Monday, August 23, 2010

Flying and Landing

We've been in Shanghai now just over two weeks, and I have more to post than I ever imagined, so I'll try to break it down into manageable chunks, which is not my strong suit, so good luck, dear reader (always loved that phrase).
The flights were both great. Southwest got our bags checked with a minimum of fuss; it seemed when we were okay with paying for the extra two bags, nobody really cared how much they weighed. I did have a little moment during boarding because my carryon was too stuffed to fit in the overhead, so the flight attendants had to check it from the plane. I didn't figure I would need very much in a one hour flight, so that was fine with me.
LAX was an easier gig than I had expected. To begin, it was total fog when we landed around 7:00 p.m., so that made for a nice walk from one terminal to the other. We had our ten bags loaded onto two SmartCartes (a very well named device) and were hustling up on the elevator in the terminal where we landed to find our Korean Air gate. Silly first time travelers! Fortunately, we made some small talk with a maintenance worker in the elevator, and when he realized what we wanted, he got us directed back downstairs and out to the sidewalk, where we found an LAX volunteer who pointed us to the international terminal. There was no way we were going to unload all those bags into any type of motorized transportation, so we just started pushing, and after about 15 or 20 minutes, we got to the right place.
Korean Air is a complete delight. First, the baggage check was very simple (once we found the right desk) and the desk clerk politely told us that we could put more weight in the checked bags if needed (something about our pounds to kilos conversion). Hallelujah! We moved a ton (or at least twenty pounds) from our carryons to the big red duffles, and wheeled our lighter selves away. We had some Mexican food, more or less, and headed to the gate. LAX does not appear to offer wifi, free or otherwise, and the boarding process was less than orderly, mainly because our gate had absolutely no seating, so people milled about like sheep. We sat on the ground near a plug to juice up the laptop and wouldn't budge even when a gate agent was trying to set up some boarding lines. I told him if he wanted me to move, he would have to find me a new outlet (it was nearing midnight and I was getting pretty tired), so he backed down from the Ugly American.
Did a lot of sleeping on the big flight, and that is definitely a good preventer of jet lag. Our seatmate was a very quiet young Asian woman, and we really didn't talk to her until we had landed in Seoul. The Seoul airport was a bit hot (oh ha, I didn't know what was coming), but we managed to settle in and Joe napped while I gratefully surfed the web and did my last Facebook posting and chatting. The connecting flight was more organized in the boarding and we got a little bit of immigration paperwork done, as well as a pretty good nap. The Shanghai airport seemed completely deserted to us, and we almost didn't find our way off the jetway. After the wonderful service by the Korean Air staff, the Chinese airport workers seemed a bit distant, but I'm guessing it was more of a language barrier. The immigration line was swift and easy; not only did I not get hauled immediately to prison, I'm not even sure the clerk looked at me. I tried my best "ni hao" and "xie xie," maybe even "zai jian" to no effect. Baggage claim was also simple and everything made it, much to our delight. We cruised through customs with nothing to declare (our musical instruments probably exceeded the dollar limit, but we don't have valuations and weren't going to make extra trouble), and no inspection of our bags.
The pickup by the school was just like a movie, with our names and the school name on a butcher paper sign, and I'm sorry I didn't ask for the sign then, because it has since disappeared. Our Head of Schools, Mike Donaldson, was there to greet us and he knew us right away, probably due to the ten bags. He loaded our luggage into a school "bus" (which is really a 15 passenger van), loaded us into his very nice car, and off we went to our new apartment and life.

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