Escape from LA

Trip Start Sep 17, 2011
Trip End Jul 19, 2013

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Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Hello passengers, we now experience electrical malfunction.  We are sorry, and we will take off shortly.  Thank you." - AirChina pilot, after the cabin lights flicked off

I was due at the airport in less than an hour.  I rush-packed the rest of my luggage and bolted out the door with my friend, having just finished one last farewell hangout with some others. 

A few days prior I made contact with a big-chain buxiban in the small township of Jhunan (竹南) at the edge of the Northern Taiwanese suburbs.  Unlike the other schools I applied to, this one was willing to hire me on the spot.  Due to the language barrier though, e-mails can be spotty and I was still vague on certain details.  Would someone be at the airport to pick me up?  Where was I going to sleep?  Was this even a good idea, or was I about to get scammed hard?  I accepted the job offer as it met all my needs and I didn't think I was in a position to be picky about employment.  Also, though the big chain schools have a bad reputation in general, this particular chain had a good one.  Still, it was a wild card.  I was nervous as hell with less information than I would've liked.

On the way to the airport though I was more worried about making my flight on time.  I had plenty of time and there was no reason to worry about this, but it felt better to worry about the flight than my fate once I arrived so, why not.

We got to LAX.  I've never been good at airport goodbyes and this one was up to my usual rushed, clumsily flinging my rucksack around standards.  I waddled over to the ticket counter and was relieved to find no issue in getting the boarding pass, even though there really would never have been an issue.  It's just, "passport please?" is always a subtly nerve-wracking question no matter the circumstance. 

The chariot.

The gate was way more packed and chaotic than I was expecting for a red-eye flight.  My AirChina flight shared gates with a TACA flight to San Salvador, and hoards of I'm assuming Salvadoran families were waiting alongside Mainland Chinese for their boarding call.  There were no seats so I sat down on my luggage, same as a good portion of everyone else. 

A group of elderly Asian men gathered around a a suitcase to play cards.  A Hispanic family hugged goodbye.  A photographer native to neither country fiddled with his camera.  I whipped out my flipcam and tried to record the first entry of a videoblog that never got past the first two minutes of my mouth breathing into the camera, and I just sat back and took in the scene.  It'd been four years since the last time I left the country and I'd forgotten what interesting places these terminals were.  It was also the first time I was at one in the position of being an immigrant (of sorts), not a mere tourist.  I felt like I'd entered some weird international purgatory in which I wasn't in and didn't belong to any country.  It was a juncture.

The airplane smelled like bug spray.  Random ads in Chinese I couldn't read were printed on the headrests.  The seats had no TVs, only a pair of screens up on the middle ceiling promised entertainment, probably also not in English.  Some late middle aged or recently retired white American men were also on the flight.  They chatted with a young Chinese man who was on his way back home from his first US trip.  Where did he go, they asked?  Las Vegas.  Ah, so famous!  What did he buy?

He pulled out a box of duty-free cigarettes.  They were for his father.

"Ah, tell your father: 'Cigarettes are not good for you.'  Yes, they're really unhealthy" the white guys told the Chinese guy, as if (though they meant no ill) talking to a kid.  He nodded and agreed shyly.

I had a window seat, so a man in the aisle seat had to stand up to let me in.  He was also Chinese, and also very quiet in demeanor.  "So sorry!" 

He asked me where I was from, where I was off to, if I'd ever been to China.  I asked him the same, and so a short, sweet conversation that would've never happened 50 years ago started.  On my two previous backpacking trips, these were always the highlights of the experience, and it'd been almost four years since the last time I had one.  Warm feelings came over me-it felt great to be on the road again.

That is, until the plane took off.  That's the real moment of no turning back.  When the engines kicked, I got a new lump in my throat the same as when something really crazy happens on a TV series cliffhanger.  I never traveled across the country for college so this was my first time truly uprooting from everything I knew. 

I thought about everything I was leaving behind: my college friends of 6+ years who might as well be family, my actual family, my more recent friends from City Year, my now-former students and all the storm & fury we shared trying to 'em get through middle school in one piece.  I thought of all the experiences, good and bad, I'd had in the two years as and since college ended and all they meant. 

That chapter was over.  But where did that chapter even start?

The LA lights shrunk away and we were over the Pacific.

"Wow, it's like really, really over."

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