I settled into my seat on board China Ailrines flight 1133 and opened the complimentary China Daily to the article "Today is the Most Balanced Day of the Century." It was November 2, 2011, but spelled out numerically, the date reads 20111102. The story advised its predominantly Chinese readership to observe a day of moderation and balance in all things.
I had no idea what this meant for me personally, but I made a note to consult a numerologist as soon as I got back to the States. The only thing I knew for certain was that I was staring down the barrel of a twenty-hour-long flight that would, after all was said and done, deposit me halfway around the world. I was flying to Hong Kong, leaving out of JFK. Perhaps, then, this is what the article meant by “balance.”
Those folks on China Airlines sure knew how to handle their dreary, broken hearted passengers. The ever smiling and bowing stewardesses kept rolling the food carts up and down the aisles until all passangers were bloated. The drinks were free. I ordered countless bottles of red wine. I stuck some in the seat pocket in front of me. I stuck some under my seat cushion. It made the flight go a little smoother. It made the plane a little lighter as we flew over the Pacific ocean. I would need to drink like a fish to make it over that terrible expanse of water.
A Japanese-American businessman sat next to me. He ordered some wine, made a good show of being a sport, but I left him in the dust. I stashed a couple more bottles under my pillow. He looked the other way. The flight was too long for anyone to cast judgement. We were all suffering under our own personal holocaust. And there would be many more dragons to slay, many more bottles to decant.
The businessman talked about the rise and fall of some corporate empire. The players, the dealers, and the rest. The turning of history. The meltdowns. The blowups. The petty swindling bastards and the wannabees. And of course the hustlers and pimps that go along with that circus. Then he put on his headphones and watched Bruce Willis in Live Free Or Die. I contemplated sleep but settled into Hellhounds On My Soul, a paper back from the airport bookstore.
There was a four-hour layover in Narita, Japan. I foraged for coffee in that airport terminal like a mole crawling through a shiny metal wind tunnel. Everything in that place was ultra modern and slick. I eventually perched myself on a red plastic stool with my steamed latte, watching the planes take off and land through a big plate glass window.
Arriving at my gate, I discovered that my connecting flight had been moved to a different gate. It turned out this new gate was clear across the other side of the terminal building. I had to hurry.
Once I cleared the security check point obstacle course and entered the terminal lobby, there still remained a quarter mile stretch to traverse. I broke into a sprint with my luggage in tow, like OJ making a run for the border. A man driving an airport Hover Round glided up by my side, keeping pace.
"Jump in," the driver directed me. I jumped in.
"Gate 22," I told him as I settled into the vehicle. Now we were moving at top speed, about seven miles per hour.
"Step on it," I directed. "My plane leaves in five minutes.”
The driver stuck out his hand. “Five dollars," he tells me.
“Sure, why not?” I say.
I gave him a ten and told him to keep the change.
Then I saw Gate 22 coming up fast. I waved to the attendants at the gate.
"I'm here," I shouted “Hold the plane." They ushered me onto the plane.
I sunk into my seat on board the South China Airlines flight, the final three hour leg of the journey. I could tell right away that the seats on this plane were smaller then those on the overseas flight. But I was optimistic, hoping my row would remain empty for me to stretch out upon for a little shut eye. Unfortunately, it was a sold out flight. The plane filled up with dour Chinese migrant worker types and henchmen from the far east. Even the few ex-pat American businessmen radiated an unhealthy, latex salesperson aura. The realities of living inside a cramped high-speed aluminum tube for 24 hours were beginning to weigh on me. My mood was withering. Then the food cart came by. They were serving fried pork on a plastic tray. The alternative was duck and rice. I chose the duck and rice but one bite made me want to "duck and cover." It was appalling. I opted for the coffee. It was bland and watery.
We disembarked in Hong Kong on a bright and shiny midnight. My mood picked up immediately. The folks from the University were very efficient and a van was awaiting my arrival. The driver was very serious, didn’t say a word. Everyone in HK was all business. Nobody there fucked around. Not the drivers, porters or even the 7-11 employees. They were on the verge of taking over the world. There was no time to fuck around. There was too much competition. There were one and a quarter billion Chinese, and the rest of the world. Everyone was selling something. Everyone was buying something. Everyone needed to eat. The driver dropped me off at my hotel, and sleep seemed like a reasonable proposition, but since it was just noon back on the eastern seaboard of the US, I was in no rush. I headed back out to Lockhart Road to have a look about.
Andrew Arnett is an independent filmmaker, writer, and musician.