Our actual travels were far from over... but as we walked (and walked... and walked...) through the departure areas, just the three members of the L family, the trip really took on a different character for me. Up until we had said goodbye to the B and S families and actually left them for their own flight on a different airline to a different airport, it had still been "The China Trip" on which we were going so AJ could finalize the adoption she'd been paperchasing for so long.
The whole time we'd been in-country had been spent with the other families and at least one guide; we were a group, each family participating to some degree in the other two families' growth and addition of new members. There was always one more hotel breakfast buffet, one more day of sharing the sights or worrying over paperwork, one more day of talking about how the kiddos would do once we were all back Stateside... And all of a sudden it was just the three of us heading home on our own, with the foreign adventure pretty much done & over with and the first faint glimmerings of our new "normal" on the horizon.
We had another half-day's worth of flying ahead of us, but now I knew the trip was over and it was time for the commute home. Reinforcing that feeling was the usual sterility of the generic airport departure gate; we weren't in a place, we were merely in transit. I tried writing in my journal -- sadly neglected throughout the trip, due partly to exhaustion and partly to the Pipsqueak wanting to play with the pen whenever it was within reach -- but found myself more involved with people-watching. (Dude, all these adults... where are the kids?!?)
We needed water to mix a bottle of formula, so I found a vending machine that had water and bought three bottles. I used a Yuan note for the first bottle, and the machine gave me back the first Chinese coins I'd had for the whole trip -- which I was sorely tempted to keep, but the only other Yuan notes I had left were of denominations the machine didn't take, so I used the coins to buy two more bottles so AJ and I could have a drink and still have water for more formula later. As usual, the Pipsqueak attracted some attention, and there were a few short but pleasant conversations with other people waiting to board the plane. (One woman noted she was flying United because the last time she'd used the same airline the B and S families were using, she had a similar problem that chewed a couple of days off her itinerary!) The call to line up for boarding finally came, and the airline representative bumped us to a shorter, earlier-boarding line because of the Pipsqueak. Finally, we started filing through the doorway, boarding passes being scanned as we did the Baggage Dance one last time, and...
...and we walked into another security checkpoint at the base of the jetway. I couldn't figure out what they were looking for -- the only people who'd gotten that close to the aircraft had already been through at least three other permanent checkpoints and everyone's papers had been examined repeatedly, but right there at the base of the jetway, maybe 10 feet from the actual door of the plan, was a set of tables with two armed security guards per table. Everyone had to scramble to re-open their bags, carry-ons, etc. for one last examination by the Chinese authorities. Even more annoying was the confiscation of our unopened water bottle -- had I known, I wouldn't have bothered buying it and would've had some interesting coins to add to my souvenirs.
The young woman in military uniform motioned me over to the closest table, then patiently waited while I dug out the keys and unlocked my carry-on. She rummaged through everything quickly -- strangely not bothering to look in any small compartments or open up the laptop's carry sleeve, but carefully looking inside all the folded shirts & pants -- then gave me a polite "Okey!" A quick reorganizing, rezipping, and relocking later, I was waiting for AJ to finish & catch up (the Pipsqueak sorta slowed things down), and we finally boarded the 777 for our flight home.
[Special Note: It was only when I talked with AJ about this post a few hours ago that I learned that she and the Pipsqueak were also tested for chemical residue -- not just this time, but at every checkpoint we passed through!]
For the first time since arriving in-country, our plane pushed back from the gate on schedule, and it wasn't long before we again felt the familiar pusssssshhhhhhh and lift and -- albeit with mixed feelings -- were leaving Beijing & China behind. The plane was arranged 2-5-2 across, and we had seats 3 thru 5 with the Pipsqueak between us; I missed having a window but was glad to be able to lean back, catch a movie or two, and maybe catch up on some sleep.
Oh, wait... sleep? On a plane? Moi? Unfortunately, I've never been good at it, and this flight was no exception. The young Chinese girl on my right (I'm guessing junior high age) and her mother both had a tendency to lean away from each other, which meant one was usually leaning into me. Meanwhile, I was helping keep an eye on the Pipsqueak, who was traveling like a pro but who periodically would either get too close to the edge of her seat or would conk her head on the seat belt buckle. (I think that bothered her mommy & uncle more than it bothered her.) A row forward and to our left was a mother (and either auntie or grandma) traveling with a little girl in a "lap seat" -- which means the child is in the parent's lap for THE ENTIRE FLIGHT -- and as much as I understood her feelings it wasn't too many hours before I caught myself wishing the kid would just pass out or something. (Her mom didn't seem to have brought along much of anything to entertain the poor child, which neither AJ nor I could figure out.)
Offsetting the minor inconveniences (did I mention the entertainment system was glitchy again?) and periodic crying & whining was the polite & happy attentiveness of the flight crew. We had three hostesses working our section, and they were a good team -- and they seemed to take a special shine to Miri, quickly learning what would be good timing to bring water for her formula & checking to make sure she and her mommy were in good shape. The flight was relatively uneventful, and the Pipsqueak only got smelly a couple of times (which is how we learned the B777 only has fold-down changing tables in some of its bathrooms), It was cool to see our wingtip just brushing the North Pole on the little seatback monitors before watching another rerun of "Ratatouille" or "Date Night" or "Clash of the Titans"(hey, who says I don't like variety?).
The only scare came after we had begun final descent into Dulles. We had all 3 tray tables down (to discourage the Pipsqueak from exploring that big open area under the seat in front of her), AJ and I were talking about nothing in particular... and all of a sudden my niece disappeared headfirst through the little opening between her seat and the tray table with a loud "THUNK!" as her head hit the floor. Of course, there was all kinds of stuff on all the tables, so there was a mad scramble to get them cleared & folded up out of the way so we could reach Miri. I don't know how AJ did it so fast but she was scooping her daughter up off the floor and checking her head and cooing calming noises in her ear in about 2.7 seconds. Luckily there was not damage done -- not even a bump! -- and soon we were stowing everything away for the last time.
Then came the experience of getting off the plane.
My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅-- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!