I didn't know what to do. The man next to me, occupying the window seat, was sound asleep, and Naomi, my new friend from Bangledesh-by-way-of-Dallas, could have also been sleeping, though her eyes were trained on "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Everyone else on the plane, tucked under their filly looking flannels and blindfolds, their necks awkwardly couched in those traveling pillows, seemed as blasé about this scenario, or simply, happily, unaware. I fell into a state of quiet panic, which can be an easy thing to do when you are sitting in a small space, between two people, at 31000 feet, with an outside temperature of -70 degrees, and headed straight for the top of the world. I started chewing on my blanket.
Of course, I realize that this "top" of the world business is a bit silly given the particular shape of the world, but all the same, that's where we were going. I craned my neck to catch a glimpse out the window of any hangers-on, obstinate towns, stars, any last signs of life before we slipped into that white blotch at the top of the screen. The only thing I could see was the slowly flashing warning light on the wing. It was a breathtaking reminder of solitude, as when you discover another person in an otherwise lonely room, only to have your heart broken a second later upon realizing it's just your reflection in the large living room mirror.
Some hours later, after all that darkness had left, I almost saw my reflection in the window. I had to peek out the porthole in the plane's door to get a look at this: the wild mountains and plateaus of northern
Ulan Ude wasn't so easy to spot. After flying directly over
18 hours after NJ Transit, the Hong Kong Airport Express ferried me to the city at speeds faster than I've ever known. The shipping containers of the port, the harbor, the cars and shiny buildings and billboards for Disneyland flash by and then you're in the center of town, which looks like Vegas just made a hotel deal with
Getting in there, in between the buildings, down the streets, across the elevated footpaths, is no help. The buildings, whether black glass or prickly concrete or covered in bamboo scaffolding shoot upwards as the narrow roads angle off in every direction, chock-a-block with warrens and alleys. Even the super fast automated subway inspires a sense of vertigo: it there is nothing separating one subway car from the next, so we have an impossibly long subway car, extending as far as the worn out eyes can see. Only adding to the confusion is the embarrassment of neon signs hovering above every street like so many tailors hawking their shops, the warm, breeze-less air that makes you wonder if you're really outside to begin with, and then the buses that pass you before you know they're coming. The familiarity at certain points (the cars, McBody Shop and Eleven, Starbucks and Gabana) only makes the rest of the city, physically and psychically, that much more inscrutable. You stand back and wonder, what are we looking at? At an intersection of three streets, each pitched at different degrees, and four tall buildings some of them with light patterns running up and down, you feel like you're walking through one large Escher painting. This is certainly not
And today we launched off on our new ship, aka Time Asia, a clean, well-lighted affair of mostly empty cubicles, perched high above
Missing you in the anti-Siberia,
You can see some visuals here:
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