Monday, November 3, 2008

Transpacific Marathon Flight

Laurie, Teresa & Lynne in Colorado the week before Lynne and Teresa leave for Taiwan (August, 1982).

Lynne and I were so excited. The Office of International Students at Georgetown had gotten us into the Fall term of Chinese classes at the Mandarin Training Center in Taipei. National Taiwan Normal University had agreed to give Lynne a one-year ESL teaching contract. We had our passports and our visas. Our friends from church had arranged for us to live with a Chinese family in church-sponsored student housing. We were able to afford plane tickets from DC to Taiwan with week-long stops in Denver and Seattle, so we could visit our families before leaving the country. And we had the logistics down for getting the gamma globulin shots that were strongly recommended for travelers to Third World countries.

Lynne got her gamma globulin shot on our last day in Denver. She said it wasn’t too bad. I waited until we were in Seattle because it would be free for me there. I don’t know if the nurse in Seattle was less skilled at giving shots than the nurse in Denver or what, but that gamma globulin shot was the most painful shot I have ever received. I got it 48 hours before we were scheduled to fly, and my rear was still sore when we boarded the plane. Maybe that was a warning that the adventure upon which we were embarking was not going to be what we were expecting, but I was 21 and na├»ve. I just wanted to fly.

We flew on Northwest Airlines from Sea-Tac to Taipei via Seoul. The plane took a polar route and for some reason, we had to stop in Alaska. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep on the plane, but I didn’t care. Even with the extra landing our flight wasn’t supposed to be that long. Then when we got to Seoul, our plane was late and violated some military taboo. All passengers had to deplane with their carry-on luggage while the South Korean army searched the plane. Then we had to go through a strict security check before being allowed to re-board. We spent an hour in a stark waiting room furnished with hard plastic chairs. They were designed to prevent lounging, and they rubbed against my sore rump. We finally made it into Taipei more than two hours late. By this time we were walking zombies (and my rear was still sore). We sleepily got our luggage, went through customs, and exited to the waiting area to find our hosts. As we walked out of the air conditioned customs area, we were enveloped in a steam bath of hot, muggy air. We could see the drops of moisture suspended in mid-air. To our surprise more than 10 people were waiting to pick us up even though it was already midnight. They began to cheer wildly when they saw us, and several of them started waving signs with our names on them.

We were dead on our feet, our minds were rapidly melting in the heat and humidity, yet we were hugged exuberantly by strange women, while the men wrested our luggage from us. The women dragged us outside where it was even hotter and muggier than inside, and they separated us so that each one got the front passenger seat in one of two old, beat-up white vans. They were chattering away, but we didn’t understand anything that was said. This did not phase them; they split the luggage between the two vans, divided themselves among the back seats, and we went careening off down the highway from the airport to Taipei. Fortunately, it was so late at night that there was very little traffic.

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