Editor's note: Polly Crawford was a reporter and associate editor of The Peninsula Clarion from 1985-1988, when she wrote "Perils of Polly." She also wrote a series of "Peril" columns in 1998 about her Australian adventures. Although she is now a teacher at Soldotna Middle School, the perils continue as she just returned from an around-the-world journey that started in Russia and ended in Tibet.
We could almost taste home. Our schedule was going to be a bit tight: a stop in Chengdu, two hours and plane change in Beijing, one and a half hours in Vancouver, two hours in Seattle, and one and a half hours in Anchorage before that final leg to Kenai. It should be doable.
But Lhasa wasn't done with us. The grand city in the clouds had one more treat we just happened to stumble on: dancing water fountains. I got my sister to fork over the peanuts necessary to take a pedicab -- a bicycle with a seat for two in the back -- and we headed for one last visit to the Potala Palace. I was a little perturbed when the pedicab dumped us out in the street between six lanes of traffic and a waist-high, vertical-barred fence that stretched as far as the eye could see. My agile sister hopped over, but my fake hips and knee said no. Finally another, nicer, pedicab driver pulled up and let me use his bike as a stool to climb over.
Once in the huge park, we saw people gathering, and suddenly fountains erupted from the concrete, the water dancing to music. With the Potala
Palace in the background and the sky fading to deep blue and then black, the scene was spectacular. Then it got crazy as people -- Chinese tourists and Tibetans alike -- started running through and pushing each other into the fountains. Give me a crazy accomplice, and I'd have been in there. My sister gets cold too easily, and the thermometer had dipped to about 68 degrees. Still, we left Lhasa with a pleasant taste, no longer feeling the drudgery of the altitude.
The next day began our epic journey home. My backpack was just slightly bigger than the allowed carry-on, and I didn't want it, anyway, but questioned why Lhasa couldn't check it all the way home. The agent couldn't provide boarding passes beyond this flight either. Oh well.
A stop in Chengdu helped us unload the rest of our Chinese money where we bought panda chopsticks, and then we landed in Beijing. Two hours should be plenty of time. But fate was working against us.
I stood at the baggage carousel, waiting, waiting, sweating, heart rate increasing, glancing at my watch. Our two hours were narrowing. Finally, one of the very last bags off the plane, my green duffle bag with my backpack inside flopped down the belt. I didn't even take the time to take it out. I just threw the handle of the duffle bag over my shoulder, and off we went in search of the ticket counter. Now I really started sweating. It was a long ways, but not hard to find. We got in line where the "Vancouver" sign was lit. We had an hour left. We'd make it. I started breathing.
Unfortunately, right in front of us was a couple with 10 million huge boxes. Well, maybe not that many, but too many and too big for the Chinese ticket agent to want to deal with. And they were probably heavy. There was an argument. Other people sauntered over and the argument escalated. We continued to stand in line and wait, and wait, and wait. Once again, my heart rate increased. How I did not want to miss this flight!
Suddenly, the Vancouver sign went black. In its place was Frankfurt. "Oh, oh," my sister said. "That's not good."
We watched the agent plaster "Frankfurt" tape on the sides of the boxes in front of us. I agreed. "That's really not good."
Finally, the boxes and the couple in front of us cleared away. We stepped up and boldly declared, "We're going to Vancouver."
The sweet harried and hassled ticket agent blanched, her face wiped clean of her smile. She dashed over to a different computer and began typing madly. "Here," she said, handing us our boarding passes. "You must hurry."
"Yeah, we know," I replied wryly, glancing again at my watch.
She plastered round stickers on our shoulders. "This gives you priority. Go to the front of the line at security and customs."
I heaved up my duffle bag. "Will this make it if I check it?"
Her answer was the look on her face. "Never mind," I said, pulling the backpack out of the duffle bag and hoisting it onto my shoulders. Sue was already off and running. I hobbled quickly behind her, hips aching.
No one protested as we ran to the front of the line in security. They scrutinized all our stuff, which included things I had intended to check through, not carry on, but I was only asked about my shampoo and contact solution. When I said what it was, they sent me right on through. Sue's instant Tang raised eyebrows, but they let her have it. Customs was quick, too. But the way to the gate was long. Sue ran ahead, I guess believing she could hold the plane.
But it wasn't a plane at the gate: it was a bus. She stood in the automatic doorway, refusing to allow it to close, the agent yelling at her to get on. "My sister's coming!" she retorted. I arrived, clambered aboard, sweating profusely. I looked at her. "We made it!"
We climbed aboard the plane, plopped down in our seats, breathed, and tried to relax for the 10-hour raucous flight to Vancouver. I say raucous, because Chinese tourists are just noisier than what we're used to.
I left my sister in Vancouver. I didn't envy her the rest of her trip: spending the night at the airport, and then catching a bus to Oregon since her husband works for Greyhound. I followed a long, deserted maze through customs and to the puddle jumper gate to Seattle, and then after a quick flight there, finally climbed aboard Alaska Airlines to Anchorage.
Once in the air, the steward leaned over and asked what I wanted to drink. All stress melted out of me. I was smacked with a wonderful reality: I could understand him, and he could understand me! Language is an awesome tool! Striving to communicate is hard work!
Upon arriving at home, I stayed in a daze for a couple of days. Our adventures were so unbelievable, just telling them didn't seem like enough.
And then Alaska's summer rains came and life moved on.
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