25 August, 2006

The adventures of someone who doesn't know much


Well. Here's how it started: after a short night's sleep in friend Sam's NYC studio apartment seen here on the left, Kenny and I drove to JFK, which was a lot easier than I thought it would be (probably because it was 6 am).

It wasn't long til it was time to part ways, and yes, that was sad, and yes, I cried. A little. A wee bit. I was kinda proud of my self control.

And then... I had the two best airplane experiences of my entire life. Not because I got past the carry-on check points without having to give up my eyedrops (obviously a bomb in the making) and my chapstick (it was made by NC hippies, so obviously not safe), but because the flights to SFO and then to HKG were so easy and so quick that it actually was a little unbelievable to be in China all of a sudden. There was hardly anyone on my flights. On the pacific flight I had a row of four seats all to myself, with all the pillows and blankets that entails. I had me some good sleep, and about 4 meals (not because the seats were empty, they just kept feeding us these tiny little salty meals.)

So I leisurely headed into the HK airport, expecting nothing but more of the same cushiness, and was entirely unprepared for the wall of security officers waiting at the gate for my next flight. It was like a football team, maybe two, of poker-faced Chinese guys with rubber gloves and impeccable uniforms. And yet they still did not find my eyedrops and chapstick!!! muahahahah. Must've been distracted by the other baddies which are now not at all dangerous, like my tweezers, sharpened pencils, and knitting needles. My how things change. So anyway, I checked in and made it onto my flight to Vietnam, and it was a totally different story. The plane was loud. The people on it were extremely loud. I was seated beind a family of 72, all of whom were sporting Disney Land apparel and accesories, and they were all yelling and guffawing in Vietnamese. It was an interesting 2 hours, and I spent most of it hanging on to every word, listening for any sound I could recognize. All I heard was khong which means "no."

Once I stepped off that plane, the hotness started. Clothes clung. Hair flattened. Faces got shiny. It was hot. I felt gross. I dragged my stuff over to customs & immigration, where I was told that I needed to purchase my visa and have my photo taken, for $50 and $2, respectively. I had read in several guidebooks about being swindled at immigration, and since I had a letter saying that the company would bear all costs in regards to my arrival and entry, and most importantly due to the fact that I only had about $40 (yes, I'm an international vagrant) I was less than willing to whip out the cash. I tried explaining all those reasons, and still the guys pointed at me and tapped menacingly on my visa (which they had prematurely stuck onto my passport, assuming I was good for it). "You pay! I give you! This receipt!" Uh oh. Finally the older guy takes my letter and goes back to the phone, punches in a number (there's no phone number on the letter, I checked) and issues a series of short barks to whoever answered. Then he comes over to me, smiling, and takes out his own wallet. Whipping out a handful of 20s, he waves them at me, then puts them back in his wallet, all the while looking at me with an expression of great meaning and importance. I don't get it. The other guy is laughing and he says "he pay for you."

Huh? Ok, fine, I think. They're probably teasing me. The person on the other line probably verified me, and he is being silly because he knows I'm nervous and have no idea what he's saying to me. I probably would have done the same thing. So I tease back. "Thank you, Santa Clause!" They have no idea what I'm saying. I weakly head over to customs, declare that I have nothing to declare, and then on out the door and into the muggy Saigon night.

To be continued...

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