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Flying to Hong Kong

Started: 2012-12-27 06:07:29

Submitted: 2012-12-27 07:25:16

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator drags his three-year-old halfway around the world and lives to tell the tale

My alarm woke me up at 02:30 MST on the morning of Thursday, 20 December 2012. I engaged in a bit of last-minute packing to rearrange my suitcase so I could squeeze under the 50-pound luggage limit; we ended up with two checked bags, one large and one small, which actually seemed respectable for three people spending two weeks abroad. (I always feel a little guilty when I can't fit everything I want to take, for any length of trip, in my carry-on suitcase, but usually don't let it bother me.)

Kiesa got Calvin up and we whisked him into the car in the well-before-dawn chill. The previous morning's light dusting of snow had melted away but the night was clear and cold. I double-checked to make sure we hadn't left anything on the floors of the main level, which were to be replaced with hard wood in our absence, and we departed for the airport.

Our trip to the airport was boring and fairly efficient. I exploited my silver status to bypass the lengthy check-in and security queues, which always makes me feel a bit pretentious. Once we boarded our flight to Los Angeles one of the flight attendants complained that the Go-Go-Babyz Go-Go-Kids (wheels-on-a-stick that convert our car seat into a stroller, which is especially convenient for wheeling both it and Calvin around the airport) couldn't go in the overhead bin. (It was our only overhead-bin bag; everything else fit under our seats. Kiesa packed several bags with various entertainment for Calvin that were all selected to fit under the seats for ease of access.) I pointed out that we'd flown, several times, on various airlines with the carseat wheels and had always put them in the over-head bin and no one had complained. The flight attendant told me it was an FAA rule; I was dubious about the FAA citation but didn't press the point because of the other FAA rule that requires me to "comply with all crew member instructions [regardless of how dubious]". There was no way we could fit the wheels under our seat, regardless of whether we had any hand luggage we wanted to remain accessible, so the flight attendant took the wheels to the first class cabin's coat closet.

The sun caught up with us as we flew to Los Angeles; by the time we descending into LAX I could look past Calvin (in the window seat) to see the Inland Empire in most of its glory. When we landed Calvin was enthralled by the planes and was especially happy when we ate breakfast at a restaurant with a window overlooking the tarmac between terminals 6 and 7. As we walked to our gate I pointed out the Theme Building (which looked as if it were about ready to walk away, but Calvin didn't seem to think so) and the air traffic control tower (which seems to me to be vaguely similar in visual style to Taipei 101).

United 737 and 777 at LAX
United 737 and 777 at LAX

We had a couple of hours to wait until our next flight, to Tokyo-Narita; when booking our tickets I had the option of a one-hour layover (and a later departure) or a three-hour layover, and chose the three-hour layover to increase our chances of actually making our connection. We turned out to not need the extra time.

I waited in front of the gate, still tired from having gotten up much too early, while Kiesa ran Calvin around in an attempt to burn off excess energy. The gate area filled up with passengers waiting for our flight to Narita and the adjacent flight to Shanghai; most were Asian in appearance but I couldn't easily guess how many of them were American.

At length we boarded the 777-200 and found our seats to settle in for the twelve-hour flight across the Pacific Ocean. I picked seats in Economy Plus that happened to be located right over the wing, so for most of the flight all I could see when I craned my neck to look out past Calvin was the bright white aluminum surface of the wing. (Most of the time we were flying over ocean, and there wasn't much to see anyway, but according to the in-flight map we did fly over San Francisco before leaving California, and we crossed a bit of Alaska.) We put Calvin in his carseat for the flight, on the theory that he'd sleep better in the carseat than in any other FAA-approved restraint, but the seat put him so high that he couldn't use the tray table, and Kiesa was paranoid he'd kick the back of the person in front of us. He stayed occupied playing on the iPad for the first half of the flight, until Kiesa decided to take it away to try to get him to sleep. He wasn't happy with that idea, and began to worry that he'd stay awake for the entire flight, but he stopped complaining quickly and fell asleep within a couple of minutes.

Kiesa and Calvin peruse the 777 safety card
Kiesa and Calvin peruse the 777 safety card

I envied his ability to sleep sitting up in the plane. I was exhausted from getting up too early, even though it was the middle of the afternoon. I set my watch to Tokyo time and knew I wasn't going to get a perfect sleep cycle, so I tried to split the difference between my old and new time zones and managed to get a couple of hours of fitful sleep somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.

777 wing in flight off the coast of California
777 wing in flight off the coast of California

I woke up with enough time to watch The Bourne Legacy on the in-flight entertainment system, which was perfectly amusing for an airplane movie. (I paid special attention to the final chase set in the Philippines: I haven't actually been there, but I've been to India, and much of what I saw on the screen reminded me of what I saw in India, especially the move where the characters climb up rebar sticking out the side of the building.)

We began our descent into Narita and I caught glimpses of Japan out the window before landing. We followed the sun across the International Date Line, where it was Friday afternoon. (I tried not to notice that it was midnight back in Mountain Time.) I was glad to be on the ground after twelve hours but we weren't there yet; we still had another five hours to reach Hong Kong. Since we were transiting through the country, we didn't have to go through immigration and customs to formally enter Japan, but the first thing we did after disembarking was head through a Japanese-style security checkpoint before they'd let us catch our connecting flight. (Some of the details of the security regime were not immediately obvious; it looked like all the Americans were taking their shoes off while the Japanese were leaving theirs on.) Kiesa put her nearly-full water bottles through the x-ray machine without thinking about them but the security guard pointed at Calvin and said, "Oh, for the baby?" Kiesa agreed that, yes, at least one of the water bottles was for Calvin, and the security guard took the caps off the bottles to do a waving-the-fumes sniff test and declared them good to go.

Calvin watches planes at Narita International Airport
Calvin watches planes at Narita International Airport

We had an hour in Narita, which was just long enough to stretch our legs before boarding a cramped 737 for our final leg to Hong Kong. (I did not pay extra for Economy Plus seating on this flight; by the time I got around to it all of the adjacent seats with extra leg room were taken.) By this time we'd been in transit for nearly twenty-four hours and I was very much done with flying. Calvin slept easily, but I wasn't quite so lucky. At one point half-way through the flight I looked out Calvin's window on the left side of the plane and saw lights, which I presumed must be Taiwan. The winter solstice, and the end of the Mayan calendar, came and went without incident on board United flight 79. I can only presume the Mayans figured out how to get a new calendar so the world wouldn't end.

After an interminable flight, we landed at the shiny new Hong Kong International Airport on Chek Lap Kok. Our 737 taxied around jumbo jets and parked at a small outlying terminal where we had to catch a people-mover shuttle bus to the real terminal for immigration and customs. It didn't take the immigration officer much time to stamp our passports with "Visitor - permitted to remain for ninety days from date of entry as shown below" and we were inside the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China.

After a quick stop by the local ATM, we found our hotel's kiosk inside the airy arrivals hall and waited for a bus to take us to the hotel. We ended up on a bus that left the airport at 23:00 (Hong Kong time; it was Friday morning back in Colorado, more than twenty-four hours after we'd left). I recognized various landmarks as we drove along the highway on the north side of Lantau Island, past the container docks and Stonecutters Island, and under Victoria Harbour to Hong Kong Island itself. Calvin sat on my lap and was enthralled by the view and kept pointing out trucks as we passed them. Our bus stopped at six hotels in Hong Kong before finally reaching the Harbour Plaza North Point after midnight. We checked in, found our room on the 26th floor, and I dropped into bed totally exhausted at 00:30 Saturday morning, thirty hours after leaving home.

For a parallel account of our journey to Hong Kong, see Traveling to Hong Kong.
yet another half-implemented feature... 2000.04.13; i'm going to bed
- Jaeger Comment in x13's Boxes.pm