[tianjin is hard to see mofo, it’s ahead of the curve]
In our great day and age of digital communication, information technology, genetic engineering, quantum physics and aeronautical travel it is most commonplace that long-haul distances between two points, say two cities, be more precise and specify Zurich and Beijing are “vanquished” by means of jet plane technology in the form of an airbus, jumbo jet or the like. A big-ass vehicle of transportation, moving 30’000feet above surface level that would make a Formula One automobile look like it is pretty much standing still.
Already you might see where I am going with this: jup, I’m not a die-hard fan of flying, to have things so out of my control and to have the parameters of locomotion that usually apply to bi-pedal beings so out of whack just does not agree with either my phobically-inclined imagination or my survival instincts. It is not that I have a crippling fear of flying, it’s just that the two days before take-off are filled with an unnamable soul-level dread, certain dreams on the opposite end of the spectrum of the wet ones and at certain times the thought will creep up why I would put my young, full-of-unfullfilled-potential life so at risk like that: uncalled for! To calm my self through statistics or reciting that these fantasies are irrational is of absolutely no use, they operate in some part of my brain where my consciousness has no access to but from which, weirdly enough, it can receive plentiful messages of dread and resentment: this plane will separate into its 2million 504thousand 311 moving parts, it’s just a matter of time; just because you always got lucky so far does not mean you will get lucky this time, believe you me; didn’t that flight number look terribly ominous???; plunging down through the stratosphere you will forever resent yourself for engaging the folly of aerial travel, I’m telling you right now; those people in previous plane accidents thought the exact same thing “it will never happen to me”, what do you think they would tell you now?; whatever, just wait and see then but don’t say I never told you. Crazy shit on this level, the irrational part of my brain keeps churning out and of course also the according visuals, inspired by the often-repeated, extremely vivid airborne catastrophe on LOST [and that monumental scene at the beginning of Rushdie’s “Midnight’s children”].
Ha, it’s ironic, in moving towards China I seem to be getting away from it, aviation disaster fantasies be damned!
The part that really gets me, which fires up my adventursome longing is that in fact one could, gear and endurance permitting, simply walk the entire distance from Lucerne to Beijing. Or travel by bike or take the train. It would be an insane undertaking of thousands of kilometers but it is theoretically visible. The train alone according to my friend takes close to three weeks to cover the unending planes of Russia and China [this is assuming that crossing Austria and Poland amounts to near nothing in this scheme of distances]… and legend has it is the true definition of a movable feast. Which, yes, what else to do while sitting in a train staring out at the rolling hills and evergreen forests and hard-scrabble deserts chugging by at a leisurely trans-sibirian pace? But one could do it, get there via the land route while not violating the laws of human locomotion, let one’s soul travel along with one and not go trailing thousands of kilometers behind.
Going there we fly by night, which is fine by me, I’m not that interested in knowing what Russia looks like from way above. I only wonder if there might be a slight tingle of radiation when we jet over the contaminated cities of which I simply assume there are legion. But the pain in my shoulders distracts me from engaging in any such super-sensory perceptions.
I forgot to mention what they did on the Air France flight before take-off or landing, I can’t quite remember. The two F.A.s came walking down the aisles on each side, quick-striding, holding up in each hand a can of aerosolic spray from which the caps had somehow been removed and that were in perma-spray mode. By all appearances it looked as though they were fumigating the damn place…. I couldn’t make sense of it other than in the most turgidly alterophobic way: the claim on our part that Chinese people have a somehow different, distinct body scent and the Chinese reciprocation of this claim. Both were being neutralized now by the brilliantly smiling flight attendants [what a strange expression] striding along with cans held high on blast.
At long last we landed. Passport control was entertaining because different. First you fill in these forms declaring all possible intents, destinations, etc for the upcoming few weeks, if whether or not you are planning to start a peasant insurrection against the coastal cities, if you are a potential vector of swine flu, basically all the stuff that a more actively engaged government would wish to know before they let you fuck around in their territory. Given my chicken-headed inability not to think a head more than a couple of hours, half-a-day on a good day, I had not on me my friend’s address and found myself scrambling for means of acquiring it. There were phones but they really didn’t work in the simple way I wanted them to. I decided to leave that question out and see what would happen, if they would throw me in a cell by bread and water, well, I would then know better the next time I made a trip here. Not enough with the genius, I decided to better be honest than be sorry and checked the box where it read “congested nose”. Soon enough I was escorted to a separate stall populated by two bored nurses and other vaguely medical looking personnel. The head nurse was really cool and understanding of my stupidity, she simply said: “Do you still suffer from this symptom?” And when I shook my head while holding back a serious sneeze, she handed me another form and told me to fill it out.
Sam I and me meeting right away would evidently have been too simple. Time somewhere along the transcontinental flight had been derailed and with my Casio set to C.H time I could only slightly guess at whether I was on or off time. I walked around the exit lounge with a slight buzz of disorientation, looking for a place to make a call as my cellphone informed me that it was not really getting along with the local network. I had assumed that roaming issues were a thing of the [not-all-that-distant] past but was shown wrong again. Fortunately there was a booth with three women who were clearly selling some telecommunication related gear or cards or something…I suppose there must have been some English writing to that effect on one of their banners. However, the newly-inserted SIM card did not want to play team-ball with my cellphone or vice versa. It is really a bothersome issue, in general and global, this incompatibility of electronic gadgets with seven-thousand different plugs and formats so that travellers always have to go chasing after converters [out of stock] or buy a new life-saving, local equivalent of whatever jingamagoog becomes dysfunctional once you move your ass 500 clicks or more.
I settled for a phone card and, miracle-oh-miracle, two minutes later Sam and I met up at the….gulp….the airport coffee-cancer-cell, the StarBucks. However awful this franchise might be, as a meeting spot for strangers in a strange land it perfectly serves its purpose.
A warm, buddily hug. He tells me they’ve been having some shit with one of their customers and that he’ll need some time to fix it but that I have come at the perfect time because it’s the holiday season. I want to know the details, I always do. Also, I smile because I selected the time of my coming more or less at random but am positively surprised by this nice coincidence.