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Published: October 2nd 2011
It's a constant worry of mine that despite the fact that I've been doing this for a year now, I don't feel as though I have very many good stories to tell. It's that feeling of meeting other people who've done all these exciting or interesting things and somehow feeling all wrong because the only thing I have to add is that I sliced my back open in a Chinese waterpark. So, with that in mind, here's a story about how I spent my last night in China sleeping outside Kunming airport.
We arrived in Kunming a bit after 1oclock in the morning about three and a half hours late on a delayed China Eastern flight (if you ever have the option, I'd suggest not using them if you have any particular desire to get the flight you originally booked or to arrive at your destination somewhere near the time that you were supposed to) from Xi'an, on the way to have a holiday in Nepal for a week and a half. Xi'an, as ever, was fantastic and I spent most of my time just enjoying bumbling around the market again, buying ace things that there was no hope of me being able to fit in my suitcase - resulting in three attempts at repacking followed by a sort of t shirt beauty contest to determine which ones got binned, meaning I had to say a sad farewell to my five year old Barenaked Ladies top, amongst others. We were only there for a day and a half, after saying a difficult goodbye to Xiangyang on the Monday night, but I could have spent a week without even noticing the time pass. But, I digress....
The flight was due into Kunming at about 10 at night, but we didn't take off until just before midnight, one of those great delays where they just keep on adding to the time by small amounts in the hope that you wont notice. So eventually, all that was out of the way and we arrived in Kunming. Our flight to Kathmandu didn't leave until 9 o'clock, so we went in search of someone who could point us in the direction of the hotel room we were told would be waiting for us, only to discover that everyone had gone home.
Now, it takes a lot for me to lose my temper, but as everything in the world is balanced, my friend Jon could perhaps be viewed as the Yin to my Yang. This is just as well because while I was still trying to come up with a solution with the smiley but ultimately powerless lady at the information desk, Jon announced "fuck 'em, we'll just sit it out" and so that's what we did. We went to the far corner of the arrivals section, sat on a ledge between a Chinese family who looked like they were surrounded by everything they had ever owned, and a French guy with a bike who looked like a young version of Jim 'The Anvil' Neidhart (one for the WWF fans there) and settled down.
So, our happy group lay there, being joined by various others who'd been turfed out of the assorted nooks and crannies they'd holed themselves up in for the night, including a group who were on our flight, a couple of - as somebody posher and older than me might describe them - game old ladies (who, by the way, were the best prepared airport-sleeper-inners I have ever seen) and a Chinese guy who later tried to turn himself into a Derek Hatton figure by arguing with the Security and attempting a kind of half-arsed sit-in.
This was all happy and fine until about 3oclock when it became clear the airport was closing, although weirdly all the staff were still ignoring us, or giving us the kind of looks that people in nominally authoritative positions give to those they deem to be below them. It wasn't till about twenty minutes later that a guy came up to us asking for our trolleys (the airport ones - get your mind out of the gutter, it wasn't that kind of place) swiftly followed by Security telling us, or politely miming anyway, to get out. Cue some innocent faces ("Who? Us?"), followed by some deliberate misunderstanding ("What? Why are you pointing at the door") and then about twenty five tired bodies picking themselves up and heading out to lie against the other side of the glass in mosquito city. This, incidentally, was the moment that Derek chose to rebel and stage his sit-in. Sadly despite my natural sympathies being with him, my ambivalence about it all by that stage, coupled with my desire not to piss off the Chinese state won out, and shortly afterwards, so did his. I did get to teach him the English word, 'Jobsworth' though, so some good did come out of it.
Outside, it quickly became clear that we all had a choice of being at a relatively comfortable temperature with a huge amount of mosquito bites, or mummifying yourself and sweating like a - insert your own favourite 'sweating like a......' joke here - but being happy and bite free in the morning. I was alone in choosing the latter and as the photo that will hopefully be on this page will attest, I looked like a dick.
After maybe an hour and a half, we were all let back in and we trudged upstairs to the departure desk, with us still having about three and a half hours to wait before our flight - although we didn't know at this stage that our China Eastern flight was delayed again, albeit only by an hour and a half or so this time though - a roaring success by their standards I should imagine.
All of which messing around left our once happy band to head our separate ways to all independently deal with the realities of a night without sleep, which as you will be aware follows the pattern of tiredness - second wind - a deliriously happy feeling that you have beaten the night, darkness and nature itself - irritability - more tiredness, worse than before - a distinct feeling of failed suicide - sleeping anywhere you sit down the following afternoon.
There you are then, that's my story. I hope you liked it, there'll be something on Nepal and trekking in the Himalayas soon.
So, I was in this Chinese waterpark......
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