Turbulence, Jet-lag, and the Nurse or Coming Home

I awaken to a vaguely familiar sound. My phone is ringing! For two months I’ve been blissfully without that irritating noise. Where is it? After fumbling for a few minutes in the disarray from my stint of unpacking yesterday I find it under the sarong. It’s still ringing. Staring at all the buttons I search my memory for clues. How do I answer this thing? I can’t remember! It’s still ringing. I decide the green button is a good choice and am rewarded by a voice responding on the other end.

Yesterday was a 27 hour day. I left Ubud with Putu at 9 p.m. When he saw me yawning he told me I could sleep in the car and immediately cranked up the volume on the Balinese station he was listening to and proceeded to sing along. After forty-five minutes of dodging foraging night dogs and motorbikes we arrived at the airport. Fishing in my purse for the fare, I handed him a fist full of rupiahs. He looked at it and said, “Too much.” I had included a tip. “It’s okay,” I said. “Too much,” he repeated. I smiled, patted his arm and said, “You’re worth it.” He rewarded me with a huge grin, hopped out of the car and retrieved my 500 kilo suitcase from the trunk. “Bye-bye,” he said, waving. “Good-by Putu.”

I had two hours until boarding. Wandering among the retail options that were tiny replicas of everything I had seen in the market, I quickly decided I had no desire to shop. I found a spot on a bench beside a wild-eyed, spike-haired blonde in black and white striped leggings and waited for the security gate to open for my flight. Everything over the PA was spoken first in Balinese then in English. I appreciated that. When I checked in, the gate attendant told me my first flight was an aisle seat and my second flight, the really long one, was a window seat. Perfect. Boarding the plane I found my aisle seat. It was the end of an inside row of 4. The other three seats were occupied by a family with a small child. Oh Oh. I settled in, suspiciously eying the little girl to determine whether she would be a whiner, a crier, or a sleeper.  A few minutes into the flight she was sound asleep and stayed that way. The mother beside me, on the other hand, was a sneezer! She sneezed all the way to Seoul. I hope it was allergies.

The airport in Seoul, S. Korea is beautiful. Everything is spotless and gleaming. The shops tout all the high-end designers from Bulgari to Burberry. I didn’t even look, just made a bee-line for my gate, found a comfy place to close my eyes and wait. I spent the two hours until boarding, envisioning my aisle seat, pillow and blanket. I was almost eager for the 13 hours ahead of me with droning jet engines to sleep by. The announcements now were first in Korean, then in English and I finally heard the boarding call for my long leg of the journey. I had a really high number for a seat assignment. Boarding the plane I walked past row upon row of seats watching the numbers increase. At 39 I waited for a man trying to cram a bulky shopping bag into the overhead. At 47 I stopped for a woman who was bending over, trying to find something under the seat with her own ample rear end protruding into the aisle. Finally there it was. The VERY LAST SEAT on the plane. There are a two benefits to the last row. First, there’s nobody behind me so I can recline just as far as I want to without feeling like I’m sleeping in someone’s lap, and second, the bathroom is very close.

A young Philipean man had the aisle seat next to me. He tells me he’s a nurse in Chicago, the perfect traveling companion. He took care of me! A little way into the flight when we were both awake he told me that whenever I needed to go to the bathroom, just let him know and he would gladly let me through. Even if he was sleeping he said not to worry just wake him. What a nice gesture. There’s nothing worse than being trapped by a huge blanketed lump snoring beside you when you’ve really got to go!

It was a bumpy flight. The captain kept coming on the PA system loudly explaining that we were experiencing turbulence. I didn’t really need to be told, it was painfully obvious. I might actually have been able to sleep through the dips and sways if the announcements hadn’t continually interrupted my attempts at slumber. Somehow, with three meals, three movies, and many beverages, the time passed and we were landing in Chicago. The turbulence on the approach to O’Hare intensified. The plane was swaying side to side in a disquieting manner. I hoped when we connected with earth the runway would be underneath us. The next instant the wheels touched and the plane swerved violently to the left. If I hadn’t been belted in the nurse would have had me in his lap. As it was I slammed into his side. Then we were swerving to the right and I was sandwiched between the nurse and the window of the plane feeling grateful that he was not a large man.  Finally the pilot gained control and I looked at the nurse. His eyes were as big as potatoes. I’m sure I looked equally terrified. We both said, “Whoa!” and that was enough.

Chicago was my first point of entry back into the U.S. That meant  clearing immigration and customs, finding my luggage, submitting it to thorough examination, re-checking my bag, finding my way to the train for terminal 3 and getting to the gate in time for the connecting flight to Minneapolis. Me and 2000 of my closest friends queued up for the process. Bear in mind that it has now been 24 hours since I left my room in Ubud heading for the airport, and that was at 9 p.m. at night. I slept for a few hours between Denpasar and Seoul, but I’m feeling the effects of deprivation. The line doesn’t move. I try to sleep standing up. That proves ineffective. After an hour and ten minutes it was my turn to stand in front of the immigration official. They are all scary and they do not smile, ever. I handed over my paperwork. “You’re an American citizen,” he said. Then he smiled! I almost fainted. He continued to smile as he delivered his next statement, “You’re in the wrong line,” he said. As I was trying to process the ramifications of that information I heard him continuing,”The line for non-residents moves much more slowly than the queue for citizens. You could have been finished long ago.” I might have said, “Oh?” but I don’t remember because he had looked at my passport, stamped what needed to be stamped, and he was handing it back to me with yet another smile, “You’re good to go,” he said. Relief poured through my body. He wasn’t going to make me go to the correct line. I was good to go! “Thank you!” I said with genuine gratitude.

My bag was on the carousel and I extracted it and headed for the inspection area. The woman fired a few questions at me to which all answers must be ‘no’ or you’re in big trouble. Mine were all no so she waved me on without examining the contents of my luggage. SCORE!  The rest was easy. Well, comparatively speaking. There was an older woman (much older than me) with fake red hair (much more fake than mine) who wanted to be my friend. I tried, I really did, but I prayed that she would not be my seat partner for the last leg of the journey. I waited to board the plane until the very last. Coming through the door I saw her. The seat beside her was occupied. Rejoice! I again had a window seat next to a teen-age girl who was plugged into earphones and texting a mile a minute. As soon as we were airborne she was on her laptop. I don’t know her name, I don’t know if she could speak. I was okay with that.

This pilot landed the plane like a hot knife through butter and I was home. The first thing that struck me was the whiteness of the people. We live in a region of monochromatic skin tones. The second thing I noticed was English being spoken exclusively all around me. Everything sounded so different. A friend was waiting to pick me up. My suitcase popped out onto the carousel as I approached. A few minutes later I was speeding along Crosstown Highway. My friend said, “It already looks like summer here, so lush.” I looked around at an oak tree here, a maple there, some grass, and replied, “I’m sorry, but this is NOT lush!” I should have been gentle, or kept my thoughts to myself. She seemed a little hurt. But she rallied, “I suppose it doesn’t look lush to you, but for Minnesota this is lush.” I agreed and shut my mouth.

It’s brutal when 69 degrees feels cold. Today everyone else was in shorts, T-shirts and sandals. I wore a turtleneck, insulated vest, long jeans, socks and shoes and was still shivering.  In spite of my 12.5 hours of sleep, by noon I could hardly hold my eyes open.  I took a nap, did laundry, joined friends for a bbq. Now it’s noon in Bali and approaching midnight here. I’m wide awake.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Gloria Cullins
    May 13, 2012 @ 08:17:34

    Glad you are back home safely. I’m sure it will take you awhile to readjust. I’m also sure you will revel in your wonderful memories of Bali for years to come! What an amazing experience you’ve had! Thanks for taking us with you via your blogs!

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  2. Marius
    May 13, 2012 @ 12:39:25

    I hope it was not my phone call that woke you up

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  3. Barb Garland
    May 14, 2012 @ 11:25:39

    Sherry, welcome home and integrate slowly!!! blessings !!! Barb

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  4. jessa walters
    May 14, 2012 @ 18:49:52

    I’m so glad you’re home safely. It will certainly take some time to adjust back into Minnesota life, climate, landscape… Yoga will help with the transition!! xoxo

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