Monday, March 21, 2005

Home Sweet Home

After a 24-hour travel day, we made it home last night. My first thought (among many) was, "I can finally eat fruit and vegetables!" followed closely by "Yay! My own bathroom!"

The trip home was miserable simply due to its sheer duration. Our in-country flight from Guangzhou to Beijing was one more experience in Barely Controlled Chinese Aviation Mayhem. The flight was bumpy, the piloting was scary, and when the baby cried during takeoff and landing due to her ears hurting, the entire female population of the plane was trying to get me to hand my daughter to them so that they could, in their minds, do a proper job of comforting her. In Beijing, we ran the airport gauntlet of people letting us know that our baby was not dressed properly, even though we hadn't picked up our luggage yet, which contained her winter outdoor wear. I was reminded that the behavior is obviously cultural and not intended to offend, much like perhaps grandmothers of other ethnicities make Other People's Business their business. But the frequency of it and, no doubt due to the language barrier, "hands-on" nature of it, where total strangers are walking right up to you and pulling on your kid's pants leg or arm sleeve and in general getting in your personal space, just felt so oppressive.

The trip was also tiring because of the quite humorous (when you are not traveling with a baby for many hours) lack of a “line culture” in China, ie, there are no lines or queues. You just simply jockey and jostle to move forward; you barge in front of people—in stores, airports, doctor’s offices, hotel check in counters. I’m not kidding. In China, if you stand in line, no fewer than 3 or 4 people will simply walk right past you and up to the desk until you protest or barge up there yourself as soon as you learn that waiting is exactly that—-waiting. Standing in line does not bring you closer to the desk or office or airport gate. It simply meets your need as a westerner to line up and wait.

The concept of a line, until McDonald’s arrived in China, was as foreign as, well, McDonalds. My friend in Beijing said that it took about a week after their grand opening for “The McDonald’s Culture” to enforce lines in their restaurants, but before that, it was total chaos for which the western managers were not prepared. Now extrapolate that to airport behavior which, in any culture, does not bring out the kinder, gentler side of people and you will see why traveling in China is just so exhausting. No one lets you go first just because you have a child, and in fact, you are seen as an easy mark for pushing past because you are obviously not going to endanger you kid to get ahead 3 spots in a line, so you spend the entire time trying to not get shoved—-baby’s head first—-into a wall. I was left wondering that, for a nation so obsessed with child health through warm clothing, there is, quite humorously, no concomitant obsession for not smoking near a baby and for not trampling a mom and baby in pursuit of getting ahead in the non-existent line.

Anyway, from Beijing we flew through Paris on Air France. I felt bad thinking it when I saw that our flight from Beijing was delayed, but all I could say was, “I am getting myself and this kid out of China today, if I have to fly to Brussels to do it.” I just needed to get home—one way or another. I hadn’t eaten fruit or vegetables or brushed my teeth with tap water in 3 weeks (due to giardia, and I just so needed an apple, a red pepper and a good amount of water pressure on my toothbrush. For a few days, try brushing your teeth by pouring bottled water on your brush and then swishing the bottled water in your mouth to rinse; it lacks the simple satisfaction of some good old water pressure right out of the tap.

The flight from Beijing to Paris was about 10-11 hours, during which my daughter rocked the house. She was smiley and chatty and in general the kind of baby that lets all the worried-looking passengers breathe a sigh of relief when they realize that the plane has landed and they didn’t once hear any drama.

Foreshadowing to the flight from Paris to home.

Another 9-10 hours. Perhaps not the best way for a 9-month old to spend her day, after having just done it immediately before. So we gave her Benadryl for the takeoff so her ears wouldn’t hurt and to help her cold, etc. She slept a good bit of the flight, was in general amazing, based simply on her calmness and friendliness after 10 hours of travel and after just one week of meeting new parents, flying for the first time, and in general having her whole world turned upside down. I was so proud of her because this scenario would have killed me, but she was taking it in stride. Until the last 30 minutes of the flight. Where no food, no drink, no toy, no NOTHING could stop the blood-curdling screams and the fussiness and the all-around loud and consistent shrieking from which there was no recovery. I was that parent I have hated on airplanes.

At first I could feel myself getting embarrassed, looking around for Chinese women who would be judging my fitness to parent a Chinese child, then I started worrying that people would hate my kid or think ill of me and my ability to “control” my child. I looked around and started getting glares from people. And you know what? It was almost like the glares and angry looks instantly changed my attitude from being concerned about THEM to being concerned about my child. I thought, “Y’all. It’s been 9 and a half hours and you didn’t even know there was a baby on this flight. You’ve had your sleep and your multiple drinks, you’ve seen your movie, read your magazine. So how about sucking up 30 out of 600 minutes of a very tired baby just saying, ‘I’m done.’” I instantly thought to myself that they could all #$%^ themselves; that she had been a trooper and, after traveling for a full day at 9 months old, was just finally overwhelmed. Now, I’m not saying it was fun. I was trying everything, but could not get up and walk her around because we were in the descent, but was pulling random toys and even toiletries out of my bag to see if maybe “hey! It’s a tube of Desitin! Wow!” might be the thing that would end the wailing of the baby banshee. Twas not to be. She screamed till we landed, nonstop, without pause and without lowering a single decibel in 30 straight minutes.

Now, if only there had been a Chinese lady on board… ;)

1 comment:

Vigilante said...

It's awful good to have you back in our States-side blogosphere. I've been aware of an intelligence deficit during this interlude. Welcome back!