Predictably, the 13-hour layover in Guangzhou (formerly Canton) seemed never-ending. If there's anything about that entomological design of an airport you'd like to know, please ask. One hour prior to departure, hopes dashed that we might soon leave the giant caterpillar. A woman let out a gut-wrenching scream. Her sister caught the hysteria, followed by a tiny girl - daughter to one of the women - who ran to the safety of her father's arms. Snatching her up, he slunk into an unlit corner.
The screaching, at fever-pitch within a few seconds, sounded as if the women had self-immolated right there in Departure Lounge A2. Two airline officials quietly explained in Chinese, further provoking the women's ire. "Speak our language," one of them yelled, waving her hands in the air to make a point. Silver bangles jumped up and down her arms. "Stop hiding behind language we don't understand. It's discrimination." The other woman shouted her agreement.
Passengers stood up. Pressed forward to the desk. Craned their necks. A rustle like dry grass caught in the breeze, carrying the ash of a carelessly tossed cigarette butt, kindling one blade, then another, sputtered into flame. Spread fast as panic will among the crowd. Whispers rose into a crescendo of what d'you mean? Cancelled? Cancelled till when? Tomorrow morning, 9:30?
I walked to the elevator, rode to the second floor, told the woman at the information desk I needed a wheelchair, "Right now." Indicated where I would sit until things got sorted out downstairs: extensions on visas, permission to stay at all; food, accommodation, transportation, food. I didn't budge from the safety of my chariot until we climbed aboard a bus that took us to our air-conditioned hotel with tea-making facilities, hot showers, and small bags of whatever passed for dinner hung on the outside door handle.