Dan Dot Blog

Based on a true story

The Long Road Home, or Planes, Trains, Ferries, Buses, Cable Cars, Automobiles, etc…

I’m sitting in O’Hare now waiting for my baggage to come out. I picked up a netbook in HK and am so glad I did. It’s perfect for blogging or answering emails in brief moments like this when my iPhone is kind of a pain but bringing out my behemoth laptop sounds a little frightening. I think this little guy will actually see more use than my laptop in the near future.

Getting home was trickier than I thought it would be, but thanks to my awesome operator and travel manager Adam I made it home in one piece, or at least back to O’Hare, and I assume I can make it the rest of the way.

Because I flew as a “companion” of Adam’s it meant that my flights were super cheap compared to for realz international tickets. The downside was that I had to fly standby. When I went to Beijing, I took a bus to Chicago then flew direct from there. Because I flew out at the beginning of Easter weekend, very few Americans were headed abroad and so I was upgraded to a mostly empty business class. However, I would not again be met with such luck.

I spent the last week in Hong Kong hanging out with Frankie and her family and bumming around CUHK. There is a direct flight from HK to Chicago, and it looked to usually have open seats. On Sunday I headed to the airport and registered for the flight.

Ok bag just came out on the luggage claim in Chicago; I’m going to go grab it.

Alright, now I’m sitting on the CTA headed back in to Chicago. I suppose I could just write this as though it was all written in one cohesive narrative, but since I think I write these more for myself than for readers (sorry 3 people who read this), I like to include details for my own enjoyment later.

I just overheard a foreign language and looked up to see two Asian girls on the train with me. One is holding a guidebook that looks like it’s in Korean. My usual jealousy of tourists is a bit tempered by my desire to get home, but still it’s hard not to envy somebody whose journey is just beginning as mine draws to a close. Alright, back to the HK narrative.

I was listed for the flight on Sunday, and had even gotten a celebratory text from Adam indicating his confidence in my making the flight as the check-in agent came over to tell me I had not made the flight due to weight restrictions. I talked to Adam, and evidently for whatever reason most flights out of HK go off with 5 empty seats, but are at the weight limit, so what looked like pretty easy flights to get on were actually packed to the max. The next week from HK didn’t look good, and I knew I had to make it home by Friday for my friend’s wedding.

Fortunately Frankie stayed with me the whole time, so when my plans changed we just turned around and grabbed a bus to go meet her parents. While I rode, Adam investigated flights from Shanghai, Beijing, and Tokyo, and thought that Shanghai looked best. However, the window was small. Monday from Shanghai I would have a decent chance, but for the rest of the week it looked very tight.

Once I met up with Frankie’s parents, her dad helped me to buy a ticket from Hong Kong back to Shanghai. Fortunately I have a multi-entry Chinese visa that doesn’t expire for another week, so I would be able to land in Shanghai, go out through immigration, clear customs, collect my bag, change terminals, check back in, go back through exit immigration and customs, and then hopefully make my flight. I started to relax once we found a relatively cheap ticket for me to Shanghai early the next morning.

We spent the rest of the day hanging out at the mall where I bought a Samsung phone that runs Android. I haven’t played with it yet using my ATT SIM (though I verified that it works), but even over WiFi it was pretty damn cool. It’s a lower end Android phone so it doesn’t have huge performance benefits over my iPhone, but Google Voice integration is sweet. I’m looking forward to skipping the awkwardness when people ask me to give them my number by calling them, and I have to explain that the caller ID my phone shows is inconsistent with the number I want them to call.

For dinner we had pizza hut which was actually really awesome. The variety that Frankie ordered had thousand island dressing for sauce, which sounded kind of crazy but turned out to be super tasty. We got some huge crazy meal that came with chicken wings, pork chops, and garlic bread. As we chowed down I became reacquainted with a facet of American eating that I had started to forget: as we ate I got progressively more and more tired, but it was delicious! After dinner we hung out, watched Extract and Arrested Development, then went to bed.

Early Monday morning (it’s still Monday but this is going to be like a 35 hour long Monday for me), Frankie’s dad drove me to the airport. I actually had a seat for realz on this flight, so things were a little bit more straightforward as I checked in and boarded.

I landed in Shanghai and tried to quickly make my way out of the airport to get my bag so that I could come back in and check in for the flight back to the US. The airport was a ghost town, so customs and immigration lines were really short. However, I hit a snag when going through immigration. The officer gave me a quizzical look when she read my departure card and saw that for “destination” I had scrawled, “PVG airport to get bags and change airline.” I explained what was going on but she wanted to see a ticket or e-ticket receipt to back up my story. I didn’t have one since I was going to check in as a standby at the gate. After arguing for a while, she finally let me pass. I scurried out, got my baggage, and cleared entry customs which seemed kind of silly and unnecessary since I was only going to be in the country for 2 hours, but I understand that that’s how the system works.

Once I was free in the airport, time was running out and I couldn’t find the United check-in counter. I then realized that Shanghai Pudong (PVG) has two terminals, and presumably United was in the other.

This time, after a harrowing wait at the check-in counter along with all the other non-revenue standby passengers, I was assigned a seat. It was not business class, and was in fact a middle seat, but I was on board for a flight to San Francisco, and then hopefully on to Chicago.

Once I made it to my seat I discovered that I was in “economy plus” which on United means extra leg room (very comfy). Moreover, the guy who had the window seat in my row had been upgraded to business, so I moved up the arm rest, slid over, and stretched out. The flight went really well. I took an ambien at the beginning and spent some time half-sleeping half-tripping for the majority of the flight. As we neared San Francisco I sobered up and ended up watching the better part of The Blind Side and really enjoyed it. Unfortunately we started a descent right at the climax, so I’m not really sure how things turn out. I think I also watched an episode of House and some movie-esque thing called The Philanthropist that featured the actor from Rome who played Marc Antony, but those were on during my ambien trip so who knows.

In San Francisco, I deplaned, cleared customs, and made my way to the gate for a flight from SFO to Chicago that I would hopefully make. Anybody who followed my twitter or facebook feeds knows that it was a really close call for me to get on that flight. Initially there were like 60 open seats and I was number 5 on the standby list. It looked like it was going to be a piece of cake. Then, suddenly, there were 20 open seats and I was in slot number 23. Things looked grim as the line advanced. Finally, with only 6 open seats left, I somehow jumped forward as there were a couple of no-shows into the #6 slot and just barely cleared. Once again I had economy plus seating, so it was a pretty comfy flight.

From O’Hare, I took a CTA line back into the city, wrote most of this post, and then spent the evening with Adam and Mary Kate. The next morning had another close call as I was almost late for my bus, but yet again dumb, undeserved luck won out and I made it.

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May 13, 2010 Posted by | Personal | , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Going home

I’m on the plane headed back for the US now. It’s about 7 AM in Detroit, so I’ll be landing in just a few more hours. I’m still feeling pretty healthy: although my throat is feeling dry, I’m sure it’s just from general airplane dryness. The flight has flown by so far thanks to some crappy in-flight movies and less crappy DVDs lent to me by my seatmate, a nice guy headed home to Milwuakee. The plane is much less full going this way, or perhaps it’s just the regular load now that the inaugural hubub has died down. Of the five exit row seats in my area, only two were occuppied, but a guy swooped in to take one. it’s very comfortable with so few people, and the few who are here have been very friendly and amiable. it is nice to speak English with native speakers again, but a little strange. I’ve found my communications with flght attendants on the plane terser and more simple. I rephrase my requests to be simple, but instead they are awkward and ambiguous as I point at my finished breakfast tray and say, “trash?” Maybe I’m just not such a great communicator, at least when I’m trying to be polite.

the hotel was ok. not nearly as nice or aesthetically pleasing as my boutique hotel in Hangzhou, but for an 8 hour stay, it suited me. I just wish it hadn’t been so expensive. I knew I wanted to book some place decent and quickly, but usually I’m more of a bargain hunter than that.

i could and perhaps will write more about my morning later, but it isn’t spectacularly interesting. I’m getting tired now and will try sleeping again. More once I’m back in Michigan.

June 19, 2009 Posted by | Personal | , , , | Leave a comment

Flying to Shanghai

I’m on the plane to Shanghai now, writing an offline draft on my iPhone (which will hopefully explain any brevity and the occasional typo). I’m on a 747; definitely the biggest plane I’ve ever been on. The idea that it has two decks is pretty amazing! I’m traveling with my father, which was hugely fortunate, I think (hope) for both of us.

The passengers seem to be made up of a very strong majority of Chinese which kind of surprised me. I’m not sure if business is slow or it’s just not a heavy travel day, but I’m seeing very few business travelers (or maybe they’re all up in first class). We are towards the back of the plane and around a TON of kids. They’re all really pleasant, well-behaved, and outrageously CUTE! I know Cynthia agrees with me, but white babies just don’t hold a candle to Asians in cuteness.

The time on board has been passing pretty quickly. We got good seats so we’ve been able to intermittently sleep and I’m actually very comfortable. For now the plane feels a bit like home and I’m oddly a little nervous about leaving it. I’m really not sure what kind of world
I’m going to step into when I deplane, and though I’m tremendously excited, can’t help but be a little nervous and apprehensive.

There’s a lot that I still have to do to prepare for the conference, but the more I look at the program, the more excited I am to attend. It realy looks right up my alley in so many ways and looks like it’ll offer some fresh perspectives on more quantitative and computational approaches to psychology which will probably be helpful if we continue moving forward with our collaboration with Chen Yu and colleagues at Indiana.

I’m also really excited that I know a handful of people in Shanghai. Once I’m established I’ll be checking in with Liwen and Chen Jie to learn of their plans and hopefully make some of our own. Also, my father’s Chinese friend Kathy has introduced me to some students from Fudan University via email. This will be especially helpful and interesting as Fudan is the host institution for my conference, which is incidentally named ICDL (more info at ICDL Website).

I feel the plane pitching a bit, so perrhaps we’re getting close. We had a really interesting flight path. We flew almost due North over the upper peninsula and Thunder Bay in Canada before going through Alaska and cutting through (I think) a bit of the arctic circle. Living on a sphere makes life interesting :-).

I’m just listening to my iPhone, trying to stay awake. Right now I feel great! Though I should be really tired right now by home time, I actually feel like it’s maybe only 6 or 7 in the evening, which isn’t too far from the time in China. I hope that I can adapt quickly. My sleep patterns are so screwy anyway they’re pretty malleable.

Something about this trip is making me miss Milford for some reasons. I don’t know if I just anticipate sprawling urbanization and am already reaching back for a reassuring, semi-pastoral, small-town memory, or perhaps I’m just hungry, but I really am in the mood for some Milford House breadsticks and cake from the Milford Baking Co.

I’m nervous about the prospect of getting quarantined, especially given our proximity to so many children. Once we’ve cleared that hurdle I hopefully won’t need to think about flu for the rest of the trip.

Well, my hands are getting tired from typing on the iPhone, so I guess I’ll leave it at this. I’ll try to have a “settling-in” post once we make of to our hotel.

Hearts and shooting stars,
Daniel

UPDATE: 4:30 PM
Starting now I’ll try to keep all posts in Shanghai local time. They’re just now serving breakfast on our flight and everybody is waking up. I had a nice nap since last writing and feel very refreshed and ready to be on the ground in Shanghai. My dad says that maybe we’ll go for tea and foot massages tonight, which sounds very agreeable. I’ve been reading “Alice in Wonderland” on my iPhone and really enjoying it. I’ve actually resumed reading for pleasure since I graduated, so if you have any recommendations, I’d be happy to hear them. I’ve figures out a way to disable calling on my iPhone, effectively making it a touch, without removing the SIM. Evidently while in airplane mode you can just reenable wifi, which should work well for purposes of not accidntally spending international roaming minutes. I’ll try to take some photos from the cab if practical and upload them with my evening post.

Breakfast was really tasty. I’ve been really impressed with the food, service, and friendliness of the flight crewing. I even saw one of the attendants playing cards with a big group of children in the rear galley. I guess to do this job, especially the really long ones like this, you’ve got to be cut out for it and enjoy what you’re doing.

I’ve managed to get a fair amount of work done on the plane and have a lot of emails that will sent out the next time I have an internet connection. I also had time to correspond with a few friends and because I had so much time on my hands and no connectivity, I drafted outrageously long and detailed updates on my life. I’m doing a good job blogging so far I think; I hope I can keep it up.

I’m already excited to have this record to look back on later. Well, I’m pretty written out for now; think I’m going to go back to Alice in Wonderland now.

UPDATE 6:08 PM

They’re doing the on flight health inspection now. It’s a little spooky; we can see people in all white hazmat-esque suits moving through first class. They’ll take our temperature soon. I think they’re using some sort of infrared thermometer because we were told to close our eyes. I’m happy I’ve been healthy these past couple weeks. This has got to be pretty frightening for the younger kids since I’m already minorly spooked. When the official boarded the plane they had a representative give an eerie address; I think he’s Australian.

I’ve snapped a few photos of the inspectors as they come through and these are uploaded.

UPDATE 6:34 PM
We’ve cleared quarantine (I think) and are deplaning. My first view of China is a wet one from my window. See photo

June 2, 2009 Posted by | Personal | , , | Leave a comment