You miss Maeva. You each had regarded one another casually, as though the separation weren’t inevitable. She talked earnestly about home; you mentioned anxiety about missing your flight. You were aware of augmented levels of physical contact: more hugs, more smiles, more arms linking. They were the subtle pre-goodbyes. The “I’m really going to miss having you at arm’s length all of the time” gestures.
She laughed at your farts. You gagged over hers. The two of you shared everything—towels, soap, vitamins, cigarettes, chocolate, water, bed covers, books. If there was something growing or festering on you, she’d take a look; if you had a rogue chin hair, she’d pluck it for you. Likewise, if her pubescent pores got out of line, you were there for her.
“So this is like… the second longest relationship you’ve ever had,” you said. Second only to an actual real boyfriend.
“I guess so. Man. Six months with you, but twenty-four hours a day. That’s a long time,” she agreed.
It’s true. A very long time. You’re quite used to it. Being ass-bonded to women. Girlfriends, usually. But Maeva was not your girlfriend, and the two of you had built a relationship on camaraderie alone—without the added perk of romantic affinities. When she felt like being a bitch, she’d be a bitch, your feelings be damned! And you had no obligation to coddle her when she was feeling low.
She followed you to the airport (a decision you think was stupid, since she would have to wait near the check-in counters for eleven hours before she could even get her boarding pass. But she wanted to see you off. It may have been testimony to her attachment. When you nearly cried after security abruptly said she couldn’t come with you, you realized that the separation wouldn’t be as cool and calm as you’d anticipated. After all, weren’t you sick of her yet? That nail biting? That late-night TV episode watching? That terrible mood in the morning? Her insensitive teasing?
Nahh… guess not. You miss her silly, askew, chicken’s ass of a mouth telling you to stop talking so excitedly in the morning.
You hugged her goodbye and left for security. Kathmandu doesn’t boast the most organized airport, but it got the job done. You got yourself on the first of three flights in your San Francisco-bound itinerary. Thirty-five hours of transit. That’s a long time. You didn’t bother to do the math. For whatever reason, you figured you would have two short layovers and spend nearly all of those hours in the air.
Nope. You re-read your itinerary on the plane and realized you had a sixteen hour layover in Chengdu, China.
Sixteen? Shit. What the hell were you going to do about food!
If there’s one thing you hate about airports, it’s the price of food. You’re basically marooned on a concrete, granite, and glass island. And everything costs about five times as much as it should. And damn! You only had fifteen bucks in Nepali rupees in your pocket (with no money changer in sight) and no effing clue what the yuan to dollar exchange rate was anyway. Also, no way to use the free airport wifi to check, since you needed a mobile phone to receive a confirmation code. So hmm… yes, your hunger would soon be an imperative.
Thank goodness for Air China. You’d never flown with them before. Why would you? Never been that far east. But now you have, and you have to say you’re very pleased. Pleased because of the freebies, the stickers, the tags, the customer service. The three rounds of beverages on a two-hour flight. The huge fish and rice lunch you didn’t expect, complete with melon, salad, a roll, and even ginger sweet dessert biscuits!
Yeah, okay, it was airplane food. But it was god damn delicious. Nepal doesn’t boast the best food, and you couldn’t voluntarily stomach another Indian curry. As a matter of fact, you’d purposely switched to continental food during your last three days in Kathmandu in order to convince your guts that everything was gonna be alright. So when those sweet little Chinese ladies came rolling their cart down the aisle (and by the way, the check-in guy made a point of giving you the exit row, which was incredibly spacious) and handed you your boxed lunch, you felt like a little kid on Christmas day. Goodie! Look at all the new tasty treats! Everything was delicious. Inappropriately delicious because your dulled taste buds didn’t know any better.
You licked up every scrap, knowing it was your Last Supper.
The Chengdu airport felt alien. Modern. Clean. Organized. Everything that India and Nepal is not. There were no people sitting on the floor—much less sleeping—and you didn’t have a clue where you were going to crash out for the next sixteen hours. As you waited for your bag to appear on the carousel, you watched a bunch of little Chinese girls work away feverishly on their Smartphones with manual dexterity you’ve never seen before. Everyone had their face buried in their phone, looked clean, wealthy, distracted… it was all so modern.
You’re on your way back to modernity.
Of course you were excited to get back home, but in a way, you were disappointed. You remember what uninterrupted internet access can do to you. What a waste of time social networking can be. How many people’s expectations are set by your own technology, “You don’t have a Smartphone? You are going to need to get one if you want to work here.” Year by year, it gets tougher and tougher to keep life slow and simple. It’s the parabolic demand of other people’s speed of life that pulls you in. (So damn that airport for requiring you to have a mobile phone for their wifi! Damn it!)
Anyway. After you got kicked out of the transit passengers waiting area at 11pm, you camped out in a corner along a window and realized that you were the most homeless looking person in the airport—not to mention, the only white person. Wrapped in your filthy puffy coat, with enormous muddy boots tacked onto what appeared to be bare feet, you represented your country well! (Snapped some photos and then painfully missed Maeva, thinking about all your station sleep-overs you shared.) You managed maybe two and a half hours of sleep and surfaced like a zombie in the pre-dawn and wondered where your terminal was.
Just one kilometer away on foot. No big deal. Only your backpack was shrink wrapped and impossible to wear. Too heavy and awkward for long distances on one shoulder. You ended up carrying it on your head and realized how beautifully simple it is to do so. Thought that maybe some day you’ll sherpa your stuff across down like this guy. Watch the heads turn.
You looked like hell. Really. Like homeless hell. Especially in the presence of all those middle class Chinese. You remarked on a few things: their conformity in dress, for starters. Everyone at the airport (and you can only speak for the airport) seemed to be rocking the same fashion, which was sleek and clean, black, white, minimalist—but always with something designer hanging from the body. Everyone had a smart phone. Everyone had beautiful, black-framed or half-hatch eye glasses. They walked in an ordered manner (compared to the folks in Kathmandu), did not shout when they spoke, and seemed so… docile. Chengdu and Beijing were the most silent airports you’ve ever heard. And fucking modern. Everything around you was new. State of the art. They made your favorite airports in the USA look second-rate.
China, you’re gonna make it! India… not so sure about you.
For real. India has a lot of desire to modernize, but the country’s infrastructure is still in shambles. Also, you’re not sure how the Chinese are outside the airport. If they’re anything like they are in Chinatown, they’re not so different from the “me first!” mentality of India. But the feeling that you got from observing Chinese travelers for 24 hours was that China was a force not to be reckoned with. They literally seem like an army of ants that will power through into the future. India felt more like a flock of pidgeons.
Back to your list of “remarkable” things: everything was covered in fucking pandas!
To add to your list of giggles, just to meet your expectations on stereotypes, a girl flashed you the peace sign while you were photographing her cliche Chinese shop front.
Your stomach growled, gnawed. Did that thing that it does when it’s hungry, but also when it’s not. When it has diarrhea. You couldn’t wait to get on the next plane just so you could eat. You couldn’t bear to keep watching that family chow down on cucumbers and salty-something-or-others while your tongue scavenged bits of food pulp from between your own teeth.