~ I Love Apple, and The Tao of Travel (Beijing-JFK, 13 ½ hours)
I'm sitting in one of my favorite Beijing places, called Sculpting in Time café, finishing my blueberry smoothie and people-watching a bit. The café is just down the street from the hospital, where I just went for this month's appointment, which took all of 15 minutes. I can't help but have a sense of anticlimax after these appointments, especially when there's no major test or exam involved. They did draw blood for the glucose test today, but since they had very efficiently given me the glucose to drink at home an hour before my appointment, that didn't take any time at all. Weight, blood pressure, then the doctor was waiting for me when I got out of the nurse's office, quick baby-listen with the Doppler (boom boom boom boom boom), everything looks good, feeling good, getting enough exercise, couple questions, get a new medical "all clear" certificate for this month's flights, a little more chit-chat, schedule next month's appointment, pay the bill, and I'm out the door. I mean, I never feel rushed when I'm in there, and she certainly gives me the time to talk about or ask anything I want, it just all never takes very long, and before I know it, I'm at Sculpting in Time with my two eggs and bacon. I am really thankful that everything's been normal and we've been really healthy so far, so of course I'm not complaining.
I'm in much better shape this week, both because I finally did suck it up and got my "work" work done, and because I finally got a few good nights' sleep. I didn't really believe that my belly had gotten big enough to warrant it, but after being woken up pretty frequently in the past two weeks by a variety of strange new sensations (fingers going numb, indigestion, weird dizziness) and realizing that they could be related to my soccer ball of a uterus compressing some major pipes underneath, I decided to give side-sleeping a try. I couldn't get comfortable at first, but the solution ends up involving lots of pillows, a stuffed animal, and 80% of the bed. Prenatal Yoga class helped quite a bit, too, with working out the kinks in my hips and back.
But the biggest pick-me-up of the week was the discovery that we can listen to NPR and the BBC on our Mac! Right now, I could kiss Steve Jobs' scruffy little face (Apple Computers' genius CEO). The metaphors come fast and furious: food after famine, manna in the desert, land to a shipwrecked sailor. We had been tearing our hair out for months about the seriously crappy programming on CNN International, the only "real" English-speaking news outlet available in our building (there's also the government TV's English channel, which, for the transparency of the propaganda, is closer to entertainment than news). In the tightly controlled media environment we live in here in the 'jing, something as seemingly minor as this makes a huge difference to our daily happiness quotient.
To have access to western and world music and culture again: that first hour I sat in front of the speakers, listening to overtone singers from Tibet and Tuva and then Joan La Barbara on the WNYC New Sounds radio show, I seriously could've cried out of a sense of relief and homecoming. The time difference actually even turns out to be an advantage: mid-day here in Beijing is middle of the night on the east coast, which is when they tend to play the less-mainstream stuff, which is just fine with me. Baby'll get enough Mozart and Beethoven anyway, it's Steve Reich and the Kronos Quartet that I've been concerned about missing out on. I've seen wildly varying information on exactly how much baby can hear at 24 weeks gestation, but a smattering of Yo-Yo Ma, Jobim, and John Cage can't hurt whatever process is going on.
Tuesday. Beijing - JFK flight, 13 ½ hours. Oh, the difference bringing your own food makes...
As does getting a bulkhead seat, packing a light carry-on, leaving home 45 minutes early, and drinking lots of water like you're supposed to. I may be a permanent convert! Pre-pregnancy, I was the kind of traveler who never checked luggage, started packing an hour before leaving home, and tended to test the limits of the "suggested check-in times." Mik once literally blocked the doorway of a plane to South Africa as I Jackie Joyner-ed it through the Delta terminal at JFK to make the flight. Not today! I finished packing my bags last night, packed myself a couple portions of yummy rice and curry to eat on the plane, and left enough time to get to the airport without stressing too much about the cabbie's unfamiliar detour or the family with eight pieces of overweight luggage in front of me in the check-in line.
By that point my cushion had shrunk from 45 to 15 minutes, but even an extra 15 minutes to get to the gate isn't just an extra 15 minutes to listen to muzak while waiting to board your flight. It turns out that an extra 15 minutes means that you can take the time to grab a little carry-on cart (no matter how lightly I pack, my laptop is always an extra 10+ lbs I can count on), stop for a pee or a bottle of water if needed, and a leisurely stroll to the gate. At the Beijing airport, there's also always a chance that you'll be recruited to play their favorite gate switcheroo game at boarding time. The game more or less goes like this:
On boarding pass: Gate 1;
On overhead monitor: Gate 9;
On Gate 9 board: flight to Urumqi (i.e., not yours);
On Gate 14b: handwritten sign in Chinese announcing last call for your flight.
While having extra time doesn't always give you a leg up in this particular situation, at least you've built up a bit of a patience buffer by this point and might delay dousing the baby with endorphins for a minute or two as you sort it all out.
What's amazing is that I'm only figuring this out now, after a pretty solid 8 years of heavy plane travel. When you have a body that can take the abuse, I suppose those sprints through the terminal carrying a 35-lb bag and a laptop aren't such a big deal, and the aggravation is forgotten pretty quickly. Now that I have a couple more months of traveling with a biggening belly (followed by years of traveling with a baby/kid), I'm finding that I'm actually looking forward to walking slow, staying chill, and finding the zen in long-haul travel, wherever it may be.