Hour 1.0 to hour 8.5
One last time, I slept on Amy’s brown leather couch, the soft tropical breezes drifting through the screen door. I rarely have insomnia when I’m in Thailand. Or maybe I do, but the night is so beautiful through the wide windows that I don’t even notice.
I dreamed that I was babysitting a young boy, and I glibly mentioned the myth of Santa Claus. He was horrified. His mother came rushing in. “No no! She’s just kidding!”
But the boy refused to be comforted. “How could you lie to me?”
I felt terrible.
So I guess in a sense I had a Christmas dream.
Hour 8.5 to hour 13
We’d already given our gift to each other, but we decided to try for a traditional Smucker Christmas in every other respect.
Amy took on the role of Dad, and made turtle pancakes for breakfast.
We ate the pancakes with honey and mangoes.
Then Amy got her Bible, and we sat around and recited the Christmas story. Normally it’s Jenny who has the Bible and keeps us on track–so I guess Amy took on all sorts of different roles that morning.
It was a very lazy morning. We were already packed from the day before. In an effort to not have to unpack, I’d hand-washed a few of my things and set them out to dry overnight.
Unfortunately, it happened to rain during the night, and the morning was damp and cloudy instead of the usual hot and bright. I brought in my wet things, lay them over a chair, and aimed the fan at them.
They still didn’t dry very fast.
“Maybe you can dry them in the toaster oven,” said Amy.
So I dried my clothes in the toaster oven.
Hour 13 to hour 15.5
As soon as the lady at the airport check-in desk saw us, her face fell into a look of sympathetic recognition. “Ok?” she asked, making a circle with her thumb and forefinger.
“I think so,” I said, handing her our passports.
She scanned them, and then looked visibly relieved. “Ok!” she said, smiling.
We set our suitcases on the scales. The zipper on our big suitcase had busted on the way over, so we’d replaced it with a somewhat flimsy zippered plastic bag. “Can you tape this up at all?” I asked. Amy hadn’t had any tape.
“No, I’m sorry, I don’t have any tape.”
I said a prayer over the flimsy bag, and we watched it roll down the belt and out of sight beyond the dangling rubber flaps.
Hour 15.5 to hour 19
This flight played a cute Chinese movie called “Love Simply,” and it had large easily-readable English subtitles.
It was about a single mom who still had posters of a musician named Fan Zi that she was really into in the ’90s. Her daughter didn’t know who her real dad was, so when she had to give a report at school about her dad, she said that Fan Zi was her dad.
The kids didn’t believe her, so she said that she would get her dad to sing a song for the school.
So then of course the mom tried to track down Fan Zi and get him to sing for the school, and then they kind-of fell in love, but then the mom got engaged to this other guy who was a good friend but also pretty weird but also quite rich, and drama drama.
I missed the end of the movie because I had to use the bathroom.
Hour 19 to hour 23
Do we follow the signs for international transfers, or for baggage claim? We were told in Chiang Mai to pick up our bags in Shanghai and re-check them. But we were transferring to another international flight.
We tried international transfers first. “No no, go that way!” The lady told us when she saw that we didn’t have a boarding pass. So we went that way.
“This isn’t Shanghai, is it?” said the guy behind us.
“Yeah it is. I mean, it’s Pudong airport, but it’s in Shanghai. I guess there must be multiple airports here.”
“Oh, okay, because I heard her say…that word…and I was like, ‘that’s not Shanghai.'”
The guy–I never caught his name so I’ll call him Chris–was from Toronto, the type of guy who likes to travel the world and jump off as many tall things as possible.
“What were you doing in Thailand?” we asked him.
“Dude, I was in Southern Thailand, that city’s basically like Las Vegas, full of debauchery, and then one night I was drunk and someone was talking about doing yoga and I thought that was a good idea so I went with my gut and decided to be a yoga teacher. I spent the next thirty days basically living like a monk. It was radical, man!”
We had a bit of an issue getting through immigration. Some higher-up had to come check our papers. But eventually we got through, picked up our bags–still intact!–re-checked them, got boarding passes, and went back through immigration to our gate.
We still had 50 Chinese Yuan, equal to $7.74, that we’d saved from our Chinese adventure because we thought we’d be spending 12 hours in Chinese airports on layovers. Ben rested with our stuff while I went looking for something to buy.
You know how stores in international airport terminals are. Lots of designer handbags, fancy chocolates, and stereotypically Chinese-looking designs printed on teapots, silk scarves, and fans. There wasn’t much I could buy with seven bucks.
Until, there it was. A tiny convenience store crammed in among the fancy designer perfume stores, stocked with authentic-looking Chinese junk food.
I grabbed a bottle of peach tea, a bag of odd cookie-type things, and a triangular seaweed and rice treat that I’d seen in a Korean drama once. And then I turned around and saw, of all things, Kinder Surprise eggs! I was beyond excited. My aunt used to bring us these from overseas, as they are banned in the US.
We still had money left over, so Ben ran off to buy another peach tea and a box of Kit Kat-like bars. I opened my kinder surprise egg. It wasn’t quite like the kinder surprise eggs of my youth.
Instead of a chocolate egg with a toy inside, there was a plastic egg with a toy in one half and chocolate in the other. Oh well, It was still yummy.
My toy was a little bunny with a ring that could fit around its neck or on your finger.
As we got ready to board our flight, Chris came along. “Hey, do you want some Chinese rice cakes with icing?” I asked him. (That’s what the bag of cookie-type things turned out to be.)
“No thank you,” he said. “Do you want some chocolates?”
He held out a box of fancy chocolates from one of the fancy shops. Each was shaped like a different animal. I chose one shaped like a monkey. Ben chose one shaped like a duck.
“No problem, man.”
We chatted with him as we boarded the plane. He showed us pictures of the cliffs he’d bungee jumped off of. We talked about Chinese grandmothers shoving people out of their way.
“I wish I’d brought some socks, man,” he said. “It’s cold. I brought shoes, but no socks.”
“I have some socks!” said Ben, yanking a pair out of his backpack. “They’re kind of old, but they’re clean.”
“Seriously? That’s awesome, man!”
“Hey!” I said. “We all got Christmas presents today. You got socks, and Ben and I got chocolates.”
Although we realized later that Ben had given away a pair of Steven’s socks.
Hour 23 to hour 33
As you can imagine, I was very tired at this point. I wanted to go to sleep but I knew we were going to eat soon, so I finished watching The Great Gatsby, which I’d started on the way to Thailand.
An okay movie, but it didn’t seem nearly as nuanced and subtle as the book.
Then I finished watching Love Simply.
Spoiler alert: They ended up together. (Although the hilarious thing was that when he did his grand proposal with all her friends dancing along in support, one of those friends was the ex-fiance.)
We ate, and I tried to sleep. A kid behind me was yelling and yelling and would. not. shut. up.
I got up again and watched Paper Towns. Ben went to sleep. I prayed and prayed that he would sleep well, so that he could drive us home, since I knew I’d be unable to.
Tried to sleep again. Now the kid was screaming and crying, a relentless wail that would not end.
I watched It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, which seemed an appropriate thing to watch on a sleepless night after traveling to foreign places.
All in all I only got about one or two hours of sleep, off and on. But God answered my prayers and Ben got a solid 6 hours.
Hour 34 to hour 39
We stood at the carousel and watched for our bags. First came the sturdy bag, right as rain. Then, around the corner came the flimsy bag, burst open, it’s contents spilled across the belt.
Frantically I searched for the most precious thing that had been in the bag; my diary. There it was! I grabbed it, and then tripped over other people and other bags as we ran alongside the carousel, retrieving my flip-flops and my electric kettle and Ben’s copy of Searching for God Knows What.
Everything was there. It must have valiantly held together the entire trip, only to burst at the last minute when it was tossed onto the carousel.
Our Last Hard Thing was crossing the boarder from Canada to the US. We waited inside while the officers searched our car from bonnet to boot.
Mom once had a very bad experience making this crossing, because she forgot to declare her apples from Thailand. They showed her capsules of activated charcoal they’d unearthed, and said accusingly, “is this heroin?”
I thought of every possible thing they could bust me for. Was the barley tea I brought too seed-like? I had a couple unlabeled mineral supplement pills, would they think that was drugs?
But they told us we were fine, and could go.
“Merry Christmas!” I shouted as I exited the door.
I felt sorry for them, having to work on Christmas Day.
I dozed off and on the rest of the way home.
“Hey Ben!” I said, “It’s the last minute of Christmas!”
He didn’t say anything. He was busy looking for a gas station.
We finally got home at 2:30 a.m. The moon reflected on the fog and lit up the night.
I went into the kitchen to get some food. When I saw the leftovers, I laughed. Smuckers celebrate Christmas the same all over the world, I guess.
I grew up with surprise eggs from my Grandma and relatives in Germany. Back then they were somewhat complicated toys that we had to put together. Why would they be banned in the states? Although, with the toys they use nowadays, I suppose it doesn’t matter so much. Ferrero Rocher takes their place quite nicely. 😉