After you read this, you are going to swear that I made this story up. I admit to a small amount of embellishment, less than 10%. This story really happened. I have not changed the names of anyone to protect the innocent. I have only added detail to give you the real flavor of how the story truly unfolded. After you read it the 2nd time, you might be able to pick out the 10% embellishment, but what you will really think after that 2nd time is – “wow!”
My travels can be really interesting, and they can be really mundane. This trip cannot be categorized in the mundane category.
I know that you probably think that I live a life of glamorous international travel. (I put off that aire I know) Sometimes my job does provide that, such as when I get to go to France a do a big bike ride, or the UK and get rained on for an entire mountain bike ride or… Sometimes my job provides that I arrive in Shanghai late in the afternoon after 24 hours of travel and have to go directly to a business meeting and then to diner. Ugh…
This week I had a travel experience that was straight out of a National Lampoon movie. On Wed, I took a flight from Shanghai direct to Taipei. It has only been a year or so that you could fly directly from China to Taiwan. A few years ago, you would have to fly from China to Japan or Hong Kong first and then catch a flight to Taiwan. The Chinese claim the island of Taiwan is part of China and the Taiwanese feel they are their own sovereign nation. I am not going to try to clarify that situation, as people way smarter than me do not seem to be able to do that.
You might be wondering what that has to do with my story. Well not much. But, it was better to lead off with all of that than it was to claim that I wrote the screenplay to the original Ghostbusters (not the second one because that was a sucky movie).
The end result of all of this procrastination at the beginning of this story, is that I think that the Chinese are becoming more affluent down to many levels and are starting to be interested in International travel. Although you may not realize that China and Taiwan are very different, I can tell you from first hand experience that they are supremely different. Give a read to this story as evidence of all of that.
China Eastern flight, Shanghai to Taipei, Wed March 24.
China Eastern is the Chinese airline company with the planes do not habitually fall out of the sky. China Eastern hires Pilots with actual piloting experience and piloting credentials that are at least very good forgeries. China Eastern hires Mechanics that at a minimum can tell which end of the hammer to use. And, as you will see from this story, hires Flight Attendants with chutzpah.
We showed up on time to get our flight at Shanghai Pudong airport, 8am. We were lucky to have made it there without a snorkel (check my previous blog to know why) Already waiting in line at the checkout counter was a particularly raucous group of Chinese tourists. As I watched their shenanigans at the check in counter and line, I recall saying to myself, “wow, I hope that they are not on our flight”. Of course, you can imagine what flight they were on.
Since we booked the flight from the US or Taiwan or whatever, we could not get seating in advance. That doesn’t really make sense, as in the rest of the world it does not seem to matter where you book a flight from, you normally can get a seat in advance. Chalk this one up to one more of those “I just cannot figure China out” items. The counter person asked me what kind of seat I would like – aisle or window or middle. I was tempted to say middle, but in the end replied with “aisle”. What luck, we have just one left, on row 40. Not thinking about where the tour group might be sitting, I took it. That will prove to be a fortuitous decision, as you will learn.
When I got on the plane, the tour group was already in place. It was looking like a college dorm party, one that you would see in the movie Animal House. People were screaming across the plane at their friends. They were climbing over each other, tossing things back and forth, laughing and jostling – in general it was already mayhem. I assumed that this will surely settle down once we get situated, and I wedged myself into the only open seat smack in the middle of the 50 or so strong tour group.
Immediately the woman next to me began to encroach upon my personal space. I know that we Americans have a larger personal space than the Chinese do so, I was trying to be calm about it all and understanding of that personal space difference. I am in their country, after all. I can usually be calm and understanding of this sort of thing, but this was ridiculous. I have never had personal space invaded like this. She was reaching across in front of me to hand something to her friend across the aisle and talking across the front of me and her elbow was poking me in the sternum as she dug in her bag. She leaned across me to do all of that, no matter if I was reading, if I was eating or if I was sleeping. None of that mattered. Yes, she was that much in my personal space.
Before we pulled back from the gate, she pulled out a package of gum and began smacking the gum in my ear at about 96db. Not just a little bit loud, but so loud that I could not even drown it out with my ipod.
As we pulled away from the gate, people were still up and walking around the cabin. The Flight Attendant was asking nicely “please sit down”. The Chinese tourists ignored that and began opening the overhead compartments to rummage through their bags.
The Flight Attendants began yelling “SIT DOWN”. The Chinese tourists leaned over each other and pointed out the windows and began opening more bins and bags.
The plane began to taxi towards the runway.
The Flight Attendants began running up and down the aisles yelling “SIT DOWN – NOW”. They were pushing people down into their seats and slamming overhead bins closed.
The plane continued to taxi towards the runway.
The Chinese tourists were standing back up and opening the bins again, screaming across the aisles, trying to pass things among their friends and trying to see out of the windows on the other side of the plane.
There were Chinese tourists on one side of the plane who were trying carry on conversations with people 7 seats and 2 aisles over on the other side of the plane. And I do not mean just one conversation. There were at least a dozen conversations going on at once like this.
The Flight Attendants yelled “SIT DOWN – NOW”. The Flight Attendants pushed people down into their chairs and forcibly buckled their safety belts for them. It was as if the Chinese tourists had never seen a seat belt. They had no idea what they did. They had no idea how to fasten them. And most interestingly, some of them did not know how to get out of the seat belts.
The Chinese tourists continued to yell across the plane at each other.
One of the Chinese tourists got up and started showing people how to get out of their safety belts. Good idea.
I saw a book fly across the plane into another persons hand on the other side. I guess it was time to trade books.
The plane rumbled down the runway, the nose lifted and it began to take flight.
Half of the Chinese tourists cheered and jumped up out of their seats.
The Flight Attendants yelled “SIT DOWN!”
Since some people had just learned how to get out of their safety belts, they stood up anyway. One of the guys stood up and did a victory dance. I think it was because he finally figured out how to get out of his safety belt.
The Flight Attendants yelled “SIT DOWN!”
Finally I could not take it anymore. I was horse from laughing so hard. My face hurts from the perpetual smile I have from watching it all go down. I decide to put my ipod back on trying to drown it out a little bit and read a book on my Kindle.
The loud gum chewer next to me becomes so fascinated with my Kindle that she is beginning to lean in front of me to look closely at it. She is leaning in between me and the Kindle, yelling at her friend across the aisle to look at the device I am reading. Her friend starts to stand up to come over and look.
The Flight Attendant yells “SIT DOWN!”
I eventually put my hand on the side of the gum chewers head and pushed her back to her chair so that I could read. She stayed in her chair for about 5 minutes and then she began to lean over in between me and the Kindle again. I gave up and just let her stare at it. She stares for about 2 solid minutes. There is no movement on the Kindle – just stationary words. I do not know what is holding her attention. I am certain she cannot read English, as I am reading a book called “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”. (It is a parody of the Pride and Prejudice story only the daughters are trained in martial arts so they can fend off the random Zombie attacks thrown in for good measure.) A zombie attack happened to be happening on that page. If she could have understood it, she would have reacted. I do not know what she would have thought of that if she could read English.
The Flight Attendants give up trying to keep the Chinese tourists in their seats during the flight. It is a complete Animal House scene on the plane. They are running around, yelling back and forth from one side of the plane to the other gazing out of the windows. They are grouped up taking Asian pictures of them making peace signs to the camera. They are trying to take a picture of the scenery out of the window of the plane and get their friends face in the picture at the same time. So, there is a grinning Chinese tourist in front of the window (making a peace sign) and the plane window in the background with I am sure some great scenery behind it. That will make a picture worth framing.
The Flight attendants come around with food. Each of the Chinese tourists dutifully sits down then and when the tray is put in front of them, they devour every edible thing on the tray. The woman across the aisle licked the plate that contained the entre. I swear, she licked the plate clean. The gum smacker next to me even scooped whatever butter was left in the container and ate that. I got a little bit nervous, as she started to gaze at my tray. Fortunately, the Flight Attendants had their hands full with this crowd and they were johnny on the spot picking up trays, trying to stay ahead of the mayhem.
After the meal, I realized there is another gum smacker on the other side of the plane that I think is really nervous. This guy has gone through almost a complete package of gum at this point. He chews a piece for a few minutes then takes it out of his mouth and sticks it in the map pocket on the back of the chair in front of him. Then, puts another piece in his mouth and starts the process all over again. There is a pile of empty gum wrappers at his feet. By the time we landed the back of the chair was kind of oozing.
The fasten seat belt sign comes on as we are beginning to make our approach to Taipei. The Flight Attendants start yelling “SIT DOWN!”
The Chinese tourists continue jumping out of their seats and peering out the windows on the other side of the plane and opening the over head bins.
The nervous gum chewer across the way is on to another piece of gum.
The loud gum chewer next to me, reaches across in front of me to collect something from the woman across the aisle. She jams her elbow into my neck while doing it.
The Flight Attendants yell “SIT DOWN!” One of them runs up the aisle to shut overhead bins that the Chinese tourists have left open. Stuff is spilling out onto peoples heads. A woman gets hit in the head with a bag from above. At least 10 Chinese tourists get out of their seats to help. The other Flight Attendants get up out of their seats to put the Chinese tourists back into their seats.
The loud gum chewer next to me puts her elbow into my sternum.
The nervous gum chewer across the aisle puts another chewed piece of gum into the pocket on the back of the seat in front of him.
The male Flight Attendant who has come back from the front of the plane is physically putting the Chinese tourists into their seats and buckling them in.
The landing gear comes down, the Flight Attendants barely make it back to their seats before the wheels touch the ground.
As soon as the wheels touch the ground, the Chinese tourists are all up out of their seats and trying to get their bags down.
The Flight Attendants scream over and over “SIT DOWN!”
The nervous gum chewer misses the pocket on the back of the seat in front of him and drops his chewed gum on the floor. He steps on it and it stretches from his shoe to the floor. As he moves his foot around, he is really making a sticky mess.
Finally we get to the gate. All of the Chinese tourists are either already standing or up immediately. Never mind that there is not really room for everybody to be standing up. They are like lizards in a bowl, climbing over each other in one great big mass of humanity. I see one little guy walk across the seats in the middle from one aisle to the other. The nervous gum chewer is standing on his seat, I am sure getting gum all over it.
The gum smacker next to me is smacking so loud that even over the noise in the cabin on the ground – I can hear her gum smacking.
As we are all moving down the aisle of the plane, the 2 guys in front of me are climbing up and looking in each overhead bin. If they find one with a bag in it, they scream out “Hey, there is a bag up here!” about 4 times each, then they climb up and look in the next bin. If there is a bag in that bin, they scream out “Hey, there is a bag in here” and then move to the next bin.
When we get out into the airport the Chinese tourists are all grouped up and having a party over every poster every carpet color every lighted sing the color of the seats etc… I see a group of them in front of the trash can in the terminal making peace signs and mugging for the camera (The trash can is carefully included in the picture). They are high fiveing each other, as if they actually had some hand in a successful flight.
The loud gum smacker next to me, is down on the carpet on her knees feeling the carpet with tears in her eyes. I think she is so excited to be out of her own country that she is almost beside herself.
The nervous gum chewer is standing there with his mouth open just gawking at windows and signs and chairs and tile on the floor and…
Travel is a wonderful thing.