Getting there – Bali to YVR

I was due to fly out of Bali 1am Monday morning. I’d been there for a week with my partner and the in-laws.  All weekend the airport in Bali had been closed due to a volcanic ash cloud over the airport. Thankfully it opened on Sunday afternoon and I couldn’t find anything saying my flight was cancelled. All the Australian flights were cancelled but I was flying to Vancouver on China Southern via Guangzhou (near HK). I said my goodbyes and went to the airport, with fingers crossed. The hotel staff had been trying to get in touch with the airline over the weekend, but their offices were closed. Not helpful!

The airport was full of people and my flight wasn’t even on the list of departures. There were lots of cancelled flights, all of which were clearly indicated on the check-in desks and departure screens…except mine. Finally it came up and I went over, I was the first in the line and only one person behind me. The line next to us wasn’t moving.TathraMeme-shedd-2

Four ladies in pink uniforms started to set up two check-in desks but no one got processed. People from the next line approached them, speaking Mandarin. At one point I heard one of the airline reps say “waiting for permission”. I noticed there was no gate assigned to flight CZ3006. There wasn’t one for the next line either, no wonder it wasn’t moving. It was a bit odd to me that no one else was getting in the queue for my flight. It was just me and a Japanese man who was pretty focused on his game device, not so concerned about what was going on around him. I decided to sit down on the floor. It didn’t stop people from walking over me, like I didn’t exist, I felt invisible. There was lots of chatter around me, I starting to get concerned that we weren’t going anywhere tonight.

I got especially worried when the head airline rep left, but the sign didn’t change. It wasn’t looking good. I asked the remaining airline rep what was happening with the flight. The woman said, “maybe cancel”, and as she packed up to leave I asked again. “Yes, cancel.” Right then!

I was unsure if leaving before the official cancellation would be wise but I decided to go. Got an offer for private taxi from a guy who said 120000 IDR which was a price I was happy to pay (approx $12 AUD), so I went with it. His car was nicer than some of the vehicles I’d been in over the last week, official taxis and tour vans included, and he got me back to the hotel super quick. I was back there by 12.30am. I emailed my travel agent on the way to see if they could advise me or get me any other information when they opened in Melbourne the next morning.

I was very grateful to have a place to come back to, lots of people would be sleeping in the airport. After a decent sleep I got up early and went to the concierge to see if we could get info on my flight. “If your flight has been affected by the volcano, press one.” I was on hold for 20 minutes which turned out to cost nearly 400000 IDR ($35 AUD). The minute I hung up I got an email from the travel agent. She’d booked me on a flight for 1pm but there was no guarantee it would go ahead and no info about connecting flights to LAX from Guangzhou. I had breaky with Emma & the Lynch’s once more, said good bye again and went to the airport.

This time CZ3009 was already on the board and the queue for check-in was very long. Where were all these people last night? How did they know not to come? I’m pretty sure there was only one other non-Asian person in queuing for the flight. I was glad to see it looked like it was going ahead, still no gate number but people were being processed, luggage was going on the conveyor belts.

It took at least an hour to get through the line. With my Australian Passport in hand, I checked-in and was told that my connecting flight would be sorted at the transfer desk in Guangzhou. The flight left after 3pm. It was smoky, I swear someone had a cigarette in the loo at least 3-4 times during the flight. It reminded me of the days when smoking was allowed on flights, back when my parents were splitting up and we flew from Canada to Australia and back a few times. This was an unexpected memory of another very difficult time in my life.

When I arrived at Guangzhou around 8pm, we were piled on to three buses that drove at least 3km across the tarmac from the plane to the gate. Thankfully, the transfer desk was right there. I went to get my passport, it was gone. WHAT!!!??! Completely mortified. I checked all my bags but I was absolutely sure I’d put it in my computer case which was under my arm the whole time. I knew it was the first thing I’d need so I’d kept it handy. I don’t know how it could have gone missing. If it had fallen out, wouldn’t someone have noticed and picked it up? Thinking about my experience with other passengers cutting in front of me in the line at the gate, I wondered if looking out for each other was a lesser value in Chinese culture, or maybe less extended to foreigners.

After we looked through my backpack and carry-on luggage they looked on the plane and the bus. I was so hopeful it would be found. I kept saying to myself, ‘It’s been found’, and imagined it being handed back to me, feeling grateful. The woman approached me: “I sorry to tell you we have not found your passport.” Then it went from bad to worse. I couldn’t travel any further without a passport. They were going to turn me back. The next flight to Melbourne was full (they wanted to send me to Brisbane!) and was told I may be waiting a day or two… OMFG! I was devastated.

I contemplated what this meant. Going back would mean being home for my partner’s birthday, I’d get to sleep in my own bed, I’d see my dogs again. That would have been ok, good even, despite the cold. I was gutted thinking about giving up on this trip to Canada that I’ve been dreaming about for a year though! The lady went back to the desk and I began to weep. Letting go of my trip was painful. It meant a lot to me. I allowed myself to feel and express the pain. I didn’t care that people could hear me. I was grieving, hard.

Then I remembered I had brought my expired Canadian passport, with the idea that getting it renewed whilst in Canada would be easier than from Oz. The lady at the transfer desk was doubtful but called the Canadian Consulate, and put me on the phone. I had a nice chat with a friendly guy with a refreshing Canadian accent. He was from Port Alberni on Vancouver Island and we talked about living in different suburbs of Victoria: Oak Bay; Fairfield, and of course Fernwood. He said he was satisfied I was legit, not some imposter. I thought he was just friendly, but he was sussing me out! I thought he was in Canada but he is stationed in Guangzhou to deal with people like me!

The upshot: my trip was back on! I was flooded with relief. Next, to get me on a flight to YVR (Vancouver Airport)! By this time it was after 10pm and no more flights tonight, which we already knew. If I had a passport they’d have put me up in a hotel until they could get me a seat, but without one, I couldn’t leave the airport. I slept on the floor not far from the transfer desk. Not fun but I managed. I was glad for the neck pillow I got just before leaving Bali. I used it under my hips instead of sleeping on polished marble flooring.

My flight the next day was at 2pm. I was stressing but used all the techniques at my disposal to accept the situation and make the best of it. I’d been listening to the Philosopher’s Notes (PNs) on Byron Katie’s “The Work” in the queue for the check in to the flight in Bali. It’s all about “Loving What Is”, acceptance, not arguing with reality and what we think ’should’ be. How appropriate. I gave myself space to feel what I was feeling but caught myself worrying, let it go, breathed, and came to a place of acceptance. It felt like the best choice to make.

I did a lot of writing while I was waiting, and listened to more PNs. The one on Introvert Power helped me realise I’d been needing space and being on a family holiday for the last week, I hardly took any time to myself. No wonder I was a bit withdrawn toward the end! I also really struggled with the noise. People talking loudly, announcements for boarding flights at the gates, on top of the fact that I’d slept on the floor and got maybe three hours sleep, it was taking a toll. I did what I could to take care of myself, I felt ok considering.

Finally I got on the plane, but not before more people cutting in front of me to get in the queue to board the bus that took us to the plane. The good thing was that this flight was direct to YVR, no stopover in LAX, and this leg was 11 hours to Vancouver.

I sat next to a UM (unaccompanied minor, I’d been one myself back in the day) and a girl on a school trip who smelled like she hadn’t bathed for a while and wasn’t feeling well. At least it wasn’t smoky this time. I think I got 2 hours sleep altogether, my earplugs didn’t seem to help. The food was good and we got two meals: one while I would have loved to have been sleeping but I was also happy to eat.

Acknowledging that I wasn’t going to sleep more on the flight I did some more writing, listened to more PNs, watched some business shows on future trends and automated manufacturing, robotics, nano tech etc. and some original CSI. Not much else was of interest. I just wanted to pass the time until the flight was over.

When we finally touched down in VYR, the tears started to flow.  The sense of familiarity was like a wave of comfort, I loved it, relished it. Vancouver Airport has become one of the most beautiful airports I’ve seen. The aboriginal art, the recreated natural environments, the light airy feel. It’s just gorgeous.

The passport machines not surprisingly didn’t work for me, but being able to go to the Canadian Passport section was great. The process was very simple: streamlined and no line ups! The expired passport was fine. I was very emotional at the customs counter, telling him about losing my Aussie passport, using my expired one, just the whole situation, so much pent up emotion, leaking out all over! The officer consulted with his colleague about my passport and then came back to me and said, Ok, thanks. Off I went! Was it really that easy?

Getting my checked luggage wasn’t too long and being in a nice environment helped. Somehow it bothered me less when a couple of people from the plane pushed in front of me again to get their bags. The fact that I was here and had no passport hassles had me feeling really grateful. Before I got off the plane I said to myself that I’d like to get on the next possible ferry and I was in luck!

I managed to get to the PCL counter 5 minutes before the next bus, and I got on the 1pm ferry! I headed straight for the buffet, had an amazing lunch of beautiful BC salmon and salad with sprouts, cuke, shredded carrot, spinach and ginger soy dressing, SO tasty! I spent a little time on the deck but it was quite windy and carting around a roller bag wasn’t great. I went back inside and found a seat with a great view and within 20 minutes of sitting down: “Attention passengers, we are now approaching Shwartz Bay Terminal…”

As I write this I’m on the PCL bus into the city and so much of what I’m seeing is familiar, some new stuff, fresh faces on old buildings, but lots is the same. I can see the Olympic Mountains on the horizon and am really loving being here. I worked my ass off to get here and I made it!

Good-bye Glad

Yesterday we buried my grandmother-in-law. She isn’t actually my grandmother by birth or marriage but sometimes it takes someone’s passing to put things into perspective. I learned a bit more about her life and the impact she had on her family, my partner’s family, my family. She was a woman who spoke her mind, smoked and drank with a regularity almost like clockwork, not excessive, but often. Gladys Moll was loved by all who knew her. She was a country woman, with a knack for gardening and didn’t hesitate to shoot a snake if she saw one or thought she saw one.

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Gladiolus, flower of her namesake.

She came down to our place a few times with her daughter, my partner’s mother on the Queen’s Birthday long weekends for a gardening fest and a visit. As the years wore on she didn’t cope with long drives so we only saw her when we went to Mildura for family gatherings and holiday visits. I watched her age a fair bit in the last few years. Her decline was evident in the reduced dexterity in her hands from arthritis and a year or so ago she had a small stroke which left her nearly blind, and sapping much of her vigour and will to live.

I remember one weekend of gardening she sat down with our orchids and separated the bulbs, I’d never grown orchids and the first year I lived in my house, it was a pleasant surprise to find them in bloom that first winter. I don’t know how it would have been for the orchids if she hadn’t separated them but I like to think she has helped me enjoy the orchids for longer than if she hadn’t done it. She loves to be helpful but doesn’t ask, just finds things to do and does them, pruning and weeding as she sees the need.

I didn’t have so much fondness for her at first. I really struggled with her smoking, found it hard to be around. She seemed to complain a lot, the thing I heard come out of her mouth most often, almost a habitual response to anything was “Oh gawd,” often followed by a little chuckle. I didn’t understand her little sayings either. Hearing the eulogy yesterday I appreciated her in a different way. I saw the silly little sayings as part of who she was. I think some of it was a product of her time and her way of making life interesting. I guess when you grow up in a remote farm there’s a need for that. Something our modern world with its technology and fast pace wouldn’t be able to appreciate so much.

When she’d say something that to me sounded odd, my partner would look at me and say, “Have you never heard that saying before.” No. I hadn’t. I didn’t grow up here, I miss a lot of cultural references. At least with things like “It’s going straight to the pool room.” I could watch the movie and understand it. Yesterday I had the funeral service to build more context for the sayings that made little sense to me at the time. It helped me understand who she was in ways I didn’t when she was alive.

We went to the viewing before the funeral, a chance to have a private, open-casket good-bye. I thought there’d be a few people there but it was just us, my partner’s mom and sisters, and brother-in-law. None of them had experienced this before. They were all a bit freaked out at the idea of seeing her dead. I was impressed, she looked very peaceful. It was a nice way for them all to see her looking better than she did in the hospital with tubes and stuff coming out of her. It can give a sense of relief to see a loved one who’s passed, without suffering, and even with out life as sad as it is.

I felt honoured to be able to share the grief with the family, this family I have become part of in the last 10 years. They never questioned my presence or role at the funeral and found myself sitting in the front row next to my partner who was next to her Mom, the other sisters didn’t want to be in the front. The pallbearers looked very smart as they carried the coffin over to the frame above the open ground. I swear the coffin would have weighed more than she did. She was a tiny woman with a big personality despite how unassuming she was. It still feels weird to refer to her in the past tense.

I didn’t go to my grandmother’s funeral. She died a couple of years after I came back to Australia. It was sad that my reality at the time meant it wasn’t affordable to fly back to Canada. But when I think of it now I could have asked the family to fly me back, if it was really important to me. At the time I guess I felt like it wasn’t or maybe I wasn’t.

Grieving Glad was a blessing. It felt a bit like I got to grieve my own grandmother as well as who Glad was in my life. I think I let go of a bunch of other stuff or at least released some of the sadness that had been sitting in me, unexpressed. Being able to grieve with the family at a time where sadness is appropriate felt like a gift. The domain the family primarily operates from is the physical and I’ve struggled in the past being comfortable expressing my emotional self among them. It felt good to be able to cry together. Especially sitting in the front row as the tiny coffin was brought onto the silver frame above the hole in the earth.

At the end of the service people were given a chance to pay their final respects, a basket of flowers and a tin tub of grain was available for people to put on the coffin. It had been lowered a bit but not right down, even that was an emotional thing to watch. It gave the reality of her being put in the ground a sharp edge but still respectful. We went up, took a flower and tossed it on top of the beautiful flower arrangement already on the coffin. And tossed some grain in, likely grown on the farm where she lived. It reminded me of how she was part of the great undeclared pillar of Australia that is its primary producers, growing food for our tables. It’s amazing how you can appreciate things in death in ways that life doesn’t seem to offer. It inspires me to make the most of my life, my relationships, and appreciate who each of them are while we are here, in life.