Monday, November 21, 2005

You Get What You Pay For

I was nervous about this morning's early departure. "WongWay" would be my driver to the Jinan airport and last year when he awoke to a fogged in city he didn't show up. This morning however, he was outside the hotel (he probably slept there) ahead of schedule (6:00 am).

With my four pieces of luggage we loaded up the car and headed out through the dense fog for the new and improved Jinan International Airport. Lack of visibility closed the highway and memories of last years ordeal clouded my thoughts. The "back" roads to the airport were filled with bicycles and pedestrians making their way to work and school along the invisible roadway. It became a competition of who ruled the passage as trucks pass, horns blare with the people impervious to it all.

B and I took our minds off the unfolding fright by telling stories of past "adventures in travel." I have the famous "Lost in Sri Lanka" saga; my old stand by "Left Behind in Bosnia" and the "Wrong Town Terminal" of Cuban notoriety. Our laughter probably confused WongWay but it also kept him alert and awake.

We were early enough to be first in line to check in for the 8:10 am flight. "How many bags?" The bad news "3" "You are overweight - and too many bags." Quick thinking and proper planning, I was sure would get me by. I pulled out the "Shandong Pictorial Magazine" showed the counter agent my name on the cover and flipped to the pages with the photos inside. I also used the note A had written years ago regarding my work in the orphanages and items being for children. "International ticket?" the agent inquired. "Yes, of course" I replied as he inspected my continuing flight plans and LET ME PASS! One hurdle down.

Alas, a few minutes later a red bar highlighted my scheduled flight "Delayed". We hurried back up to the counter only to hear the airport was closing AND the agent didn't know when any flights would take off.

The benefits of having B as assistant willing to do an exemplary job: 1) no fear of strangers and asking questions of anyone who is patient enough to look at the Chinese English dictionary with her. 2)She makes all the phone calls that I would be to embarrassed to make, by asking total strangers if she can borrow their cell phone. B called Mr T (the airline vice president and former student of D) and asked about the weather forecast.

I kept watching (the clock and the departure board) and my flight status suddenly flashed NOW BOARDING! WHAT! B ran up to the counter to hear the agent say "Yes, your flight is about to leave - hurry on to the gate!"

For the price of the ticket ($25 US) I suppose you can't expect to hear an announcement of departure times - it was one of those "you get what you pay for moments."