Chinese airports never cease to amaze me. They look like they were built yesterday. Or at least in the past couple of years, which often is the case. New, beautiful. They make LAX look like the Roman Colosseum. Security is taken as seriously as in the U.S. except you don’t have to take off your shoes, which makes the process more pleasant and less aromatic. Of course they share that universal airport attribute of food prices that are ten times more than outside, but nothing says breakfast like Oreos.
What set the Lijiang airport apart was that it had more employees than passengers.
That helped explain why cabbies won’t use the meter to the airport and the ride was 90 rmb, even after haggling. Once the cab takes you all the way out there, it has to drive back empty. There’s no steady stream of passengers going in and out. The airport is fully staffed for maybe one, maybe two flights at a time, and it’s probable that most of the passengers at the airport when we were there were on our flight.
Of those passengers, we had encountered three previously on our travels. There was a couple from Israel whom Benny and Olga knew and an Englishwoman who had stayed at Upland in Kunming. Our good fortune: the Englishwoman had already contacted the hostel in Chengdu and arranged for an airport pickup. Landing in Chengdu, she got a thrill out of seeing a driver holding up a sign with the name “Emma” on it. Which is how we learned her name, and which I should have known because Emma is (I assume) the only name English people are legally allowed to give their daughters.
How can you sit next to someone on a plane and talk for an hour without learning their name you ask? Asking someone their name is just about the last question posed in a conversation when traveling. The first questions are those of place: Where are you from? Where have you been? Where are you going?
Followed by questions of time: How long have you been away? How much longer are you traveling? How long are you in Chengdu?…
Only after you’ve been talking to someone a while, gone to a tourist attraction together, and jointly rented an apartment for a few months, do you bother to ask someone’s name.
That afternoon Benny and Olga headed to People’s Park while I roamed the city center in the other direction. The result being when we reconnoitered at Lazybones, I came back with the impression that Chengdu was “all right” whereas Benny said with a huge grin, “I love this city.”
“Why, what’s at the Park?” I asked.
Again, I pressed for details. He thought about it. “All these retired people—”
Olga stopped him. “You will have to see for yourself.”
So the mystical attraction of People’s Park would have to wait.