22 hours of recycled air

“Be safe…don’t do any drugs…I promised I wouldn’t cry *sniffle*”

“Yeah Ma, I know. I love ya; we gotta go. I’ll get ahold of you when we get there.”

“Alright Boy, we’ll miss ya”

“Miss you too Dad, bye.”

Off we went. Mallory and I walked through the giant revolving doors at PDX, out of the misty rain and into the strangely, consistently air-conditioned corridors of the airport. As soon as we were there it started to sink in that we wouldn’t see our friends or family for the next year. The feeling didn’t last long though. The rigmarole of the airport is overwhelming and swept us up like the typhoon that had delayed our departure already.

Like pretty much any international flight, ours did not leave as planned. First it was delayed… then delayed again… then cancelled, but we got it figured out and ended up with a three-leg, 22-hour flight.  The first two flights were relatively painless and uneventful. It was the third flight that made this journey into a story worth telling. We were flying on ChinaAir from San Francisco to Taoyuan in Taiwan, and as you can imagine the flight staff and other passengers were mostly Chinese speakers from Taiwan. We sat next to Joe, a boisterous Taiwanese man in his 50s.

 Joe was very friendly and spoke pretty good English; far superior to my Chinese. He was also quite generous. Only a few minutes after we sat down did he whip out his duty-free bottle of Johnny Walker Black to refill the small airline coffee cup he had already begun to drink from. He looked at me. “Do you like whiskey?” he asked. Being a gracious person and a lover of spirits, I promptly told him, “Why yes, as a matter of fact I do.”

Joe requested 2 more cups to be brought over and they were promptly delivered. He filled our cups, and began toasting, “FIRST CLASS! Now it’s first class!” We were also given our first Chinese lesson; he threw around the phrase “gan-bei,” (乾杯), basically meaning “bottoms up,” like he meant to finish the bottle before we were even cleared for take-off. This drew the attention of the flight attendant, who rushed over for a very cordial conversation, all in Chinese. After she walked away, he informed us that she had asked him to put his whiskey away. Then he poured another round of drinks. “First class!” he continued to exclaim, even after one or two repeat visits from the friendly flight staff.

 After the long day of travel, Mallory drifted off, but I stayed up to keep Joe company and to try to learn a bit more about my new home. We talked about why we were going to Taiwan, about his family, music, and anything else strangers on planes talk about.

The magical unending bottle of scotch was helping pass the hours very nicely, while admittedly reducing our ability to communicate. I continued to milk the whiskey-water I had, and slur congratulations to Joe every time he “tricked” the flight staff. At some point however, we all fell into a restless slumber and passed the remaining hours half-watching bad movies on a tiny screen.

I have to respect and envy Joe for his courage and flamboyance. He really did help to while away the hours. In the end though, I can safely advise avoiding mass quantities of scotch while on an international flight. The combination of alcohol and recycled air makes for a wicked bad hang over, not to mention compounding jet lag. As far as practical advice for feeling good after a long flight to a different time zone, learn from our mistake and listen to the guidebooks: drink lots of water, take some immune boosters, eat at regular times, avoid alcohol and when you arrive, and try to get back to sleeping at normal hours even if it means fighting through the first day to make it till 9pm. 

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