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  • Arriving in China Part 2, International Flight and Hong Kong

    Note: This is the second installment in the Arriving in China series. If you would like to read that section first, click here.

    Chicago’s trippy lights and itinerary changes

    Alternating colored lights moving in a passenger tunnel
    These runner lights had alternating colors actually moving up and down this tunnel. (Sorry its blurry)


    Once we arrived in the Chicago airport we immediately scoped out the place and checked the flight board to make sure nothing had changed (as per the advice of the nice woman the previous day). Then we started exploring this new airport. Chicago airport is an odd place complete with displays and even intricate running lights in passenger tunnels.

    During our several hour layover, we periodically checked the flight board verifying we were near the correct gate. However, throughout the day both the gate AND the terminal changed twice—we did a lot of walking. Some of the changes were extreme going from opposite end to opposite end of the airport. Eventually, we were able to board the flight to Hong Kong!

    Dinosaur Skeleton at Chicago's O'Hare airport
    Chicago’s O’Hare airport had several displays. One of which was this very large dinosaur skeleton.

    International flight with international coke

    The inside of the plane is very neat.
    We are finally boarded and I’m surprised that the plane isnt as bad as I thought.

    I remember having a turbulent mixture of both excitement and nervousness–everything was new to me and everything was fascinating to me. International flights, for those that have never been, are very different than domestic flights. For one, it is common place to have your very own headphone jack and a personal TV on the back of the seat in front of you for your own personal viewing pleasure. No more having to watch a single large screen at the front and playing head ping pong with the inevitable tall person in between you and the screen (as was what Micah told me happened on his first flight). We started this flight knowing it was going to be about 14 hours, though it ended up being 16.5, because it had to go around a large ocean storm at some point.

    Chinese can of coke with Chinese characters
    They of course had beverages on the plane. This Coka cola had Chinese on it. Im getting excited already!

    I was a bit anxious on how I would do with the air turbulence. Logically, turbulence makes sense and thus is not something I would see as a point of worry. However, I’m not the bravest person in the world and so was not sure how I would react. When it first happened it startled me but I didn’t have much of a reaction. It was very similar to riding in a car when it crossed from a paved road to a washboard road and back to a paved road. In other words it was no big deal for me; there were screams or gasps around the plane.

    Flight Path from Chicago going West to to Hong Kong
    The TVs had updates on time, distance, altitude, and temperature.

    The selection of entertainment was amazing. There was TV shows, movies, music, some sports and news casts, and even some basic games (i.e. solitaire, Tetris, and zumba). However, I have to say the food was a little less than desired. I think a packed lunch from a quick store would have been better, but we were able to drink Chinese Coca Cola! My biggest problem with the meal was that since I was gluten free at the time I couldn’t eat about 70% of the miserly food they supplied us. The biggest meal was a small bag of chips with a sandwich made of cold deli meat on a small bagel. All the snacks except the peanuts were bread based and so I couldn’t eat them either. Micah got to eat what I couldn’t, he was well fed.

    Flight path shows we are leavning the country.
    Leaving the country now! Crazy! Not yet the halfway point.

    Though all in all the flight wasn’t bad except one minor incident between myself and a very rude steward. I tried to obey the seatbelt signs, so I waited and waited and

    waited to use the restroom all the while watching a dozen more people over several hours get up and go. Finally, after reaching the point of decision wherein I had to decide between disobeying the never changing seatbelt sign or having an accident in my seat: I chose to disobey the seat and follow the others to the queue. A steward looked straight at me and screamed at ME, only ME “Can’t you read?! Get back in your seat!” He never even looked at the others; it was like they were invisible. I was so shocked by being screamed at in such a public place that I went back to my seat. A woman walked by and I felt sorry for the chewing out I was sure he would give her. So I listened…nothing. Again a man walked by and the same thing happened, which is to say nothing at all. So I screwed up my courage, which wasn’t too hard considering I was edging into a boiled indignation. Why would he yell at me and no one else? I was angry now.

    Flight Path shows we are almost to Hong Kong
    Almost to Hong Kong! We are ready to get off this plane!

    So when I passed him to stand in line. He looked at me and took a deep breath to, I presume, yell at me further. I cut him off telling him something like “If you’re going to chastise people for getting up while the seatbelt sign is on, then do so but don’t pick out the one person you feel you can kowtow and scream at her. Now if you don’t want me to use the restroom when the sign is on then have the sign changed more often. I have been waiting for HOURS. Or would you prefer to have to do some cleaning?” He stepped back, glared at me and huffed, but never said a word to me for the remainder of the 9 hours. Once I turned back to face towards the front of the line I was surprised with a few smiles and nods from the others in line. Though, I can’t say that the matter was closed since he repeatedly skipped over me if he was unfortunate enough to be assigned as the server to my area for a meal, snack, or drink. The first time it happened I had to ask for my meal. One of the stewardesses caught on and served me when she’d pass by. I made sure to thank you as much as possible.

    Hong kong arrival, So much luggage and no one to help the Americans

    Finally, we have landed!
    Finally!!! We are have landed!


    After we arrived in Hong Kong, we found our way to the luggage area. At this point, I deeply regretted almost every single item we brought. Since we were moving our entire lives to China we pushed our bags to the limit and took advantage of the maximum allowed luggage per person. It was exhausting pulling all those pieces of luggage through the airport; thankfully early in our commute across the airport we found a trolley cart to ease our burden.


    The Hong Kong Airport's atmosphere is surprisingly light and cheery.
    The Hong Kong Airport is very open and airy creating a light atmosphere

    We followed the signs directing us to Mainland China transportation. Hong Kong is famous for their hospitality, so we didn’t worry about not speaking Chinese Mandarin or Cantonese. We also didn’t worry because it is an international hub making it necessary for there to be English speakers and because were English signs everywhere. So we were safe in assuming someone would speak English, right? Wrong, oh so wrong. For whatever reason, NO ONE spoke English and no one wanted to help the stupid Americans by finding someone that could speak English. After 2.5 days of traveling and having just disembarked a 16.5 hour flight we were exhausted, and my patience was thin at best.

    After my attempts to find an English speaker failed and even my attempts to use my Chinese-English dictionary on my phone to communicate also failed, Micah went off to try and figure out how to use the pay phone in order to phone his boss. I watched the luggage and kept trying to communicate, but each attempt and each HOUR was draining me more and more. By the time the second guard started his shift and his repetitive staring at me while walking past yet again and watching the clerks talk about me, I silently broke into tears. I tried to hide them but it was no use. Micah had no luck figuring out the phones. We were just stuck there in the lobby with English signs that taunted us with messages which told us we could buy a ticket for Mainland transport in that lobby from their kind clerks. Our only hope was a new shift of clerks in the morning (12 hours away), who could and would help us. We’d have to sleep in the lobby.

    Finally, a new woman came in to start her shift. She took one look at me in all my pitifulness and Micah’s frantic look while trying to use the internet to figure something out and she decided we needed help. She came over to us and pulled us over to her desk where she amid very few English words, some dictionary look ups, and a lot of charades finally figured out what we needed and wanted and helped us get on our way. As we were standing in the line waiting for the shuttle to come pick us and others up, I heard and watched her yelling at all the others and pointing at us.

    I do remember her very kind smile when I looked up the word for “thank you” on my phone and showed her. I put as much emphasis in my eyes as possible, but I’m sure the fact that I was still occasionally brushing away tears expressed all she needed from me. She spoke softly to me and smiled, waved and headed back to row of desks where she started to yell at the others as I watched unabashedly.

    I know I’ll never see her again but I won’t soon forget how kind she was toward us. She was one of the positive people I thought back to in the following weeks.

    Welcome to a dark HK, Micah’s relief and my excitement.

    Hong Kong twinkling as we drive by on a highway bridge
    Hong Kong twinkling as we drive by on a highway bridge

    So finally aboard the shuttle, luggage loaded, documentation stacked on the dash board and everyone seated, we started off. I remember thinking that I was sad my very first glimpse of a foreign country would be at night when I wouldn’t be able to see much of anything. Micah was wide eyed and taking in as much as he could. He had his arm around me and sat so close to me. He was also pointing things out for me to look at because I don’t see well at night. Despite not having too much to see, Hong Kong still showed us some of its luster. I remember just being dumbfounded with how beautiful it looked even in the limited sight of night. Micah whispered promises of coming back to Hong Kong to explore its beauty someday, a new adventure in the midst of another. I made a similar promise as well.



    This series, Arriving in China, continues with the next leg of our journey: Part 3, Shenzhen.

    If you have not read the first leg of our journey and would like to see what happened, check it out: Part 1, My first International

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  • Arriving in China, My first international, Part 1

    Micah’s second, my first

    One of the first questions I am often asked after telling people in America or meeting other foreigners here is “Where else have you traveled?” The answer to this is sadly lacking. Let me tell you why. Before moving to China I had flown once to Denver, Colorado to present (as a group) some research I was fortunate enough to work on with the team. Then in 2010, I flew with Micah to Miami, Florida (via a short layover in Atlanta) for our honeymoon cruise to the West Caribbean. As for my experience traveling internationally, well, that is actually more of a lack of experience than its presence. One year in high school, I traveled with one of a few groups from a humanitarian organization that was tasked by their connection with a sister organization in Mexico to help rebuild some homes that had been destroyed and work with spreading information to pedestrians and the homeless. This town was close to the Texan border so I didn’t get to see much of Mexico. As for the rest of my glamorous international traveling….can you count the honeymoon cruise? Yeah that would be about it.

    So as you can imagine preparing to move to China was a bit of a jump outside my comfort zone. Actually, I’d say it was a blazing blind gigantic leap off the precipice but call it what you will, too soon and not soon enough the day to board that plane was upon us.

    Micah’s excited stories

    For weeks before that big day and even scattered throughout our traveling time, Micah would regale me with stories of when he had gone before. He had traveled to China as a teen as part of some sort of teen world touring group. He absolutely fell in love with the country and the people.

    This is a more traditional rickshaw in China. (From wikipedia commons)
    This is a more traditional rickshaw in China.
    (From wikipedia commons)

    So he would tell me stories of chatting with people in Hong Kong, riding rickshaws in Guilin, hiking in the parks of Guangzhou, or even climbing mountains in Guilin. He would always smile and seem even more at peace when he spoke about the mountains of Guilin. Ever since he got back he made sure to carry a picture of the mountains he took and later that became his screen lock photo on every smartphone.

    Sean took this picture of the Guilin mountains the first time he went to China.
    Micah took this picture of the Guilin mountains the first time he went to China.

    Tornado and escape

    So the day finally came, we were shoving things in suit cases up till the last moment when we loaded them into my in-laws van and headed off. I remember thinking how if the butterflies got any more confused or fussy I was not going to have a good flight. I was ping-ponging between excited and nervous and I wont lie, a bit scared. So we get to the airport say our teary goodbyes, check our luggage, head through security with one last wave and turned the corner to head to the gate.

    Our home airport lobby
    Our home airport lobby

    We had gotten there 2.5 hours before the flight departure, so we now had an hour and 45 min to wait. We chatted, Micah thought or played on his phone, I read, and we both watched the people. I started noticing some angry people, but didn’t think anything of it until I happened to look out the glass wall of the terminal to see ominous black clouds. Micah and I both look at the flight itinerary to see a dreaded word plastered across the screens in red: Canceled. Putting two and two together, I so the angry people and the now slight lateness of our gate attendants quickly made my stomach sink. The line for the nearest desk with people was too long. Micah took his bag and I took my carry on and we both tried to figure out what to do now. He called his parents and I jogged to a different desk a few gates down that had relatively few people.

    Clouds are beginning to role in a couple of hours before take off.
    This is at the airport a couple of hours before we were suppose to board our plane. Notice the clouds.

    Now here is where I relearned that being nice and polite can get you quite far in some situations. I waited politely not even griping when a rude self-entitled business man pushed me aside. So when it was my turn I could see the woman preparing herself for what I imagine she expected to be a butt-chewing from me. I smiled at her and paused when she balked a little. I calmly explained what my problem was and also told her I’ve never really flown much so I did not know what the protocol was. She gave me a big smile and told me that they had to cancel incoming and certain flights because of a storm that landed the entire area in a tornado warning. She took my boarding pass and asked if I would wait while she tried to figure something out for me. She had several moments when she was put on hold while the person on the phone looked up what they could. In those moments she either chatted with me or attended to other people or answered her colleagues’ questions. She needed Micah’s information so I ran to go get that and returned. I again waited in line, but when she saw me looked at me with this silly expression and waved me in front of the others. Finally, after a while she told me that they were getting people completely out of the airport due to the danger, but that because she liked me she was able to get me on a Dreamliner (upon not reacting to the news as she’d have liked she chuckled and explained that this was a more luxurious plane and that we would like it), she was able to get us a room at a nearby hotel, hotel transportation arranged, a new flight path booked and $40 for supper. She thanked me and I thanked her. It took me a second to realize that she was thanking me for being courteous and kind to her instead of acting like a fool and griping or yelling.

    Leaving the Storm

    So after parting with the very nice lady and her wish for the best in my new life, I found Micah explained the situation, our new flight path (which the woman formed as she hated the old one) and gave him his new boarding pass. Then we headed to our new gate and waited for our new flight to take us out of the “flight” path of the tornado.

    The strom was rolling in as we boarded
    Boarded a plane to Houston instead of Chicago because of the tornado.

    Best friend for best friend

    Before all of this happened, we were going to rendezvous with a good friend of mine, but because of the change we ended up in Houston, the city where Micah’s best friend lives.

    Houston Airport
    Arrived at Houston Airport!!

    So he came and ate with us as we used our complimentary supper tickets. The hotel room was probably the MOST expensive and extravagant room I have every stayed in. In the morning, we met the hotel transportation people and were once again back at the airport and awaiting our flight to Chicago. We had 2 layovers but the woman had changed that to just one in Chicago.

    On our way to Houston
    Howdy! Enroute to Houston.
    I was surprised and fascinated to see a little bit inside the cockpit.

    Aerial views & Clouds

    The flight to Chicago was only a 3-4 hours but it wasn’t bad because she was right the Dreamliner had indeed been quite comfy (as planes go). We had great seats and lots of room with our own TVs. I couldn’t even imagine what the better seats were since we were in economy.

    Stay tuned for the continuation of our journey to China.


    Below I will include some of my favorite aerial photos from flights to Houston and from Houston to Chicago. To continue on with the next chapter of our journey in this series Arriving in China please go to Part 2, International Flight and Hong Kong & Part 3, Shenzhen.

    Beautiful clouds
    Beautiful clouds
    Beautiful clouds.
    Beautiful clouds.
    Clouds over Texas
    Clouds over Texas
    Beautiful clouds
    Beautiful clouds
    Beautiful clouds
    Beautiful clouds
    In the sky; enroute to Houston
    In the sky; enroute to Houston




















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