Manila to Hong Kong
We wake up at 4:30 AM. Today my brother and I are travelling together via Cebu Pacific and United Airlines. He will get off at Chicago O’Hare while I continue onward to DC National.
We are dropped off at NAIA around 6 AM. Check in at Cebu Pacific counter for first leg of trip connecting in Hong Kong. Cebu Pacific staff willing to check through bags onward to United flight (see the Long Trip to Manila for related troubles with United earlier on), but unwilling to raise baggage allowances above their ludicrous maximum weight of 2 bags totalling 20 kilos. The limitation is bad enough, but even less reasonable is their inability to accept credit cards or US dollars for the overweight penalty. Much wrangling at the counter with intractable Cebu Pacific staff, after which my brother must go to a nearby ATM to withdraw the penalty fee in Philippine pesos. Finally we are checked in and given boarding passes. Passengers checking in right behind us are told that the flight is overbooked and they will either not be able to board this flight, or they must wait for other passengers to give up their seats. Either way, someone is going to be left behind by this plane, with a free travel voucher for compensation.
We are last on the plane, and I am stuck in a seat near the rear, wedged between two passengers. Fortunately the flight is short and the passengers on both sides of my seat, a talky Arab man from Hong Kong and a talky Filipina woman who loves her new Motorola Razr, are friendly.
Hong Kong International Airport (HKG)
Eight hour layover. First things first: breakfast. We go to Cafe de Coral in the HKG Promenade for congee. I have long wanted to try Cafe de Coral because every time I pass through HKG the only customers I see ordering from it are airport workers, flight crew, and Chinese locals, therefore it must be more authentic than other airport fare. The menu, of course, is mostly in Chinese, but we man up, approach the counter, and order shredded pork congee, and roast duck on rice. My brother receives his roast duck, but I receive chicken and century egg congee, and a mystery food item wrapped in fragrant leaves of some sort. This is very exciting. Unwrapping the leaves reveals a meal of roast pork and mushrooms with Chinese sausage in sticky rice. Someone tell me what they call it in Chinese, because I want to order it again. (Update: So it’s called machang. Thanks, Rian!)
I also buy something called a “Cutie Wife Cake,” stuffed with lotus seed paste and green tea filling.
We spend the rest of the day at the Premium Lounge, paying US$40 each for five hours in comfy leather chairs, with a power outlet for our laptops, free wireless, and the option for a two hour nap in a sleeping cubicle or a fifteen minute massage. I get the massage. It hurts.
On the way to our flight later that evening, I stop at the terminal prayer room to get some photos to add to my collection of airport chapels.
Hong Kong to Chicago
Fourteen hours of mostly sleeping, eating, and reading. We are seated in row 59, which on a 747-400 is two rows forward of the rear, where the fuselage of the plane tapers to such a point that the window seats go only two deep rather than three. This way, my brother and I can sit together, without anyone being seated between two people, and with lots of extra storage and foot space between the seat and the window. These are good seats. I try to watch The Queen, but the section’s movie projector constantly blinks off and back on, which makes viewing intolerable. Flight crew later distribute complaint forms via which one can receive compensatory frequent flyer miles or travel certificates for certain failures of service. The fourteen hours pass rather quickly at some point after the sixth hour. For most of the flight, flight attendants ask passengers to keep their windows closed so as to keep the sun out, so I don’t get to see much.
Immigration, baggage claims, baggage re-check, say bye to my brother as he heads for home, then take the train to the departure Terminal. O’Hare is a noisy, crowded, overwhelming airport, with laptop-owners huddled around every available outlet so they can use the $6.95 wireless internet. It is a relief to get on the relatively non-crowded United A319 to DC and alternate between dozing and watching driving precipitation form patterns in the strobe of the plane’s flashing running lights. As the plane makes the “River Visual” approach to National Airport, I attempt to snap photos of the view, but they all come out blurry.
Baggage claim after landing is easy. Cab from airport to my apartment takes just six minutes. Generous tip. Home. Warmth of Amy’s embrace. Day spent in chores and unpacking.