Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Aug 20 2015

A really long day

The Ibis Hotel staff told me that the free breakfast would go until 10 a.m. So imagine my surprise when I got down to the lobby a little after 9 to find that they were actually not only indicating that the free breakfast was at the other hotel where I was supposed to be staying, but it had ended at 9.

I trudged over to the other hotel to find that they indeed had stopped serving breakfast. “Trainee employees,” the man at the desk scoffed, and offered the remains of the breakfast buffet in compensation. It was rather awful, but breakfast is breakfast.

I didn’t want to take a chance on a trip downtown, so I spent the rest of the morning walking around the industrial desolation surrounding the airport. Most people smoked, and with good reason; the  place stank. It was difficult to imagine food being prepared in such an environment, but it was. Planes flew low over the scene as I approached and then turned back from a guarded  gate, walking out to the edge of the walled complexes. I chatted with a man whose car was being repaired by a trio of young mechanics. “This isn’t regular business,” he said. “This is a grey area.” He was right about that, in oh so many ways.

I walked back towards the hotel, coming across a utility pole repairmant hoisted aloft to switch out new plates. For  some reason I felt I should follow him, but I quickly lost his trail. I was tired of the place anyway. It depressed me.

Back at the hotel for a shower, and then downstairs to check out and wait for the airport bus, which turned out to be another creaking old bus driven by a middle-aged man who complained at how many passengers there were. I couldn’t think of why he would care until I saw that he was planning on parking illegally in front of the airport and more time would increase his odds of getting a ticket.

I strode under the huge canopy that is Beijing Airport, had some lunch upstairs with a view over the whole thing, and then proceeded on the light rail to the gates. There, I was confronted with a huge mass of people as the immigration staff continued to stamp the passports of more and more people, cramming them all into the inspection lines, creating an insufferable blockage of people. I managed to get into one of the shorter lines, but I soon regretted it.

“Is this your battery?” the customs inspection man asked. I nodded. Actually, it was Chenbl’s, but he didn’t need to know that. “What’s the rating?”

“12,000,” I said. He held up the battery of a Western woman and pointed at a sticker that read “10,000”.

“This one says it’s 10,000,” he said. Then, getting no reply, he pointed at mine. “You’re doesn’t say how much it is.”

“It’s 12,000,” I repeated, but he shook his head.

“Without a label, we’ll have to confiscate this,” he said, as if this was the end of the discussion, which it was for all intents and purposes. Chenbl’s backup battery went on the Chinese inspector’s table.

“Well, I’m sure you need it more than I do,” I said sarcastically, but the man wasn’t listening; he had my battery and that was it. I felt like a five-year-old on a playground watching older kids take my lunch money.

But I had a flight to catch. My mood was not improved by the fact that the 747 waiting to take me to San Francisco was parked at the furthest gate. I sat and waited while hundreds of other passengers stood in line to get on board. As usual, I was the last one, but there was one more inspection of luggage in the hallway before the plane could be boarded. I wondered what else they were going to steal, but thankfully nobody there seemed to have sticky fingers.

So I wasn’t feeling too charitable about China as the huge plane hefted itself up into the turbulent dirt Beijing calls air. For one thing we were late leaving the gate, and for another we had waited for over and hour on the tarmac due to a “traffic jam,” as if a bunch of planes had just shown up out of nowhere, uninvited, but knowing how things work in China, that wouldn’t have been a huge surprise.

The flight itself, other than occasional turbulence that made me wonder why the hell we were flying so low, was ok. I watched a bunch of Sean the Sheep and am now a Sean the Sheep Fan. The plane was clean, the meals decent. I tried and failed to sleep, as usual. 10 hours later we were wafting over San Francisco Bay, itself surrounding by brown fields. I could see two or three other aircraft in our flight pattern; traffic was heavy in the skies.

The immigration line stretched over a few football fields, but the real fun didn’t begin until I met with the officials. The immigration fellows were quite interested in my background and chatted with me in a mostly pleasant fashion for a good long time. I didn’t have any particular place to be, so I just went along. Eventually they realized I wasn’t up to any funny business and let me go through. I thought that was it, walking towards customs, where a bored official was taking customs forms from passing travellers. He took my form as I passed, but I’d only taken a few steps when I heard him call harshly, “Hey you! Passport!” I returned and handed him my passport. He scrutinized it for a moment as other travellers passed by. Eventually he said, “You don’t have U.S. citizenship?” He knew I didn’t; it says in my passport that I renounced it.

“No,” I said, explaining that I’d had to renounce to obtain Taiwanese citizenship.

“So, ” he said in a strange tone, “You don’t feel like enjoying the many obvious advantages of U.S. citizenship, huh?” The …you ungrateful son of a bitch went unspoken, but I heard it just as clearly. I didn’t know how to answer that one, so he made a little mark on my customs form and pointed me over to another officer, this one wearing a holstered pistol at his side. Both were white. The last time I’d gone through customs in San Francisco I’d been lucky enough to encounter an Asian officer who immediately understood my situation and let me though without a problem. Before that, in LA on the way to film school in New York, the customs official, a black man, had simply muttered “Now I’ve seen everything,” before waving me through.

But not this time. I spent the next half hour or so answering questions about my background, my life, my work, etc. before the armed officer finally went back to consult with the form-taking official, who was looking at me with apparent dislike. Officer Pistol explained something to him, but what it was I couldn’t say as they were out of earshot. Eventually the form-taker relented, and the man with the pistol came back and said I could go.

I  got the BART to Montgomery Street, found my hotel, and put my things away. After a refreshing shower in the four-footed tub, I headed out to meet my friend Ernie for dinner at a pseudo-Mexican place nearby. San Francisco is surprisingly chilly in the middle of August. We waited, chatting, outside for about 45 minutes until we were seated. The meal was delicious, and we took a Lyft ride out to the Mission for ice cream. It was my first Lyft, and it was interesting. Ernie and I talked about its implications over some tasty desserts. Then it was another Lyft back to the hotel.

What a day.


posted by Poagao at 2:50 pm  

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