My year of teaching English at a university in Shanghai, China was quickly coming to an end, and I found myself swamped with grading final exams, reports to be submitted, sorting and packing, and a round of farewell dinners and parties to attend. It finally dawned on me that I needed to make reservations and purchase a ticket for my flight home. I had waited until the last minute, not realizing the mass exodus of teachers and other foreigners leaving during this same time frame, let alone Chinese travelers.
One evening, as a group of teacher friends were sitting around visiting at our apartment, the topic of everyone’s travel plans came up. I shared that I had purchased the last available ticket for the next two weeks which only allowed me a thirty-minute layover in Hong Kong before catching my connecting flight to Los Angeles. It got really quiet, jaws dropped, and everyone looked at me as if I had lost my last ounce of common sense. I could certainly understand why they would think that, but for some reason I was rather nonchalant and unconcerned about it. Everyone shook their head, “That’s impossible! You’ll never pull that one off.”
“Well, it was the only flight I could get out for the next two weeks, so I’m going for it,” I shrugged.
The day of my departure I left without the least bit of apprehension. (Looking back at the scene now, I have to wonder at myself. For international flights, they usually advise you to arrive three hours early.) When my flight from Shanghai landed at the busy international airport in Hong Kong, I knew I needed to exit my plane and move fast. There would be no time to waste. I walked out onto the crowded, bustling concourse and didn’t have a clue in which direction to turn. It was then that I noticed a very official looking Chinese lady dressed in what appeared to be an airport uniform. She was standing in front of me, holding a clipboard and surveying the passing crowd. I walked up to her, and not knowing for sure if she even spoke English, I simply showed her my ticket. She looked up, didn’t speak a word, and motioned me to follow her.
For the next fifteen minutes I followed my Chinese guide as she led me up one escalator and down the next; down one long corridor to the next. Then we walked across a balcony. As I looked down over the railing, I noticed what seemed to be hundreds of people waiting in line to have their baggage inspected. We went down another escalator, through a back door and a back corridor, and across another long concourse, when my escort stopped and pointed to a door being closed by an airport attendant. I hurriedly gave my thanks and scrambled across the departure lobby now full of empty seats. The assistant kindly opened the door and allowed me to squeeze through. I managed to barely enter the cabin of the plane before the door closed behind me. It wasn’t hard finding my seat as it was the only vacant one left. I looked around and it seemed everyone was sitting there staring at me as if to say, “Where have you been? Hurry up and sit down!”
As I sat down and buckled my seat belt, the plane began to back out of the gate. The stewards had already gone through all the required safety procedures. Within minutes, we were airborne and on our way to Los Angeles! I sat back and relaxed, rather pleased at how smoothly everything had gone. My friends would be incredulous. No problem. Piece of cake. Then it hit me. I hadn’t gone through customs, baggage inspection, or even security. I didn’t even have a boarding pass. How did I manage to get on this flight, anyway? The prospect of arriving in Los Angeles without my two suitcases began to sink in. How could they possibly be offloaded and transferred to another flight in the space of half an hour? I was planning an overnight stay before catching a flight home the next morning. Would my suitcases remain in Hong Kong? How would I even track them down?
Arriving in Los Angeles many hours later, I made my way to baggage claim with the other passengers and waited anxiously at the carousel. Did my suitcases even make it? I held my breath. Soon the familiar hum of the conveyor belt kicked in. Everyone’s eyes (especially mine) were glued on the chute, when out popped my two suitcases – first ones onto the belt! I was beyond thrilled and relieved, and breathed a prayer of thanks to God. It was obvious. He was the one who had orchestrated this incredible journey, this amazing year, from beginning to end. Thirty minutes in Hong Kong? My friends were right…I couldn’t do it, but God did!
Oh yes…there was one thing that did get left behind in China — my heart!