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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Home Again

After well over 24 hours on the road, I'm back in my room in China. The flight and the "ground leg" in Hong Kong and China were no problem, but I had a terrible time at L. A. International Airport ("where the big jet engines roar...")

Before I launch into my rant, let me first accept responsibility for not checking the restrictions. But, having traveled mostly inside China in recent years, I wasn't prepared for...well, you'll see.

I was bringing quite a few books, as well as hundreds of pages of photographic slides. Film is heavy, you know. My first clue that there might be trouble was when I picked up my bag at 3:30 a.m. to carry it out to the airport shuttle and the handle broke off in my hand. I lugged it on out by another handle.

At the airport, I discovered "Self Check-In." It's kind of cool: a touch screen process that even verified my vegetarian meal request. The problem is, there were only 4 or 5 people to accept the luggage for over 20 check-in stations. This is probably OK for people whose luggage was within restrictions.

Mine was not, as we discovered when the human being named Chang came to take my two bags. One of them was 78.5 pounds; only 50 is allowed. OK, says I, what's the fee? One moment (tappity tappity on the keyboard): five-hundred-and-fifty dollars.


My round-trip ticket from Hong Kong to L.A. was only $650. (And according to this page, which I found later, it should have been "only" $350--still too much.)

Sorry, sir. So I asked what I could do; Chang said there was a repack area. I specifically asked if it was ok to split one bag into two, making a total of three, since inside the heavy bag some of the goods were in cardboard boxes, and I figured I could just take one out. No problem, sir, there's no limit on the number of bags you can take.

So I went to the repack area, got it done, and came back to find another human being, this one named Hernandez.

He said how many bags; I said three. He said $30 for the first bag, and $20 for each of the other two. I said HUH? And we discovered that he was talking about domestic flights: Oh, International? No problem, baggage is free. He processed me and handed me two tags for my baggage. I said "Three" and he said oh, only two are free for international flights. The third one would be (tappity tappity on the keyboard): two-hundred dollars.


But, I told Hernandez, Chang said there was no limit to the number of bags. Hernandez called Chang over. Chang said (for about the third time that morning) "That's not what I said."

Atypically, rather than blow my top, I ate crow and said, I'm sorry, I must have misunderstood you. What was it you said? And he proceeded to lie that he had informed me that the first two were free and the third would cost $200. He had not.

Chang walked away, and I asked Hernandez, Is there nothing I can do? I don't have anyone parked in the loading zone waiting to take away my excess luggage. Well, he said, we can sell you a box. So I asked (cringing), And how much will that cost? He said around ten dollars.


So I repacked. My stuff totaled 97 pounds; I balanced it out to exactly 48.5 pounds in both the bag and the box. And since Chang happened to be near the repack scale (which reads a little lighter than the other one I used) I asked him to verify that my bags were OK. He did, Hernandez came with tape and sealed the box good, and 90 minutes after stepping out of the shuttle I approached the security check to enter the waiting area.

After a relatively uneventful flight, I repacked everything again at Hong Kong airport, since I wouldn't be able to carry that box around. When I was moving my bag into the shuttle, the second of three handles on the bag broke (this with only 48.5 pounds in it!), and the third and last (the "wheely" extensible handle) broke going to the taxi. Say goodbye to that cheap bag.

* * * * *

One more little story. On the San Francisco to Hong Kong leg, I was in 41H, on the aisle. There was a Vietnamese guy (who owns a noodle shop in Phoenix, and said he often comes to my hometown Rosemead for supplies) in 41J, next to me; and a Chinese guy in 41K, at the window. 41K heard me chatting with 41J about Shenzhen; so when 41J left to use the lavatory, 41K asked me about ground transportation from Hong Kong into Shenzhen. I explained the options to him, and he asked if he could just "go with me."

To tell the truth, I was planning to eat at Burger King in the airport, and I was exhausted, so I told a little lie: I said that my wife was coming to meet me at the airport (not true) because it was my birthday (true). But I told him exactly where to find the buses and shuttles, and he was satisfied.

On the ramp coming out of the plane, he passed me and said "Happy Birthday," becoming the only human being to so greet me in person on my 54th. I got several in person on the days before; on the day, I got some in email, many on Facebook, three in texts on my phone, and one on the phone (from my wife), but this was the only face-to-face "Happy birthday" on the day itself.

My life is so weird...

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  1. if only plane travel was easier. happy birthday dude! it's still your birthday in america. i'm chilling in the central valley, its beautiful up here.

  2. Yeah, first Homeland Security took some of the fun out of it; then the money-grubbing airlines sucked out the rest. Ironically, I find it easier to fly inside China!

    The central valley IS beautiful. I spent a lot of time there (Kingsburg) when I was a kid, and then more on the coast (Morro Bay, Monterey) later. Central Cal is one of my favorite places in the world.

    Don't miss my birthday greeting on FaceBook, where I lamely try to explain why I didn't hook you up with a room in Long Beach.

    Sorry, man. Hope you have a great trip. And HAPPY BIRTHDAY!