Photo Credit: Annie Mole
Traveling teaches me lots of lessons and whether they are bestowed upon me gently with an inspirational insight or harshly with painful reminders, they are all worthy of my attention. So, on an 18-hour flight from New York to China, I was taught an important one- if you get absolutely smashed before a flight, chances are, you may end up puking in your purse.
If I ever had doubt about my decision to move to China to teach English, it was during the drive to the airport. I had recently parted ways with my boyfriend, cats and siblings and the impending goodbye to my parents was creeping up as we reached JFK. All of my most frightened moments didn’t even compare to what I felt about leaving America and flying to Asia for the first time, completely alone. My parents walked me up to security and as my mom started to cry, I burst out in tears, constantly looking back and waving at them as I progressed in line. Once I reached the other side, face red with tears, I waved a final goodbye and headed off to my gate, wondering if I was making the worst decision of my life.
Although I was still in New York, announcements were in Chinese and all of the passengers around me were speaking words that I couldn’t understand. When it came time to board, I followed the crowd as I couldn’t understand what was going on and got on the plane, battling with my general fear of flying. After settling in, doing some breathing exercises and calming myself down, I started to realize that the plane should have taken off ages ago. There were announcements that I couldn’t comprehend and the murmurings of passengers that seemed a bit disconcerting. When everyone started to get up after two hours of sitting on the plane, I blindly followed them back into the gate. Now panicking because I would miss my connecting flight in Beijing, I spent the next few hours crying to my boyfriend on the phone, trying to call my driver in China, and seriously considering hopping on the next bus back home. When I noticed the flight attendants coming off the plane with their bags, I realized that I wouldn’t be leaving for China any time soon.
Again, following the crowd, I found a man who spoke a little English and asked him what was going on. We were being put up in a hotel for the night and would be taken back to the airport when the problems with our plane were fixed. Now, stuck in a hotel room, questioning all of my decisions, I called my mom. She pleaded with me to calm down, take a bath, have a drink and just relax. So, I did. I headed to the bar, downed a few Bloody Mary’s and calmed the hell down while taking a nice hot bath and getting a good night’s rest in my fancy and free hotel room.
I woke in the morning with a new outlook on the situation. This was a perfect start to the adventurous and unpredictable life I had been craving for so long. I was driven to the airport, went through the security process again, this time without a crying mother on the other side and headed to my gate. Located by the terminal was a bar and since the cocktails the previous night had worked so well on my nerves, I decided to take my mom’s advice and have a couple to curb my fears of flying. Though typically not the best combination, I racked up a $70 bar tab of Bloody Marys’ and White Russians, trying to get my fill of my favorites before they could be had no more. I floated off the bar stool and without an ounce of anxiety and fear left, began chatting up everyone at my gate. English speaking, non-English speaking, I didn’t really seem to mind anymore as I became friends with as many people as I could. Ah, I thanked the airport Gods for those drinks that made my upcoming flight to the other side of the world seem like a “hop on and off” tourist bus around Disneyland.
My drinks had worked so effectively in calming my nerves that I didn’t even bat an eyelash when the flight attendant told me that there was a minor problem with locating my bag and I didn’t even mind that I was squashed in the middle seat of the middle row on the plane. I was so calm in fact that I didn’t think it was necessary to pick up my $300 flight reimbursement voucher for the canceled flight and I didn’t care that the women sitting next to me wanted no part in the slur-full conversation I was trying to have with them. I sat back, relaxed and didn’t feel any of the pre take-off anxiety that usually wells up inside of me. Instead, I started to feel something else welling up inside of me, something much worse.
As the plane began to make speed down the runway, I started to get the old familiar feeling of stomach upset that fell somewhere in between the nausea acquired on a spinning carnival ride and the kind felt after standing up from an hour of a gin fueled drinking game. I couldn’t believe it was happening at such an unfortunate time, but it was happening none-the-less. With my tunnel vision and foggy mind, I realized that I couldn’t get up for the toilet during take-off and the fact that there was a provided sick-bag in the pocket of the seat evaded me. I grabbed the only resource that I had, my purse, and began removing from it as much as I could. I frantically pulled out my belongings and shoved them in the seat pocket until I could wait no more and threw up my entire $70 bar tab into the only purse I brought with me to China. If the girls on either side of me noticed what was going on, I didn’t care. In my drunken state, I tied together the handles of the bag, shoved it under the seat in front of me and passed out, puke stained dress and all.
When I arrived in Beijing, I sheepishly grabbed my vomit-filled bag, avoided eye contact with my seat mates and headed straight for the airport bathroom to access the damage. My reading book, (a going away gift from a friend)headphones and a whole array of other essentials I brought with me on the journey were swimming in a swirl of milky red, unable to be salvaged. I took the entire bag and threw it in the trash the same way I then threw aside any preconceived notions of what this journey would mean for me. This start to my journey opened up my droopy, hung-over eyes to how it was going to be from then on- a series of strange, difficult and ultimately rewarding events and adventures starting at that very moment. I turned to leave the bathroom, covered in puke and ready to take on the adventures ahead-starting with how the hell to get from Beijing to my new home city, of which I couldn’t even manage to pronounce the name.