Day 3 - Wake up in Wuhan - ๐ŸŒ MWT 2017

Wednesday August 30th, 2017
Hiked only 1 mile traveled thousands.

11:57 pm

I am beginning to feel illiterate.
Our plane arrived as on time, but I was surprised to hear the unclinking of seat belts long before the seat belt sign was turned off.

As we came in through immigration everyone lined up with the speed of school children going to recess. It was subtle, the differences are slight, but if it happened like that in our country people would think something was wrong. I stood around and looked at the Chinese writing. I noticed that almost a quarter of the people standing in line happened to know someone that was approaching and would let them cut in. I didn't think much of it  I thought maybe more families are traveling here. You can go through customs with your family. Even as I step in my first foreign country I realized I was overwhelmed with slight differences everywhere.

I write this as I am leaving China. I knew everyone was watching me and didn't feel comfortable writing a novel in the middle of the airport. I did not see a lot of visible cameras, but I could feel I was watched just because I was different.   I felt like the elephant in the room. I was different than everyone.  This particular airport in China has only recently allowed international travel through as soon as 2 years ago so I am suddenly completely engulfed in China. I may have been the first white man some have seen.  I saw men and women looking at me all very different.

The immigration officer stamped my passport for visa and not Transit visa so she called a supervisor who came over and escorted me to a bench outside an office where about 12 others stood waiting on some special circumstance or another. The immigration officers wore very decorated military style uniforms that had stars on their collars and all either had 1 to 4 stars to show their rank.  I got lost trying to establish the rank because everyone was doing their job with serious confidence.  It did not look like a place to tell a joke.  I think you can smile, but few are going to return it. 

I stood over to the side because I figured that with all these people standing by that office my passport just disappeared into, I would be here a good hour of my visit. That officer that proudly carried my passport away walked with a very swift purpose.  He walked right into what appeared to be a brightly lit bathroom sized office with a speed I felt most have carried him right through the opposite wall. 

He came out and broke through all the waiting citizens of somewhere and approached me with my passport in hand and said, "Ok.. you go."

I guess they had a higher ranking stamp in there that had to approve that the mistake had no fault, and was simply an accident.  I opened my passport to make out a stamp that said Cancelled over another that said "Permitted to stay in China." 
Stamped under that was "Temporary Entry Permit" with an entrance stamp. 

I continued out to the main terminal.  I walked to the street and noticed the slight differences in automobiles and traffic, taxi's, and the weather.  It felt kind of like Chicago outside. Somewhat arid with cold water. 

I walked back in and realized the building was hardly different from any terminal here.  The only real difference is the 8 or so Chinese flags all hanging around the large square ticket terminal which resembled a basketball gym. It was new, built within the last few years and looked just as clean as any airport does.  I would have taken pictures, but was brand new to an area that I was obviously brand new too. I did not want to be questioned because I noticed that in this airport there are very few, if anyone with headphones on, or glued to a phone. I did not see anyone taking pictures and I did not want to be disrespectful. It would be rude for the animals in the zoo to study the masses, they all must act normal.

No one was sitting on the floor.  For 2 hours in that busy terminal I watched and no one ever sat on the floor. They must have been tired.  I was.  Sleeping on the flight proved to need some practice.  I only got a few hours.  I sat down on the floor near a corner that was public enough I didn't look like I was hiding.  I got my phone out and was about to watch some TV.  I didn't.  I looked around to see any reaction from anyone to me sitting on the floor.  No one seems to care, yet none of them are going to do it. Am I the first one ever to sit on the floor in that airport?  People were sitting on the few inches of ledge that surrounded x-ray scanners that were not in use, but I was the only one with my butt on the ground.  

I thought. Maybe the bathrooms are disgusting and no one wants to sit where their feet trample.  That made sense to me, but I could not tell if others were envious or disgusted by me.  They seemed to go about making no ones business of their own. 

At one point a man was walking his baby around the terminal.  She must have been just old enough to walk and had a pacifier in her mouth.  Her father held her hands on a finger each and she walked right over to me and smiled.  I smiled at her.  Then her father smiled at me.  We exchanged short mumbled greetings.  Mine in English and his in Chinese. Neither understood each other but we still smiled and had not offended each other.  Eventually the young child saw enough of the bearded man exhibit and wandered off with her dad in tow. 

Alternating between corners I moved a few times, watched people pass, walked around the terminal, and observed for a few hours. About a half hour before my ticket window opened so I could check in, I found a seat near the only other American I could spot for miles. I sat down and noticed he had been trying to communicate with a local who happened to speak some broken English. 

I introduced myself, "You speak english."

"Yea.", he replied

He is half my age and works as a first responder at a ski resort near Big Sky Montana.  He couldn't have been more American and was a good deal taller than me. We talked for a few moments and were both heading to Bangkok on our first solo international expeditions. We didn't actually talk as much as I thought I would.  I was tired and after my new friend and I got our boarding passes we parted.  

I saw Montana once again.  Somehow he was 15 people in front of me in the priority immigration line.  I did not know it was the priority line at first.  It wasn't until a group of 15 chinese cut in line right in front of me.  I was the last one in the line.  The lady right in front of me waved for her approaching friends to join her.  They all filed in right in front of me, it pushed me backwards several feet.  None of them looked at me.  They all faced away from me as I was nudged by alternating sides and elbows backwards.  Once I started walking I might as well have turned around and gave up.  At least that is what it felt like, but no one seemed to show me any sign of care. 

That is when I looked up and noticed it was the priority line.  Big Montana was already 30 people ahead of me and I am pretty sure we are not special.  I see that the normal line to my left is actually shorter anyway.  They must have just changed the signs.  I walk over to the next line and stand a conservative American distance of about a yard of the man in front of me.  I guess someone thought I was just standing in the way of the end of the line cause they just filled the gap.  I closed the gap and was standing no more than a few inches away from the man in front of me.  As the line inched forward another dressed up and important looking Chinese man in a suit stood besides me in line. He placed his rolling carryon in front of him and nudged it forward just ahead of him and I.  He nudged it toward the line in front of me slightly. Then I felt someone nudge or tug at my backpack.  Everyone stands so close together you would probably actually never know. I suppose that explains why I see so many walking around with their backpacks in front of them.  It looks like a huge belly and it makes people walk around leaning backwards.  

So I turn to the side casually and glance at the man next to me, his bag, and whoever was behind me.  I smiled and turned back around. No one else cut in front of me before I got my exit stamp and on to the gate. 

I got to the gate and every seat was filled, the entire hall was packed with travelers. I found an open seat and sat down.  On my way to this seat an older Chinese citizen glared at me with a hate that transcended our cultures.  I was happy to be standing in an airport with a layer of security and public witnesses to stand between this individual and me.  He watched me with some perception, some history, or prejudices that meant no good to me, and he would probably only be able to explain with his fist.  I felt that this one man,  this one man in all of these thousands of respectful Chinese does not like me, but I was sure glad this man and myself had not met alone in an alley. It only takes one man to hate you in the wrong place to do some damage.

Montana made his way over to me and sat for a few then wandered off. When they announced the flight was boarding everyone seemed to rise at once.  It was immediate and my observation already set me at the back of the line, so I just continued to sit and watch people board. 

At the boarding gate there were two men with very professional and expensive looking cameras.  They have official badges hanging from their necks or jacket and yellow safety vest on.  They are standing next to the gate and taking pictures of everyone as they scan their boarding pass. Most people only got one or two photos from one or both directions.  There was a photographer behind the line and one on the opposite side or priority lane. 

When I handed the lady my boarding pass all suspicions that I was different were suddenly confirmed.  Both photographers lit me up like the paparazzi.  It was a shower of strobes as I saw the ticket agent hand me my passport back in flashes. I walked outside and stood in the bus that would take me to the plane and watched as Montana got the paparazzi treatment as well. He got on the bus next to me.  I said, "We must be famous." He laughed as we watched out the window at the rest of the passengers only getting one photo each.  We both were slightly relieved when we saw one more man get lit up by the photographers.  He was carrying a large bouquet of flowers and appeared to be pushing someone in a wheel chair.  I wondered if we would be famous. I wonder if I will be the poster American for tourism in China?

When our bus got to the gate we all piled out and walked with a purpose to the plane as if it was leaving without the passengers.  I get to the ramp and suddenly I am stopped.  There is a funnel of short Chinese clamoring to get on the plane.  They are not just pushing me, but the poor flight attendant trying to take our boarding passes.  She keeps getting her balance by leaning on the rail. I only got on the plane because I made little baby steps forward and am large. Once we were all on the plane I was amazed at what you can learn on such a short trip to a foreign country. 

Now it is late.  I am tired.  Going to try and sleep.