The clock struck 00:00 in red as I heard the sound of horns and cheers rise from the floor below and come towards me on a wave. I could barely walk, so I was sitting in a wheelchair in the Denpasar airport waiting for an attendant to bring me back my ID card when 2015 started. “Happy New Year,” I said to him when he returned. He responded with a “yeah, happy new year,” and pushed me to the counter to pay my departure tax. I had managed to control my bowels by now, but It was still an exciting start to 2015. How did I get here? It all started a week prior.
I had just purchased my new backpack after my previous one had been stolen, along with my camera, new lens, and passport. I had received my passport a few days earlier and I was finally ready to go to Bali for Christmas. I was going to go surfing, swim everyday, and eat great food. My flight left on Christmas morning. I was flying China Southern airlines. I had avoided China Eastern after the last time I used them, but booking late means you don’t get the best choices for affordable flights. So I was flying through Guangzhou and had a 5 hour layover. I checked the internet for things to do, but couldn’t find much but bad reviews. I figured there had to be decent Chinese food at least, right? That’s all I wanted.
I boarded and everything seemed pretty typical for a discount airline, but it was fine. I was going to Bali, to the beach. The airplane was like a time warp back to those magical times of flying in the 1990’s. Remember when everyone had to watch the same movie on small drop down TV’s? Remember when the headphones were like a stethoscope with a large government plastic chord that could choke out a hippo? Those were the days, right? I was going to avoid the 90’s entertainment and use my cell phone instead. I started playing a game.
“Excuse me, no cell phones,” came from over my shoulder. The flight attendant seemed confused.
“The phone is on airplane mode, it’s ok,” I responded. I pointed at the little airplane icon in the top corner of the screen.
“No cell phones,” she smiled.
“I’m not calling anyone. It’s not sending a signal.”
“I’m sorry. No cell phones, even on airplane mode.” She smiled.
“Why the hell is there an airplane mode?” I thought. “Fine,” I said and put it away. I was stuck with the stethoscope 90’s entertainment. I opened the plastic bag and plugged in the double pronged plug that was safe for babies to use. I played with the channel buttons awkwardly next to my leg. No sound. I tried another stethoscope listening device, but nothing. I called over the flight attendant. She asked if my neighbor's was working. It was.
“There you go.” She walked off. Mine still wasn’t working. I finally played with it enough it stopped fighting me and started allowing me to barely hear the movie. The Lego Movie.
Finally, we landed in Guangzhou after far too much staring at airplane walls for my tastes. I exited down the stairs to the tarmac and waited for 10-15 minutes for the bus to fill up for our drive to the terminal. Families were running to catch the bus so they didn't miss it. The bus finally filled and turned on. We drove for about 100 feet and stopped. The whole bus started laughing. That was it? We could have walked here in less time than we waited for the bus to move. Watch the video. We drove from the empty spot where the video begins to the doorway at the end.
I was hungry and looking forward to some good Chinese food, BBQ pork buns, specifically. One of the greatest food items in the world, and I was in the country of origin here. We had to get checked by security to enter the terminal to wait. That killed 45 minutes of the 5 hours we were stuck here. We wandered around looking for Chinese food.
The Guangzhou airport lived up to the bad reviews on the internet. It was dark, partly because of the terrible smog and partly because of the terrible lighting. The ceiling probably used to be bright white and translucent to let the light in, but it appeared to be the shade of smokers teeth stained glass now. There were exactly four places to eat in the terminal, three of them served pizza. None had a decent variety of Chinese food. It’s not that I was looking for a specific Chinese food, but none had more than a few dishes anyone might consider Chinese. Certainly no pork buns, that was a fantasy wish, as it turned out.
I decided to look for a book for the second leg of the flight, since I couldn’t use any modern technology aboard the 90’s flight I was taking for fear of ripping the space/time continuum. I went to the book store and was going to buy a book, but my credit card didn’t work. Sonuvabitch! “Ok, I will try and get some food at least and see if it works there,” I thought. I asked for a coke, just a coke to see if it was working. Just in case it wasn’t I didn’t want to order a whole meal and have to wash dishes in the Guangzhou airport for Christmas. The coke was 10 yuan on the menu. I had to convince them to run the card before I sat down, but they finally did. They poured it in a glass. The card worked and I sat down. I checked the receipt. 30 yuan (about 5 dollars)? What? I went back up and asked them why they charged me 3 times the amount on the menu. It was the price for a coke for here. In the can it was 10 yuan, but if they poured it and put a slice of lemon in it, it was 30 yuan. Awesome. I decided against buying anything else.
After nursing the coke for an hour I was going to try the USB charger on the carts they were advertising. I could play my games here at least. The plug didn’t work. So I people watched the rest of the time - bored out of my mind.
More 90’s flying and I was in Bali. It was late, so I took a taxi and got to my hotel at around 2am. It’s a good thing I didn’t check any bags. The Jayakarta Bali Resort and Spa. It seemed nice enough, though not as nice as the pictures online. But I didn’t have time for that now. Bed. Sleep.
The morning sunlight streaming into the windows woke me. I had forgotten where I was. I was going to do some shopping first because I needed sandals and a new bathing suit. I was on Legian Beach, so I walked down the beach road to Kuta where the main area is. There was a new mall along the main beach road since the last time I was there a few years ago. Ate some mie goreng - I was going to attempt to eat only Indonesian food the whole week. That lasted 3 days, but I tried.
Back to the hotel. It had three pools, one pool bar, a sunset bar, plus two restaurants. It was really quite nice. Not too crowded, but still there were plenty of drunk Australians, per usual in Bali. In America we have this idea that Bali is so spiritual, but it’s just Australia’s Mexico. At least in the tourist areas. Drunk Americans are the downfall of certain cities in Mexico, same goes for Bali with Australians. We are far more alike than we both want to admit, I think.
Anyway, the beach was just across the street with Indonesians setting up make-shift bars, surf lessons, shops selling shades and viagra, and tattoos. I walked past the children hawking bracelets to go swim in the ocean and be a kid jumping into the waves as they crash down on top of me while avoiding getting in the way of the surfers. They were further out than me, mostly, so it was no trouble. I certainly didn’t want to be ‘that guy’.
It was December and the storms were on and off, so I certainly hope that was the reason for the trash, but maybe not. The water was the dirtiest water I have ever seen in the ocean. I don’t mean brown and polluted with oil or anything, but debris was everywhere. I couldn’t take a step without having a plastic bag wrap around my ankle or a lost sandal hit my shin. There were piles of debris on the beach, but it wasn’t enough. Or maybe the winds and tides just grabbed it and pulled it back into the ocean at times. Anyway, I decided the pool was more to my liking after that.
The next day I woke up a lobster. I had been burnt pretty bad, so the rest of the trip I was spending my mornings avoiding the sun like a vampire and only venturing out to the pool when there was shade to sit in and/or swim in. Then in the evening go out for food down the street.
Each night fireworks would light up the sky as tourists would buy them from the local convenience store and light them off over the water. It continued to build each night to New Years.
The night before leaving, I decided to eat next door because I liked the food there from eating it previously.
I woke up the next morning and felt terrible. I had to check out soon, but didn’t fly out until 1am. I had planned to check out and go sightseeing for the day, then go straight to the airport. It was a good plan, until I got food poisoning. I was in and out of the bathroom for hours. I got some medicine to take from a nurse at the hotel, but it didn’t work fast enough. I had to pay for another night for my room, so I didn’t have to leave the close proximity to the bathroom. My last day was spent in and out of the bathroom and watching movies on TV feeling like I was a zombie. My legs were barely working, I was trying to drink as much as I could, but I was still slightly dehydrated.
I was told there was no doctor at the hotel, so I would have to go to a hospital, but because it was New Years Eve, it would take awhile in traffic. Traffic was my stomach’s enemy. Then I found out there was a doctor the hotel could call for me. I called. He couldn’t make it because of traffic, of course. I waited as long as I could, then found out there was a hospital at the airport. Perfect, I can get checked out there, then I won’t miss my flight getting stuck in traffic. I finally felt strong enough to take the ride over to the airport.
I poured my flesh into the taxi and held my breath all the way there. I made it. Went to information to find out there is no hospital in the airport. The lady told me to go to customer relations. At customer relations the guy said there is a doctor downstairs around the parking lot. I managed to slowly make my way down there with him and he had me checked out by the doctors there. They simply told me to drink water and continue taking the medicine I had received earlier from the nurse at the hotel. Fantastic.
I rested on the bed for awhile until they told me there was a better place to rest. Then it turned into a behind the scenes look at the airport. The doctor and customer service guys lead me through gates that the crew and pilots go through into back halls that were empty. I walked past the huge lines of people checking in and going through security to be the only ones checked quickly with a smile. The airport seemed so much larger now seeing this labyrinth behind the scenes. We made our way into a doctors office. I guess they don’t have a doctors office unless they decide they have one for you, but I was checked again by another doctor and given tea. I laid down on the hospital bed while getting checked into the flight. Being sick had its perks, but I would rather be waiting in line then feel like an alien was about to rip open my stomach.
When the flight was about to board, a man came for me with a wheelchair. I could walk, albeit very slowly, but they had a wheelchair, so I thought I needed to move fast. I got on and he wheeled me down halls, through crowds of people, making short cuts through duty free shops and zig zagging through shoppers. We went up elevators, then down. This place was way bigger than it seemed when I landed. I had my flight tickets, but needed to pay my departure tax and show them my ID. We rolled under a clock - 23:58.
“Look, it’s almost new years,” I said. He wheeled me to a red tape rope and took my ID and left. I was watching the clock. 23:59. I could already hear some cheers coming from below us, some people had a different time on their clock, I suppose. Then it turned to 00:00 and the wave of cheers came upstairs. Horns and the distant flash and bang of fireworks from outside. He returned with my ID and I said, “happy new year.”
I was about to relive the 90’s flight experience, but this time I felt sick. I hadn’t slept since 8am and I was flying out at 1am. I don’t sleep well (read: at all) on flights. I was near the back of the plane, by the toilets. The male flight attendant was being very nice. He said the flight wasn’t fully booked, so I could probably get a row to myself. He also said that it was fine to use cell phones, he wouldn’t tell. It was going to be ok.
I was awake for about 34 hours straight, with a 10 minute nap in the Guangzhou airport, but I finally made it home and I was feeling fine. I ate a large meal and went to bed. It was 2015.