Playing for thrills, and wheelchairs in Chinese airports

Well, I’m in China!

The flight was fine. Mostly, I played nethack, a rare treat of time-wasting. Zond-7 and I talked and made out a lot, which made the whole idea of being on a plane much more bearable. I also re-read Playing for Thrills, a cool and surreal novel by Wang Shuo. It’s set in the 1980s, in the area of Beijing where we’re staying. As I read the book, I took notes on each chapter to get it clear in my mind what was happening. The past and present blend together, imaginary incidents and real, as the narrator Fang Yan unravels what happened 10 years ago with his friends who had just been mustered out of the army from the Vietnam War. Fang Yan kicks around town chasing women, hallucinating, drinking, and playing cards with friends, none of whom seem to have a job or anything to do other than be obnoxious, cool, and vaguely delinquent. There are many political references and occaasionally a footnote will point them out. Truth, lost history, and attempts to reconstruct history are central to the story.

I will post my notes on the book below the cut.

Towards hour 12 on the airplane, somewhere over Taiwan, I started feeling ready for it to be over, and desperate to fall asleep. It was still daylight as we flew into Hong Kong; we could see the mountains behind the city and then to the sides dropping straight into the sea, and the small islands in the bay where in movies they always motorboat out to, for pirates or gangster hideouts.

My wheelchair did arrive in Hong Kong, but at the top of the jetway ramp. So Zond-7 went to get it, causing much consternation. An attendant popped up, in a red vest and with little black gloves on. I said no thank you a few times. By the time we were at the top of the ramp, there was some consternation and kerfluffle, with a manager and some radios and cell phones. I felt bad for Yin Ning, but I was also in no mood. “I have to push you. I will take you.” She kept trying to get behind me, and I’d just swivel around and continue talking with her. I could not get her to look me in the face. “It’s my job.” I am very stubborn. I did not want to be pushed. “I’m happy to follow you if you want to take us to get our boarding passes…” Poor Yin Ning was so mad. We stopped to re-settle my backpack and other bag and cane, and she didn’t notice… and then we got onto the moving walkways which I think she might not have been allowed to go on.

I tried to be polite and smiley but it was no use! The sun and moon leave their orbits, just because one woman in a wheelchair said no…

Security was a breeze. The woman patting me down seemed so embarrassed that she barely even touched me. I think that was the freakazoid factor kicking in, or maybe I smelled awful after 14 hours on an airplane.

There were elevators and accessible bathrooms, free wireless on the concourse, and it was a super comfortable airport. They asked us to get on the plane early. I think Zond-7 was hoping secretly for entertainment value that I would refuse. But I agreed to get on. Again, refusing the push from the dude who swooped to get behind me with out asking or even making eye contact for assent. You can imagine my swift maneuver of avoidance and my fuck-you-no-thank-you smile.

I need to take the goddamned pushing handles off this chair!

Dragonair was a really comfortable plane even in economy class, and the food was good. This last 3 and a half hour stretch of our flight was where I lost it. My back started to hurt like hell and it was like someone was mashing my right foot between giant knives and needles and hammers. My whole butt felt like a giant bruise. At the same time I was starting to pass out in small dozing fits. On the other hand, there was a gorgeous sunset, Zond-7 was by my side. There was a delightful moment as people filed onto the plane, when a 4 year old boy stopped dead in his tracks next to my seat. He stared, astonished and absolutely gratified, clearly saying “BUT LOOK ZOMG A LADY WITH PURPLE HAIR!!!” I beamed at him, commented that yes, my hair was funny! And I wanted to just scoop him up and kiss him. What a cutie! His parents didn’t shush him but smiled proudly at him and me and seemed just fine with my talking with their child.

In Beijing airport my chair did not appear. The flight attendants on Dragonair were like a little flock of concerned sparrows in uniforms and tasteful makeup. Some of them told me to wait on the plane, while others shooed me off the plane to say my chair would be there soon, or that I should go to the baggage area to get it. I explained a lot what I hoped would happen – that my chair would come up the stairs from the airplane to the jetway ramp. Meanwhile I was hobbling about in considerable pain trying to control my panic while Zond-7 nabbed the one chick with the radio and the authoritative manner. I ended up sitting on a windowledge, still panicking a bit and wondering if my chair was on the plane at all! But finally it came.


The air was thick with smog, like Bladerunner or Mordor, even inside the airport. It smelled like when I was little and would be playing in the snow in Detroit, after months of winter and car exhaust and the slush would turn black, and the surface even of fresh snow had a black pitted crust. It’s that smell, times 100, with undertones of factory emissions; you can taste it in the air. Last night it burnt my eyes, but this morning either things are better, or I’m used to it.

Customs and visa and baggage claiming were a total breeze. At the baggage claim we were met by 2 people from the conference, the driver and a woman who spoke English. The wheelchair threw her for a loop, but she dealt with it extremely well. There was a flurry of cell phone calls. She routed us to a walkway and elevator into the parking garage and more or less would throw her body between me and oncoming traffic. I liked her sturdy determination very much. Zond-7 and I were exhausted and giggling a lot. Our handlers warmed to this mood, and didn’t disapprove. Along the way we learned the characters for exit, entrance, “gate”, and maybe “bridge” from signs. There are some really neat glowing streetlights that look like glowsticks along the side of the road.

Downtown makes me think a bit of Chicago or Manhattan. Skyscrapers, big streets, the subway, a rainbow arch we went underneath. We passed Oriental Plaza which I recognize from its web site – a huge glass multi-story mall. Our hotel has bellhops in bright pink uniforms with gold buttons and tall bellhop hats. The guy who helped us was named “Rock” and was very excited to talk with me about rock music (my shirt had a sword and skull tattoo style and said “ROCK” on it; thank you Mervyn’s boys dept.) “Korn? Blink 182? ” I forget the other bands he mentioned. I totally loved him and wished I could burn him a CD right there and he could burn me one too.

Our hotel room power comes on when you put the key card in a slot! I had coffee from the coffee maker. The bed is rock hard but we both slept 8 hours and are all perky, if bewildered. Zond-7 is shaving off a weeks’ beard and prepping for his talk while I chill out with my coffee and blog. I obtained razors for him downstairs (at what I think was vast expense) and fed him ginger cookies, because I’m awesome like that. (Oh, and Zond-7 was awesome like that in SFO, where he went to scout, and turned on the BBC voice to jump us past 2 hours of queues to some special quick line for executives and cripples.) Our hotel room is huge but has only about 2 power outlets. We have converters and a power strip though! We’re on the 11th floor! Beijing awaits! At this conference, I might be somewhat freakish, conspicuous, uncouth, and inconvenient. I will claim to be a Journalist, I guess. I am wearing my suit, to be fancy for the first day while Zond-7 gives his talk which I might add is going to be a gruelling 2.5 hour panel where he is likely the last speaker. I wonder if he has to sit on some kind of stage for that whole time. Let’s hope not. I’ll try to liveblog it.

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One Response to “Playing for thrills, and wheelchairs in Chinese airports”

  1. Karen Rani

    What an adventure Liz! I can’t wait to hear more…and I LOVE the way you describe everything.

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