11/9/90

“… whatever objections I could devise against the trains, they were nothing compare to the horrors of air travel in China. I had a small dose of it when I left Urumqi for Lanzhou – there was no point in retracing my steps on the Iron Rooster. I was told to be at the airport three hours early – that is, at 7 o’clock in the morning; and the plane left five hours late, at three in the afternoon. It was an old Russian jet and it’s metal covering was wrinkled and cracked like the tinfoil in a used cigarette pack. The seats were jammed so closely together my knees hurt and the circulation was cut off to my feet. Every seat was taken and every person was heavily laden with carry-on baggage – big, skull cracking bags that fell out of the overhead rack. Even before the plane took off people were softly and soupily vomiting, with their heads down and their hands folded in the solemn and prayerful way that the Chinese habitually puke. After two hours we were each given an envelope that contained three caramel candies, some gum and three sticky boiled sweets; a piece of cellophane almost concealed a black strand of dried beef that looked like oakum and tasted like decayed rope; and  (because the Chinese can be optimistic) a toothpick. Two hours later a girl wearing an old mailman’s uniform went around with a tray. Thinking it might be better food, I snatched one of the little parcels – it was a keyring. The plane was very hot then so cold I could see my breath. It creaked like a schooner under sail. An announcement was made, in a gargling sort of way, that we would shortly be landing. At this point everyone except the pukers stood up and began yanking the bundles out of the racks; they remained standing, pushing, tottering and vaguely complaining – deaf to the demands that they sit down and strap themselves in – as the plane bounced, did wheelies on the runway and limped into the Lanzhou terminal. Never again.”  Theroux’s adventures continue.

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