Have you ever been so tired that you feel high? Your thoughts have dramatically slowed, to the point that your brain synapses won’t fire, while everything surrounding you has rapidly escalated in tempo. It all becomes a blur. Nothing could possibly be real. It’s just a weird mirage. Then you really start getting to thinking, your brain slowly shutting down, and you conclude it isn’t. Nothing is really real, but you trail off, getting lost in the cartoonish dirt pattern on the tiles beneath your throbbing feet.
Am I looking at God? How long have I been staring at the tiles now? Has it been an hour, or three?
Your eyes jolt back open. That guy next to you, the one who’d spit a loogie on the floor, is still listening to a Chinese television show on his phone. It’s at full volume. The metallic piece in his phone’s speaker buzzing with every laugh track, it’s how you know the piece of shit has been blown. You can’t figure out why he won’t put headphones on, but he’s also not the only one doing it. It’s as if everyone at this airport is in a competition to make more noise than the next person, but you can’t be bothered. You have a mission, you must stay awake, so the noise is welcomed.
You collect yourself. You’re still sitting on that metal bench, hugging your backpack like it’s your life. Coming back to reality, even if very briefly, you feel your contacts slowly cement to the white’s of your eyes. Not to mention, you can’t remember when your inner dialogue switched to the third person. Your scope has shrunk to survival - surviving this layover, which feels more like a hangover.
You didn’t realize it at first, but you’ve started to catch yourself making a conscious effort to blink. It isn’t that it’s any harder for your eyes to close, you just want to be damn sure they open. The effort is put into opening them back up, which makes your head curiously snapback.
For an outsider, it must have looked like a ghost was tapping a finger against my forehead, making it rock back and forth like that, but it was 3:05 AM and everyone around me, save the running children, had been sleeping in their makeshift airport nest for some time now.
That’s about where I was, failing to stay conscious, sitting there in Chengdu. Feeling strung out from shitty airplane food and cabin pressure, it didn’t help that there were children running and screaming every which way. It was more like a greyhound station than an airport and with the squat toilets and people spitting on the airport’s tile floors, I wouldn’t have doubted it. If there was a travelers bottom, this was it.
I’d made it through the hell hole that was Beijing. It’s rather hard to put into words, but imagine if The Matrix and Total Recall were mashed into one, put on a budget, and weren’t set so far into the future - that’s what PEK felt like. The lights weren’t working and everything was chaotic with an undertone of darkness. It truly felt heavy there, dystopian even, but the people still seemed happy, even though the sun was blotted out by pollution.
Earlier that day, when we were doing laps around the city waiting for our chance to land, a flight attendant came over the loudspeaker and announced “thank you for your patience, there are very thick clouds today.” But, they weren’t clouds. Clouds are natural. Clouds are made of water vapor. Clouds aren’t made of industrial exhaust, those are plumes.
I’d had enough of China, I wasn’t even to Kathmandu yet, but all that was on my mind was the anxiety of having to do this once more, for my return trip.