Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[travel] Beijing to Vancouver, day 11

And so the spiral comes to a close. Up stupid-early, before even the eccentric breakfast buffet. I slipped my excess kwai under my dad's hotel room door, and we were off through the rainy predawn to the airport. Very light traffic, easy drive, early arrival, complex check-in process. Our itinerary is on an American Airlines reservation, via JAL and Horizon AIrlines; this seems complex. Plus neither our guide nor the JAL counter agent had ever heard of PDX, the Portland airport code. All good.

We cleared Chinese customs, immigration and security with trivial ease, and made it to our gate, where our business class tickets entitled us to use the Business Class Lounge. This was very swank, more Chinese than Japanese in style, complete with koi pond, right in the middle of the airport. Full bar at 7 am, beer in the coolers stationed every twenty feet or so, and a very nice little buffet of Western and Japanese food. Not nearly so eccentric as the hotels, either.


I was able to charge the MacBook's battery in the lounge, as the overnight in the hotel room it had been without power. Rather to my surprise, I had Internet there as well — the first time I'd found that in a Chinese airport. Other than the lack of WiFi, the Chinese infrastructure is rather better than ours in the United States.

The flight to Tokyo went more quickly than I expected, probably because I was writing out this-and-that, and finishing up my reading of The Good Humor Man by Andrew Fox. (I finished John Crowley's The Solitudes flying from Nanchang to Beijing.) I am all agog over The Good Humor Man, which is forthcoming from Tachyon Press, but I shall blog about it separately anon.

We had breakfast service. the_child and I chose the Western breakfast, Mother of the Child went Japanese.


They sure treat you well on JAL business class. Much nicer than any first class flying experience I've ever had in the US.

In Narita, our business class boarding passes admitted us to the Sakura Lounge. This involves another open bar, a small restaurant, a massage room, snacks, and lots of the quiet, clinical elegance so beloved of the Japanese. the_child and I lunched on plum savory chicken tempura, pickled lotus roots, pickled turnip leaves and sticky rice. I got caught up on some of my emailing, and spent some time discussing the orphanage visit and the circumstances of her birth with the_child.

Further exploration of the Sakura Lounge revealed automated massage chairs, and those curious Japanese toilets. Heated seats, automated butt washers, the whole megillah. I took advantage of same, which made me warm and tingly in the swimsuit area, but that was probably just the probe squirting warm water all over my nether bits. (As danjite said in chat just afterwards, "You didn't hit the girlie button this time?") Longtime readers of this blog may recall the Great Japanese Toilet Misadventure of Ought Seven. I continue to believe that plumbing shouldn't require remote controls, but perhaps I am a Luddite.

Me in a massage chair, not an automated toilet.

Eventually we wandered down to the gate area. This flight was very heavily populated by elderly Sikhs with Canadian passports, to the point where we wondered if there had been a pilgrimage, or possibly an event with an extremely extended familu. Boarding was chaotic, for Japan, given the several dozen special early boarding passengers, most of them wheelchair or otherwise assisted.

Once aboard, the business class cabin was about half full. This in contrast to the marked emptiness of the flight out. We were served another elegant meal, then the cabin went dark and everyone tried for enough sleep to leap the jet lag barrier. We shall see. I awoke with the aircraft flying into the dawn of the West Coast's Sunday, having left Japan in the evening of Asia's Sunday. Worked on a letter to calendula_witch, brought the draft of this blog entry up to date, then fooled with a story before getting back to Kaaron Warren's SLIGHTS, which is an eerie little book forthcoming from the new Angry Robot imprint of Harper Collins.

On landing in Vancouver, we encountered a substantial degree of idiocy which makes me understand why people in the US hate travel. We're transit passengers here, so legally we never entered Canada, just went straight to US immigration pre-clearance. That was fine. The luggage transfer process was not, and bordered on the insane, with a wait of almost an hour while Alaska/Horizon Airlines dealt with such improbabilities as missing baggage tags and boarding passes. Apparently these things are not normally encountered in Vancouver, or something. The US customs, which was as perfunctory as I've ever seen it — they can often be brutal. Then Canadian airport security, TSA style, which was as Mickey Mouse and inefficient as any airport security operation I've ever seen in the US. Time from deplaning JAL to being in the terminal for the Horizon flight was about 90 minutes, and largely made of hassle.

Now sitting in Vancouver waiting for the last flight home.

Back to the infrastructure thought, my iPhone can take three or four minutes to acquire an AT&T signal when I turn it on as the airplane lands in any US airport (Dallas/Fort Worth is especially shitty in this regard). Every Chinese airport, including pokey little Nanchang, gave me signal on my iPhone as soon as I powered it up. Likewise data. Except in rural areas, I had no problem grabbing a strong data connection (not 3G, unfortunately) whenever I wanted it. This is decidedly not true in the United States. I can barely get voice at calendula_witch's apartment in San Francisco, and data is impossible.

The airport experiences are the same way. Smooth, well-staffed checkin counters (none of that swipe your card at the self-service terminal stuff); security quick and efficient, without the sullen, makeshift oddities of TSA; boarding processes well organized and timely; flight delays announced and even explained, which is unheard of on US airlines.

All of this contrasts sharply with my experiences in China in 1990, 1992 and 1998. Some of this is the effect of newly-built infrastructure with minimal legacy load. Some of this is the effect of a strong central government that doesn't answer to neighborhood lawsuits about cell tower siting and is willing to simply impose service standards rather than wait for market forces to shake out. But when things work, they work well. The flip side is, once you get away from the core of first-world style infrastructure, except for the cellular service, you are very much in an older, sleepier and more complex China.

A different place, with different expectations and standards. Chabadoa culture meets the twenty-first century. When you stand back and look at the distance from the Cultural Revolution to the New China, this country is beyond astonishing. the_child has an amazing legacy.

Originally published at jlake.com.

Tags: calendula, child, china, personal, photos, travel
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