This is episode 2 in a series where I’ll be taking you on the journey I had that started in the fall of 2016, lasting over a year and going through four different countries.
I look out the window and see the city getting smaller and smaller as we fly away from the place I’ve called home, leaving everything behind and starting a new chapter in my life with no clear path or direction. I purchased a one-way ticket to Ho Chi Minh City three weeks prior and no end date in sight. I wouldn’t be so nervous if this wasn’t my first time traveling by myself. Sure, I’ve traveled to Europe twice but it’s not the same when you’re traveling with a friend or partner. It’s easy to get dependent on each other and get stuck as a pair because hardly anybody wants to ‘intrude’ when you’re traveling in tandem. Don’t get me wrong, I love having someone to travel with and a lot of the time away I was with others but this was something I’d never expected to be doing a year ago.
The total travel time, with a 6 hour layover in Shanghai, is 22.5 hours long. 22.5 hours long. What the hell am I going to do on the plane for 22.5 hours? At least I have a screen I can watch movies, TV Shows, play games, and listen to music. I’d factor sleep in there, but I have issues trying to sleep sitting up and seem to always wake up with a sore neck no matter how I manage to fall asleep. So here I sit, anticipating a long journey in solitude that ends in Ho Chi Minh City at 1:35 am.
I fade in and out of sleep, if you could call it that, over halfway through the first leg of the trip and I find myself watching movies and TV shows I wouldn’t normally watch due to the fact I’ve already seen most of what’s on here and in the hopes that it might put me to sleep. I consider watching Deadpool again, but decide against it and start playing the AI at Texas Hold ‘Em. This goes on for an hour and before I know it they’re already serving us breakfast (dinner?).
My internal clock is so messed up and the one or two hours of sleeping in a chair have put a crick in my neck that’s permeating up into the top of my head where it continues through to behind my right eye. Staring at this screen for 10 hours probably doesn’t help, but I can’t seem to pass the time any other way.
“Attention passengers; We are currently 45 minutes outside of Shanghai…”
Thank the Atheist non-God! The end is in sight and pretty soon I’ll be on the ground… waiting for six hours until my next flight. Fucking hell.
The landing goes smoothly and everyone waddles off the plane making our way to immigration. We’re all a bunch of tuxedo-less penguins moving towards the exit. A waddle of zombie penguins making our way into the Shanghai airport. Because let’s be honest, no matter how much you sleep, at the end of such a long flight we all feel a little dead inside.
I’m standing in line and make eye contact with this guy in the line next to me. We give the acknowledging nod that so many of us guys are known for and inch closer towards the officer in charge of granting me a temporary visa.
The officer grabs my passport, looks it over, and she stares at me for what feels like over a minute. I don’t know what it is, but whenever a police officer of boarder guard is looking at me and inspecting me I have this feeling of guilt. I know I haven’t done anything, but I find my mind trailing off into a place where I’ve committed all the crimes and they somehow know! She takes her gaze off me and back to my passport before flipping through the pages to places a forceful stamp right in the middle of a page. It feels like a giant stamp of intimidation rather than a temporary visa stamp into the airport. I gather my passport from her and go around the podium where I notice the guy I exchanged nods with was waiting for me.
We chat for an hour and a half over a couple beers at a seedy little airport restaurant that sells different types of soups. He’s on his way to Thailand for vacation because he convinced his boss to give him three weeks off after working for three months straight. This is his first trip abroad and he expresses his anxiety about going solo, but a couple of his friends will be meeting him in Bangkok in less than a week.
It’s 6:30 pm and nothing is open. Where am I? Is that restaurant the only place open in this wing of the airport? It’s so eerie wandering around being one of about 30 people up and about. After pacing from one end to the other 5-7 times I decide to message my mom as she’s probably worried sick about her baby boy. I’m the only one in my immediate family to travel outside the continent North America. I guess it’s understandable that she’s worried about me flying to a foreign country she knows nothing about for an indeterminate amount of time. I’d feel the same way had I never traveled this far from the country I was born and raised in.
I open up my laptop, connect to the airport WiFi and start typing facebook.com. After hitting enter, the connection times out and I remember that China bans all the major ways of connecting to my family members; Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, etc. I frantically search online to find a suitable and free VPN, that I can access behind this filtered internet service, before I was able to type up a short message. I tell her I’ve arrived in Shanghai and I’m waiting to board my next flight to Vietnam in less than two hours. She’s awake and has been anticipating me to message her. We message back and forth for a bit and says she’s happy to hear that I’m alive and wishes me a safe flight.
I close my laptop and make a dash for my gate. As I arrive they’re already boarding rows 21-60 so I join the queue, patiently(not really) waiting to get on the plane.
I hand the man my ticket, he scans it and takes a quick look at my passport before waving me through the tunnel that connects the waiting area to the massive Boeing 747 that awaits its precious cargo to board. I walk down this cold, dank hallway and show my ticket to the flight attendant that’s waiting to greet me. She points me towards my seat where I must remain for four more hours in this overcrowded tin can, soaring through one more country until it lands at my final destination; Ho Chi Minh City.
Pictures 3 & 4 are property of Brady Gavin
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