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In Transit


After a difficult goodbye, I went to the ticket counter and checked in and dropped off my checked bag. I was worried that my prototype inside the bag would be examined and blown up as a potential bomb, but it turned out my fears were unfounded. Tickets in hand, I went upstairs and was disappointed to see the millimeter wave scanner was the only option for getting through security. I decided to opt out; not because I think the tech is dangerous, but because it’s extremely intrusive and unnecessary. Clearly the TSA guys had significant training, because they shifted into the cover-your-butt-and-be-as-official-as-possible mode, explaining exactly what they were going to do before I opted out (“if you do this we’re going to violate your rights in a whole lot more ways that you are not going to like, so are you SURE you want to do this?”). They took my bags that had gone through the x-ray and brought them to a separate part of the area, but still in full view of everyone. They asked if I wanted a private screening, and I said yes. The guy called over a manager, and the three of us went into a room. The guy was very civil and explained exactly what he was going to do before he did it. Some day some terrorist is going to stuff a weapon up his butt and the TSA will finally realize how silly all of their obsessive checking is; anyone who is sufficiently motivated will find a way to get through security, so we’re just theater, except we get probed instead of just watching the theater.

After patting me down he wiped his gloves with a cloth and threw it in an explosives detector, which fortunately came up clear. I was free to go, having just been frisked. Sadly it wasn’t my first frisking. The first time was to get into a night club. Why is it that I’ve been frisked twice by people with no reason to believe I’m guilty of anything? It’s not right.


The flight from Madison to Chicago was 27 minutes; quick and painless. I had a few hours to kill in Chicago, so I walked around for a while, then started the Michael Crichton book Airframe, which turned out to be oddly appropriate for my situation.

Over the North Pole

The flight from Chicago to Hong Kong wasn’t anything like I expected. Boarding took only a few minutes because although the plane was enormous, it was practically empty. Everybody in economy had at least two seats to themselves, and a few people stretched out on the center rows across all 4 seats. The guy behind me chatted with me for a while, saying that normally the flight was pretty full, that during Chinese New Year it was completely full, and the recent end of the new year probably explained the emptiness. Shortly after takeoff, the staff asked us to lower our windows, making the place dark. After a couple hours, we were served a dinner, then the cabin lights were turned off, and we were meant to sleep.

My plan had been to stay awake for the entire flight and try to make myself exhausted so that I would sleep when I arrived at the apartment. I had an entire season of a show on my phone, and planned to plow through it. It was clear, though, that the airplane intended for us to have a 16 hour version of a 24 hour day. After dinner, the lights went out and almost everyone slept while some movies and sitcoms played. I watched a couple of the movies and episodes on my phone. Eventually, I decided to try to sleep for a couple hours so that I’d be rested enough to get to my apartment but not so rested I couldn’t sleep. There was a snack halfway through which resembled a breakfast, and I put it in my bag for later. The attendants frequently walked through the cabin with cups of water; a disappointing change from non-U.S. carriers where the cups are filled with wine and beer. Eventually the lights came on and stayed on for a few hours. A couple hours before landing we were served another dinner, since we were landing after 7pm.

Occasionally I would peek out the window, but sliding the window open any amount let in a lot of reflected light, so I did it only briefly. I saw the Hudson Bay, the Arctic, and northern Russia and China. Unbroken tundra and snow for hundreds of miles. It was pretty spectacular. Even as we approached Hong Kong and the sun finally got ahead of us and set, I couldn’t see any sign of life below. The descent into Hong Kong was foggy, and it wasn’t until we were on top of it that I could see the city.

Hong Kong

The arrival was easy. I went through immigration quickly without a word exchanged. No visa is required for Hong Kong if you are staying for less than 90 days. I wasn’t even staying 1 and I had the China business visa for mainland, so I was good. We had arrived too late for the ferry, so I headed to the baggage claim to get my bag, which was the first bag out for my flight. Then I walked straight through customs with nothing to declare. There wasn’t even a stop. It was very fast.

I tried to find a bus to take me to Shenzhen, as that was cheaper than a limo or taxi, but faster and easier than the metro. A lady tried directing me to the limos, but I declined. After some failed communication, I managed to purchase a ticket on a bus that would take me to the border with the mainland. The bus came and I got on. In all, the airport was a pretty painless operation. I even had cell signal with my T-mobile SIM for long enough to dash off a message to my girlfriend.


Before arriving in Shenzhen, the bus had to stop at immigration. Everyone got off and went into a building. The bus passed through and waited for us on the other side. Again, it was just a matter of handing the passport over, getting a quick stamp, and moving on. Very easy. Back on the bus, we rode for a few more minutes before coming to the border proper. Here we brought all our bags with us, and again stood in line. On the other side we put our bags on a short x-ray conveyer and picked them up seconds later walking out into mainland China. It was all so easy, and my bags didn’t raise any suspicions at all.

Now I was lost, though. I didn’t know how to ask where the subway was, and there weren’t any easy English signs. I found a place to exchange currency, but they couldn’t help me further than that. As a side note, exchanging currency there was significantly cheaper than in the airport or in the U.S.A. The bus driver found me by chance and was able to tell me that I had gone to the wrong border crossing and that there weren’t any subway entrances nearby, but that I could take a taxi. I got in the taxi line and caught one.

For about five minutes we struggled to communicate. He tried giving me to a translater on the phone, but she wasn’t understanding what I was saying. Finally I gave him the number of the person I was to meet in Shenzhen. He called her, and she was able to tell the cab where to go. He took me all the way to the apartment, then waited with me there until someone showed up, making sure that they were indeed the right person and that I was taken care of. Oddly, he didn’t seem to understand the tip I was trying to give him for being so awesome. Apparently tipping is uncommon in China.

By this point, I had been travelling for almost 24 hours, and had taken planes, cars, busses, and escalators. It was a long trip, but I made it.

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