NOTE: Remember that the "post" dates do not relate to the date of the occurences. This trip to Mongolia actually took place in 2005.
It's 9:15, and we're still on the ground. No book, no pillow. Both are in my luggage. I had reasoned that I wouldn't need them on such a "short" flight. Somewhere in the Beijing airport, David Wang is waiting for us. David is the Chinese tour guide who shepherded us through Beijing last year, and who will do so again this year, if we ever get there.
At 9:50, the cabin staff passes out customs forms for us to fill out. Also, a set of rolling stairs has been put in place next to the plane, and a uniformed young woman has boarded. Naturally, this makes us wonder if we'll be deplaning after all. The rumor mill works very well in a confined space like an airplane, and the rumors are flying now. The most popular one is that we will be taken to Beijing by bus, and our luggage will just get there the best way it can.
It's 10:35, and nothing has been said or done about deplaning. The young woman left a few minutes ago, but the stairs are still next to the plane door. We are still the only plane "rerouted" here. The weather is beautiful, and the story of the storm over Beijing is beginning to smell like old bait.
At 10:45, I dig into my camera bag and produce the box containing my medications. I rob an aspirin tablet from tomorrow's supply, and swallow it. With all this prolonged sitting, the prospect of deep vein clots comes to mind, and I want to keep my blood thinned down. I give one to Eloise, too. It can't hurt.
Finally, at 10:55, I can stay in my seat no longer, and get up to walk around a bit and visit the lavatory. On the way back, I get into a conversation with a cabin attendant, who says we will probably be departing in about fifteen minutes. So much for the buses. I'm grateful for that. However, another plane, a small one, has landed farther down the way and people are deplaning, so who knows? Their luggage is being unloaded as well, though, so it's probably a local flight.
At 11:00, cabin staff serves a round of cold drinks and coffee, and an announcement is made that we'll be departing in about twenty minutes. Hmmm. We've heard the "twenty minute" speech before, back in San Francisco. We shall see.
It's 11:15. The plane's doors are closed, the stairs are moved away from the plane, and the pilot cranks up the engines. It looks like we just might leave this mysterious little place after all. You can bet we're going to be looking for wet tarmac and puddles in Beijing. There had better be some. Bright sunshine and dry ground are going to put some very big holes in the story we have been told.
The big old aircraft lumbers down to a crossover, makes a left turn and rolls to the runway, making another left to line up for takeoff. There it sits with engines revving up, wings dipping a bit like a huge bird flexing its flight muscles. It begins to roll down the runway, but isn't gaining much speed. It veers off the main runway and makes a hard left turn onto a crossover, then another left, which takes us back almost to where we started. The plane rolls past our original position, turns left at the crossover again but this time it makes a hard right on the runway, headed opposite to the direction we were headed the first time. We roll all the way to the end of the runway. I know this is so, because when the pilot puts the big jet into a slow pirouette and turns it back around, I can see that we're within a few feet of the grass. We are now facing the same direction as we were the first time, only we're back at the very beginning of the runway. We have a lot more pavement ahead of us this time.
We sit here, engines revved, passengers thinking light thoughts, pilot no doubt begging the big craft for every ounce of power and thrust it can produce. Finally he releases the restraints and the big jet surges forward, going faster and faster. A final run for the money, and we're in the air. Praise God. As the "lightening" sensation is felt, I'm looking out the window and see nothing but the end of the runway and a lot of grass below us. Obviously, this little airport wasn't designed to play host to a guest as large as our airplane.
The announcement is made that we'll be in Beijing in 46 minutes. After about twenty minutes, we enter a lot of cloud cover and encounter some fairly rough air. As we get closer to Beijing, there is rain. I guess the story was true, but it really did seem strange to us, sitting out there in perfectly clear weather.
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