Only 24-Hours

Every time I catch a plane I try to avoid eye contact with the other passengers as they come down the aisle towards me. I’m thinking, “If I don’t look at you, you won’t sit next to me, and I’ll be able to have two seats to myself”. It’s a crazy thought and nine times out of ten it never happens, but today it did. Today it’s just me and one other sharing four seats for the final part of my journey home to Sydney.

It was such a relief, as I was starting to feel a little fragile. The first part of the trip home was a bit of a breeze actually. As always, I was asleep before take-off, woke in time for the evening meal (chicken rice or beef rice), read for a while, organised some photographs for a while, and woke up just in time for breakfast. I woke feeling pretty good, and the time zone difference was manageable.

I thought I could sleep well on planes until I discovered the bloke next to me. I’ll call him Soren, as he was Danish. He wasn’t asleep before take-off, but he spent most of the flight passed out even up until landing. The flight attendant woke him with a fright when she asked him to put his table upright.

With a few hours to kill at Beijing airport I was hoping to check in at the airport hotel where I caught a few hours of shut-eye on the way to Stockholm. As the next part of my trip was a domestic flight to Shanghai, I wasn’t able to do that. The domestic section of Beijing airport doesn’t have quite the facilities of the international. I struggled to find an ATM, and there was nowhere where I could have a shower to freshen up. So I found a quiet space, used my hand-luggage as a pillow and picked up an extra two hours deep, dream-sleep.

It was beef rice of chicken rice again from Beijing to Shanghai and once again I chose the beef. I always figure there’s a lot more that can go wrong with chicken and seafood, and so beef is always a safer option.

At Shanghai things started to get a little difficult. At Stockholm I was able to check my luggage right the way through to Sydney, but was told I would need to pick up a boarding pass for the Shanghai to Sydney part of the flight once I arrived in China. In Beijing they said I would need to do it in Shanghai, and in Shanghai they told me that was wrong. They also told me my luggage was in Shanghai not Sydney and I would need to go back to the arrivals terminal to pick up my bag which had been circling around for a few minutes. I couldn’t instantly get back in, of course, and had to negotiate my way back through a staff entrance.

That’s when I started to think “this is all too hard” and was starting to feel the effects of long-distance travel. That’s when I was also starting to feel a bit sticky and grumpy and desperately in need of a shower. As there wasn’t one at the airport, I headed to the nearby airport hotel. Sadly, I couldn’t book a room for a few hours. “How much is a room for the night?” I asked the attendant. When she told me it was about $70 AUD, any sense of middle-class, Catholic or first-world guilt disappeared quickly. “I’ll only be there for two hours”, I told her, “but yes, I’ll have a room for the night”. I had a great shower, had a little lie down, changed my clothes, and was well and truly feeling much better.

Having enjoyed a really relaxing wonderful holiday, I didn’t want it to end with an arrival back in Sydney where I was feeling grumpy and jet-lagged. Now, with the extra leg-room and sleeping-space afforded by the extra seat, I feel like I may have avoided it.

Oh yeah, and it was beef with rice or seafood with rice for tonight’s evening meal. I went with the beef again.

“It only takes a day to get to Australia”, I kept telling people in Sweden in reply to their “Oh Australia is such a long way away” comments. I’m trying to believe it’s really so.

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