‘welcome to China’ meal. Jenny, the Chinese roommate Elvis, his American roommate Mark, Jonas, and myself all tucked our bags away and headed across the street to a little noodle and bbq place. Elvis and I split off the rest to get some Bao, a kind of Chinese steamed bun, and drinks- some green tea. Where did we get this, 7/11 of course. I had been wondering which I would se first in China- Hello Kitty or Chairman Mao. Well, I saw both at the same time in the little convenience store. Their pictures were hanging side by side. China is such an interesting place.
We all joined up again at the restaurant and shared a nice welcome dinner of dumpling soup, pork buns, bbq chicken on a spit, and green tea. By the time we returned to our rooms it was 4 AM. Jonas pulled a white wine bottle out of his desk and pulled out two Dixie cups. “Welcome to China my friend”, he said. We polished off the bottle and then passed out on the military hardness dorm bed. I had Orientation in a few hours. My Chinese Adventure had just begun.