After two days of unsuccessful stand-by travel, I pronounced myself an official refugee of Chek Lap Kok airport (HKG). I drove my SMARTCART through the streets aisles labeled A, B, CI found my home in aisle H, frequently arguing with Continental agents, and K, which offered a bay view, as opposed to A, which offered an opaque mountain view.
I felt ripe, and a little hungry as I swerved my cart through a mass of passengers. Ninety-eight percent of them, I guess, were regular, confirmed-seat passengers. The un-brave, I told myself. Not those who fly transpacific on a whim. On an ultra-shoestring budget. But I bet they had washed their hair less than 24 hours ago. Lamenting my decision to leave the last bit of Pantene at the Wang Fat Youth Hostel, I decided to try purchasing shampoo with my maxed-out debit card, which didn’t work. It hadn’t worked three days ago, either, when I ran out of film at dusk atop Victoria’s Peak. Perhaps I was just checking my luck, my guanxi, to see if it had turned. A spritz of sample Allure and a crumble of pumpkin mooncake at the duty-free offered momentary relief from the ripe/hungry combination.
On my way back to H, I passed some of my refugee family The Juarez family of seven, now residing in DFW, two airline employees from EWR, one employee and friend from OAK, and a frail Filipino lady whose son had sent her through HKG to Manila. She escorted me to the ticket counter, where I plead with the supervisor. “Sir, can you please reroute my ticket from HKG to GUM to NRT to EWR?” Refusal. This is policy, he informed me. “I know about POLICY, but what about CUSTOMER SERVICE?” And with that I spun my cart around, careful not to lose my empty Pacific Coffee Company cup. It was my ticket to free internet access. I pushed my way through, towards K, found a port and displayed my cup next to the silver metal disc that read: “Computers for use of Pacific Coffee Company patrons only.” Below was a Chinese interpretation.
Hopelessly I began to search for instant credit card approvals. Beats floated up from the lower level Chinese accents to American classics. I changed the words: “Welcome to the hotel Hong Kong airportyou can check in any time you want, but you can never leave…” Not in August. Not on a non-revenue, space-available ticket, on a flight route that transcends the magnetic north pole creating more intense weight-and-balance issues. Then I overhead conversation walking pastlevel-one typhoon warning. The sky was darkening and the rain picking up. I wondered if the 747s had trouble gaining altitude in this weather. Fear set in. Desperation set in. I signed into HOTMAIL. Password, Guangzhou. Mainland China, which was forfeited this time, but never again. I missed its character toggling between Mao and commmercialism, and much, much more affordable than Hong Kong.
Mom, I shouldn’t have come. Sorry. Trying to get out but flights looking grim. Going to dinner check back soon.
This began a fiber-optic bail-out planning convention. Between mom and boyfriend I set up a chatroom with the screen name BloodyStuckInHongKong.
Mom: What are oyu eating?
BloodyStuckInHongKong: McDonald’s cheap
MmmBaby: What did you sing at karaoke?
Mom: We’re at grandma’slooking for the cheapest fare.
BloodyStuckInHongKong: Mmmbaby- John Denver. Mom Cathay Pacific, here to SFO, 5,000 HK$ ($750 U.S.)
I disobeyed the the coffee company’s instruction: “Please limit use to 15 minutes when others are waiting.” I wanted to get out before Typhoon Sally set in. The airline officials informed me that I had to have dad’s credit card in hand to fly. I explained that it wasn’t here, it was there, in the U.S. “Then have him go to the nearest Cathay Pacific ticket counter and ”
“That’s in California! That’s like from here to Beijing!” They were ruthless, backing off to nothing and I began to cry out of anger. A stranger offered his cell phone to call my dad, who bartered with the agents and agreed to fax his credit card and driver’s license. The chatroom session continued while dad drove to Kinko’s.
Mom: Your dad says their fax is busyhe’s laughing with the Kinko’s boy.
Mom: It went through, honey
I confirmed my reservation. I gave one last look at the Regal Airport Hotel, my covet for the past two nights as I slept in K. I tossed my empty coffee cup in the trash, and I walked past H one last time before passing through the metal detectors. AsI sat in the boarding area, I made a journal entry:
I can laugh now. I was a refugee in the airport for 2 days. But I was home, away from home. Frothy cappuccinos have taken over monkey-picked curled green tea leaves here in Hong Kong. Signage is posted in English, with Chinese subtitles. Trying bands sing The Eagles instead of Canto-Pop. Next time, definitely Guangzhou, which is less globalized. But for now, HKG-SFO-LAS-CMH.