I blinked. I looked up. The "fasten seatbelt" light was illuminated. The conclusion of the flight from Shanghai to Sydney must be imminent.
I got up to go to the toilet. The bright red "Occupied" sign was engaged.
A China Eastern Airlines flight attendant hurried down the aisle toward me. She stopped.
"Not available," she said.
"So I see."
"Closed. Not in service. Landing soon."
"Oh," I paused. "I'm pretty desperate."
"No toilet paper. Not in service."
She waved to another flight attendant, said something in Chinese. The other woman nodded.
"You go there," she said and pointed across the aisle to another toilet.
I followed her and she reached up and somehow popped the "Occupied" sign to "Vacant" and opened the door.
I'm glad she'd seen me and let me know. I'd have stood there, never realizing there wasn't really a person inside using the facilities. I wonder how many people would've just gone back to their seats.
I wash my hands and dry them with facial tissue. Not much better than trying to dry your hands with toilet paper.
I make my way back to my seat and find the customs card for entering Australia on my tray table.
This leg of my journey, from Shanghai to Sydney, had felt long. Unlike the flight from LA to Shanghai, there were no empty seats. The Chinese woman next to me hadn't made eye contact the entire time, much less said anything to me. I didn't get a chance to tell her about The Silent Project. Instead, she'd given me The Silent Treatment. Or maybe I was invisible.
Other than the occasional flight attendant, no one had spoken to me at all. It was okay. I had entertained myself with the private TV with free access and free headphones and dozens of films and other things to watch. I wiped my eyes periodically during "The Bucket List," a film I'd never managed to see, starring Jack Nicholson & Morgan Freeman, about seizing the day and fulfilling dreams before dying. I browsed online shopping. I listened to Susan Boyle's CD, inspired by her incredible range. I dozed. I have no idea how long. I woke up and watched a quirky little comedic international film. I munched on some snacks. In LA, while checking in for my flight more than 24 hours before, I'd asked how long the flight from LA to Sydney was and had been told 14 hours. I then added, "And how long is the flight from Shanghai to Sydney?"
"I don't really know," the person at the China Eastern Airlines counter confessed. "Five hours?" he guessed. "I think it's about that," he added.
It wasn't five hours. Or six. It was ten and a half. I'd believed him when he'd said five. Funny how we set our expectations and rely on the words of people whom we think would know the answers to our questions. And then we're disappointed. I wasn't really disappointed. I was tired, though, and somewhat disoriented... even though I was surrounded by people from the Orient.
The landing was smooth and I'd been impressed with the service for my first time flying on China Eastern Airlines.
When I'd told my dad that I'd booked my flight to Sydney on China Eastern, he asked, "What's their safety rating?"
"I have no clue. They were certainly the cheapest, though."
Fortunately, both flights were uneventful. From my experience, I'd say their safety rating was excellent. Two out of two flights had taken off and landed. That was all I'd hoped for. Expectations met.
I did have one teeny concern. I refused to let it occupy my thoughts, though. During the layover in Shanghai, I'd tried to get my iPad recharged. A very kind American named Christopher had unplugged his laptop from the adapter plugged into the wall in a little cafe that had posted a very small sign promising "complimentary WiFi." Nope. No luck, he showed me. The iPad wasn't being charged. He then used the cable to plug the iPad directly into his laptop. Still no luck. I really appreciated his efforts. No expectations. Refusing to be disinheartened, I asked if I could use his computer to send Steve a message to let him know I'd safely arrived in Shanghai. (I'm making up Steve didn't know the China Eastern safety ratings, either. At this point, it was one for one and I wanted to let him know.)
"Sure," smiled Christopher. "Happy to help."
He opened a new Google window.
Except I couldn't log onto my email because I'd long since forgotten my password to the account.
"Um. Would you mind letting me send an email from your email account? I can't remember my password to my email account."
Sometimes I'm really glad I'm not a mind reader. And happy that I believe in Eleanor Roosevelt's comment, "What other people think of me is none of my business." So if Christopher thought I was completely inept, well, he was probably right-- and, it was still none of my concern.
He obligingly launched his email and I sat down to write a message to Steve.
Thanks, Christopher! I appreciate your kindness and generosity to a perfect stranger, fellow American, ditzy and sleep-deprived traveler.
On the second leg, from Shanghai to Sydney, I'd noted with relief that there was a USB port next to the personal TV screen. I'd plugged the iPad in there. Hmmm. "Not charging." I still refused to give it any thought, except for a teeny-tiny moment. "Wouldn't it be interesting if my iPad won't work, either?"
Poor Steve. The night before I left, having waited until the very last minte, I'd asked him to put an app called Viber on my cell phone. Viber would allow me to send and receive text messages with other Viber registrants at no charge. Steve had already installed it on his iPhone. Simple.
But not so easy with mine. The app needed a more advanced version of software, Steve explained, and it would take a few minutes. He backed up my phone to my iMac, then downloaded the new software. As the new software loaded up, his intention was to restore the old data. But he'd expected a completely different result that what he'd received.
I'd promised him last week that I'd finally delete some of the old videos and photos taking up a lot of memory on my phone. We'd backed up the phone to the desktop, and I had committed to deleting pics during my flight to Houston. But I'd failed to follow through and now with more than 5,000 photos and the extra memory required by the upgraded software, there wasn't enough space to restore my contacts and other data. He worked on resolving the issue for hours. No luck. He felt awful sending me off without a phone.
"It's fine," I'd reassured him, "I won't be talking on the phone, anyway, in ten days," knowing The Silent Project would begin soon. I even thought it was ironic that my phone upon which I'd become completely dependent was now out of commission. He shared that he'd been afraid of how I'd react. I know my actual reaction didn't fulfill his expectations. He'd probably imagined having to scrape me up off the floor after a meltdown. Unmet expectations can be a good thing.
But now my iPad wouldn't charge.
"Isn't it ironic, don't you think?"
More of the Alanis Morissette lyrics to "Ironic" ran through my head.
"Mr. Play-It-Safe was afraid to fly. He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids goodbye. He waited his whole damn life to take that flight, and as the plane crashed down, he thought, 'Well, isn't this nice?'"
Hmmm. No, let's not go there. Ever mindful that we manifest what we think about, i decided The iPad charging would just have to wait. Surely Sydney has an Apple store. I put away the charging cord and stowed the iPad in its carrying case.
We were directed to go through Customs. A friendly Australian woman at the counter said, "Hello." I replied to her greeting. "Hello." Darn, I'd wanted to do this as a trial run for being silent in an airport, especially since I may have several international travel opportunities this year. Oh, well.
I'd filled out my customs card honestly, checking "yes" to "Are you carrying any fresh fruits or vegetables?" What else would a raw vegan be carrying? There were two packages of USDA-certified organic, peeled baby carrots in my checked luggage. They'd originally been in my carry-on, but the person who'd told me the flight from Shanghai to Sydney was just five hours had found my carry-on bag to be just over the weight limit, and I'd moved the carrots to the other bag before he put it on the conveyor belt.
I was really looking forward to those sweet, delicious, juicy carrots. Once if gone through customs, I'd get a few out and start munching.
"Whatcha got in there?" the Australian guy at the Agriculture counter drawled.
"Carrots," I said. "Organic peeled baby carrots."
There was no dirt or any insects on these. One of the packages had never even been opened.
I'd also checked "yes" that I was carrying seeds. There were some sprouted, hulled sunflower seeds from Go Raw, and I also had an unopened package of chia seeds. (Chia is a fantastic superfood, great source of protein with Omega 3s, too. I put 2-4 tablespoons of soaked chia seeds in my green smoothie every morning.)
I put those on the counter, too, along with the zip-loc bag of Go Raw nutrition bars.
The chia seeds and bars were fine, but dang if they didn't confiscate my carrots.
I offered to eat them right on the spot. Could he please check with his supervisor? Please??
"We'd be overrun with requests to eat. This is not a cafe," both the man and later his supervisor intoned without expression.
I could go around the corner and eat them and then come back.
Nope. Walk away without the carrots. With longing in my eyes, I did as they demanded.
Their expectation was that I'd follow their direction. I did, albeit reluctantly. I was disappointed. I could taste those crisp, crunchy, juicy carrots.
On to more important things. Like finding where the Apple store was located so I could get over there before going to my host, Natalie's place.
Near the airport exit (or entrance, depending on your perspective) I saw a vendor booth for Vodaphone.
Several staffers looked up as I approached.
"May I help you?" one asked.
So far, no one had even muttered, "G'day, mate." I was still pretty sure I'd arrived in Sydney.
"Yes," I smiled. "Can you tell me the address of the Apple store?" He started to look up the address as I elaborated.
"My iPad wouldn't charge on the plane and it's seriously low on juice."
"Do you mind if I give it a try? Usually those connections on the plane don't have enough juice to charge more than a cell phone."
"Sure. Let me grab the charging cable."
And sure enough, the little battery icon lit up and the iPad was being recharged.
I asked if I could leave it there to recharge awhile, and was told, "Sure. There's a food court and some shops upstairs if you want to go there for awhile and come back later."
Thanks, Mohammed, for going way beyond my expectations and providing such kind service. I appreciate it.
I went upstairs and meandered. I changed some currency from US dollars into AUS$. I browsed the duty-free shop to see if I could purchase a digital camera there since I'd planned ln using my phone to take photos, but that was no longer an option since my phone was Stateside. The least expensive camera was $99 plus another $36 for an SD memory card. I said I'd think about it and would come back. I browsed the food court, wondering whether I'd find anything raw vegan-friendly. And then I spied a juice bar. Making fresh-squeezed fruit and vegetable juice, right there in the Sydney airport. Wowza. Not organic, but still... I ordered a large spinach-carrot-celery-cucumber juice and pulled out my glass straw that I carry everywhere with me. I prefer to be as sustainable as possible and don't want to litter Australia or anywhere else for that matter with plastic straws.
I thought about the camera while I chewed my juice. No, I thought. I'd rather find an electronics store in the city and get a less-expensive alternative.
I don't think the woman in the duty-free shop had any expectation of my actually coming back to the store if i wasn't going to make a purchase. But I'd said I would come back, and so I did. She respected and accepted my decision and suggested some places in the city where I might be able to purchase a camera. Her name was Elizabeth, and I thanked her and told her about The Silent Project. She and another colleague listened and seemed truly interested. As I left the store, I smiled at another staff person, a tall blond man who smiled back. Time to head back to get the iPad and figure out how to get to Natalie's.
It had charged to 60% and I was really grateful.
I requested another favor. "Can you dial this number so I can tell my host that I haven't yet left the airport and may be awhile?"
I explained to Natalie that I had arrived safely, but was getting some assistance and not to worry about me, I'd be there soon.
I bought an adapter from the shop so I could plug in my iPad charging cable into the Australian outlets. Thanks again, Mohammed.
I'd also gotten another tip from another woman in a different shop who'd shared that she brings a power strip for all her family's electronic charging needs sp she only needs one adapter. Never thought of that.
Before heading out of the airport, I stopped by the airport information booth and a sweet older gentleman suggested I get the airport shuttle rather than taking the train into Sydney.
"The buses don't run here," he explained, "and for just $2 or $3 more than the cost of the train, you can go straight to your destination on the shuttle."
I followed his advice, went to the airport concierge desk and the woman there confirmed what the man had shared.
I waited another half an hour, and a staffer helped me wheel my baggage to curbside.
They loaded up my bags and the driver asked if I minded going last. I said that would be fine-- and ended up getting within just a few yards of my destination. Things work out in the end, right?
I rang the bell, and Natalie expressed a sigh of relief. "You're here! I was worried about you."
And with that, she invited me in, and I'd found a new friend. Just as I'd expected.