Fog My Life

14 Nov

Backdated: October 28, 2012. On Wednesday, I boarded my flight from Singapore to Beijing.  And immediately I was like, holy shite.  I’d never felt so out of place in my life.  Everyone was Chinese (after all, 74% of Singaporeans are Chinese).  They were pushing and coughing and completely, utterly lacking any concept of personal space.  I scribbled in my journal: “Welp, you’ve really done it now, Luce.  Great job.”  I gulped and crazily scanned the aisles for a white person.  Ahhhhh!  A nervous flyer, I contemplated what the newspapers would read if we were to crash: “304 Chinese dead, 1 American.”  Ahhhh!  Breathe.

And then we took off.  I bought some noodles and a Coke Light, and I contemplated my irrational fear over flying – and oh so many other things.  Before I left the States, when I told people of the Big Trip, I heard a lot of the same.  You are so brave.  I could never do that.  You must be fearless.  And I smiled and felt like a fraud.  I’ve met the fearless, and I’m not even in the same zip code.  The truth is that I am a chicken.  I’m scared of everything.  Every elevator is the one that is waiting to trap me in it, every plane is the one that may carry me to a fiery death, every mild symptom is indicative of some terrible disease that might put me in the ground.  Hell, I went up the Kuala Lumpur Tower and felt fear pool in my stomach as I considered the possibility that it dang well just might fall over while I was in it.

And yet, here I am.  Alone, surrounded by the most foreign looking and sounding of people, going to freaking China.  Hmmph, I guess I’m a courageous chicken, I thought.  And then – fuzzily – I started thinking.  That’s the story of my life.

My childhood was stolen by the divorce of world war between my parents, and I grew up in a cloud of fear.  A fear that you can’t see or describe but that makes the air thick and permeates every pore.  I survived by gritting my teeth and white-knuckling it.  By pitting myself against the world.  And it worked; I’ve become an empowered, capable young woman – and yet this hyper sense of fear lurking-around-every-corner has stuck with me.  It’s the fear of a little girl – hopelessly feeble and inadequate – trapped in a great big storm cloud brewing and spiraling and crackling.

Sometimes it’s just the thought in my head, but other times it’s a panic attack or a bout of anxiety.  And for the past eleven years – since it hit me like a ton of bricks in 10th grade Spanish class – I’ve fought it like a kung fu warrior (sorry, I am in China).  I read books, breathed into paper bags, cursed.  And for long stretches, it felt like I’d conquered him.  But then he’d show up again.  In September in Nepal, he was a literal noose around my neck.  It was like I was 17 again.  My cross to bear, I reckoned; one of the struggles of my life.  But in this moment on this plane, I wondered why I’d never seen it before.

“Mr. Fear,” I began the dialogue in my head as the plane calmly cut north through the sky, “we’ve been through a lot together.  And I would like to apologize for so rudely trying to vanquish you from my life.  You’ve been doing me a great service – a coping mechanism that’s taken me from a pile of angst in a screwed-up family to a big life with a heck of a horizon to look forward to.  You are a mighty scar, a remnant of a deep and gushing wound healed but still raised from the surface.  You are not an enemy to be conquered but an old friend to be embraced as an important reminder of what’s come before and for whom I will certainly on occasion endure some discomfort.  So welcome Mr. Fear, make yourself at home.  Would you like some Coke Light?  Noodles?”

I smiled at myself, and I listened to music, and I fell asleep.

Captain David Lange woke me up at 12:30 a.m. to tell me we were about to land in Beijing.  I groggily tightened my seatbelt and pulled my seat upright and looked out the window.  Hmmph, foggy, I thought.  A number of minutes later, when the flight tracker on the row in front of me read 309 meters of altitude, I reassessed the situation.  Still foggy.  I rubbed my eyes and looked again.  I was sitting on the wing, and I couldn’t see it.  Whatever, I thought, daring Mr. Fear to pipe up.  Down, down, down we go.  My brain still itself foggy from sleep, I imagined Captain David Lange sitting in the cockpit with polarized fog glasses that allowed him to see through the fog like a fisherman sees through water.  My lips curled up.  Hehe.

Vrrrooooooooooooomm whoosh whoosh, our airplane goes vertical up into the sky.  My throat closes.  I start shaking like a leaf.  The Chinese woman beside me leaves down the aisle (bathroom?).  I am scared.  And amazed.  Life.  As if to test my epiphany on fear and anxiety, God orchestrates this.  Captain David LangeObvious informs us that we had a “failed landing attempt” due to extremely foggy conditions.  We will fly around and try again.  I contemplate the difference between a “failed landing attempt” and a “missed approach.”  Did I mention I am shaking?


The Chinese lady beside me (upon her return).

Nerve-wracking minutes later, the Captain says it’s too foggy.  We are diverting to Shanghai.  Shanghai?  I get out the map.  That’s 1,100 kilometers away!  We land there at 3:30 a.m., and we sit on the plane until Chinese immigration decides to let us open the vessel doors at 7:00 a.m.  And then all 310 of us are dumped out into the airport.  The airline is a discounter – Jetstar Asia – with extremely limited operations in China so most people, recognizing we are not getting to Beijing on Jetstar’s watch anytime soon, disperse to find their own way there.  I stick with the remaining refugee group of 20 or so.  Everyone is speaking Chinese.  Ahhhh.

When I hear from behind me: “What da hell is goin’ on?”  I turn.  He talks like me!  “I need a beer after that near-mid-air collision.”  “Mid-air collision; what are you talking about, dude?”  “Well, I don’t know that for a fact.  But I’m an ex-Navy pilot, and that’s what I think just happened.”

Oh, great, a batty Naval aviator.  And I thought I’d left Norfolk.  Bob looks like a version of Robert Redford… a version that has been ridden hard and put away wet.  He is not going to win the Normal Person of the Year Award anytime soon, but I was all too happy to count him as a bud.  He’s a 58-year-old chain smoking oil executive who has been living in Beijing for the last 5 years.  He flew F-4s for 3 ½ years back in the day until the depth perception in his right eye mysteriously peaced out (?), and he’s now married to a much younger Chinese woman he met online.


We spent the next 14 hours together, as we observed an airport-employee-presumably-hired-by-Jetstar hatch unsuccessful plan after plan to get our stubborn group of now-18 to Beijing.  I dubbed us the “Shanghai 18” and called it an adventure and began to wonder when Bob was going to start smoking two cigarettes at once.  We went from the airport to a hotel to a bus to a train station.  Finally, because the train was sold out, we went to the local airport in Shanghai (a different one than the one we’d flown into), where we were split up on different flights.  Some on Air China, some on China Eastern, and then Bob and I on Hainan.  Hainan didn’t even have a ticket counter, and I was crapping myself.  I was like, “Bob, is this a legit airline?”  He’s like, “yeah,” and comes back with 4 beers.  I chugged my 2 faster than a frat boy on spring break.  I pulled out my journal and wrote, “YOU CAN DO THIS.”

When we finally got on the plane, I was relieved that it was big and nice, despite the broken English message on the screen that said “Wish you welcome aboard.”  Bob asked me if I thought there was any pornography on the entertainment system, and I ate “fordain cheese flavoured peanuts” (meh) and drank carrot-peach juice (meh).

We land at midnight, and Bob offers to take me into the city and drop me off at a taxi stand there to save me a few yuan.  So I soon find myself in the front seat of his tiny-ass Chinese car.  Bob is driving, chain-smoking, and yelling at his wife “Coco” about… everything.  Coco’s in the back seat with Bob’s 13 ½ year old basset hound named Gwennie, who has just some kind of surgery by Dr. Chinese Hatchet.  Half her body is shaved, she’s sown together like a baseball with a big skin graft in the middle, and groaning. I scratch her head as she peers at me through big, droopy, tired eyes.  “I feel ya, Gwennie.  I feel ya.  Fog my life, too.”

3 Responses to “Fog My Life”

  1. ecyrbryce November 14, 2012 at 11:02 am #

    Haha, your posts are the best. – Bryce

    • Lucie November 14, 2012 at 11:07 am #

      Awww! Not as good as your wine tastings (I pinky-swear promise to be quiet next time).

      P.S. I had a serious case of reminiscing when I learned (two days later) that the Giants won the World Series again. It was a very sweet memory until I remembered what the watermelon wheat beer did to me the day after.


  1. Jetstar Story Gets Way Better « Lucie on the Lam - November 16, 2012

    […] you read my last post about the foggy Jetstar flight from Singapore to BeijingShanghai, right?  Well I happened to […]

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