Posted by: James Shannon | January 3, 2012

Journeying Home To Canada From Southeast Asia OR How To Travel Back In Time Without Breaking The Laws Of Physics!

After charging through five action-packed months in Southeast Asia, the sad day had finally arrived: time to go back home to Canada.  It wasn’t entirely sad, I must confess … I was looking forward to another summer of boat tours, snow-capped mountains, and hiking in Jasper National Park, as well as seeing my parents again, confirming to them that YES, you can go to There Be Dragons territory, and not only survive, but THRIVE, and come home ALIVE!

But I felt I was leaving behind something that had a stolen a piece of my heart (a feeling that has pulled me back to the region, starting January 19th … more on this in the coming days!), and that I’d be back before I knew it…

Aside from this bit of introspection, let’s chronicle this 19 hour marathon of travel fun fun FUN! starting with a early morning breakfast at Hanoi airport…

… ah yes, a good ‘ole hotdog!  The lack of traditional breakfast options at Hanoi airport led me to revert to the culinary choice I made on Air Asia many months previous…! 🙂

Aboard the Vietnam Airways flight to Beijing, lunch was served halfway through the three hour flight.  While I don’t remember what was on offer that day, I do remember being offered wine FOR FREE … this gob-smacked me, as many western airlines charge you exorbitant rates for alcohol of any type!

CREDIT: Blackwych at flickr.com (http://www.flickr.com/photos/blackwych/2225954852/)

As you can see, Vietnam Airways food is not an afterthought, but a statement of national pride to the entire world … this was not my exact meal, but Blackwych, a very talented photographer on flickr.com dined on this very delectable meal en route to Siem Reap from Hanoi.  I ordered the chicken on my flight, but our meals had one central thing in common: a lovely glass of refreshing red wine! 

Upon arrival at Beijing International Airport, I noted that the terminal that we arrived at looked completely different than the one that I passed through five months previous.    An uneasy feeling came over me, as I realized that my flight out of China left from a different terminal, and I lacked a Chinese transit visa (I arrived and left Beijing from the same terminal back in November 2010) … oops!

Fortunately, I caught my immigration officials on a good day, as they just got me to fill in an arrival and declaration form, and gave me a stern warning not to head downtown.  I caught my bus to Terminal 3, unsure now whether or not I was supposed to claim my baggage and re-check it at the new terminal; the passengers holding an assortment of rolling suitcases and backpacks gave me reason to be quite nervous!

Once I arrived at the gargantuan terminal 3 (it is three kilometres long, and I needed to take a transit train to get from the check-in area to the departures sector of the building!), I received an only slightly reassuring promise from the desk agent that my bag, checked through to Toronto, was transported 3-4 km from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3 for me.  Left wondering if it was the truth, or whether the agent was only telling me what I wanted to hear in order to save face, I made my way to my gate to await the giant leap across the Pacific.  I had Pizza Hut for dinner, shockingly priced at first world rates, and then boarded one of Air Canada’s jumbo jets, to travel back in time, courtesy of the International Date Line!

Home sweet home, here I come!

We lifted off the tarmac, leaving “misty” China behind, the massive Pacific beckoning.  I preoccupied myself during the long-haul flight by doing photo editing (AC plug units ftw!) on my laptop, listening to my music on my computer, plus perusing the library provided by the on-board entertainment system.

After re-watching Inception, I fell into a short nap.  Shortly after, I awoke and noticed a fringe of light tracing the blackout screen on my airplane window.  I cracked it slightly to avoid disturbing my seatmates … after the brilliant light hurt my eyes initially, they adjusted to the icy panorama outside; we were directly over the Arctic Ocean, somewhere over the vast nothingness of Nunavut!

CREDIT: wikimedia.org

Arctic sea ice, as viewed from any plane window passing over the vast stretches of the largely empty Canadian territory of Nunavut.  Picture borrowed from wikimedia.org, as all the pics I took turned out very badly.

Eventually, the terrain began to take on greener formations, as the plane broke through the permafrost/timber line, and soon enough, the first signs of Southern Canadian civilization began to appear.  Roads, traced like pencil markings, carved through the wilderness below.  Frontier towns, like supply stations in deep interstellar space, stood out conspicuously against the rugged northlands of Ontario.  Stabbing further southward, the Canadian Shield finally gave way to the Saint Lawerence/Great Lake Lowlands, revealing a patchwork of farmer’s fields, perfectly formed and organized townships, and thickets of mixed Coniferous and Carolinian deciduous forest.  Finally, like viral bricking multiplying inside an unwilling host, the eternally growing suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area came into view, and at once, the plane began to descend.

Gliding mere hundreds of feet above the 401 and the airport warehouses of Mississauga, we lined up and executed a perfect touchdown … BOOM! ROOOAAAARRRRRR!!!  The air brakes slowed us to a comfortable cruising speed on one of the many runways of Lester B. Pearson International Airport.  We taxied toward our gate, cross-checked, and hooked up to the transfer bridge.

And with that, I was home.

Well not quite.  I made my way inside, claimed my backpack (which while it was not lost in transit, it turned out that the shoulder strap that I fixed before the trip had been DAMAGED … sigh, **disgusted shoulder shrug**), and made haste towards domestic departures (final destination on this day was Halifax)… but not before having my first bite of Canadiana after almost half a year away.  Yup, you guessed it, I paid a visit to Uncle Tim’s (Tim Horton’s)!  Cina-raisin bagel and orange juice, and I was ready to tackle my last obstacle: a short-hop flight to Nova Scotia!

At around 11pm local time, I pulled into Bluenose Country once more, and after a courtesy shuttle to a nearby airport hotel (thanks Mom and Dad for setting me up with the softest bed I’ve ever slept in!), I collapsed in my room, giving no thought to the fact that I was back in my own culture, stomping ground, comfort zone.  There would be plenty enough time for storytelling, reverse culture shock, and reflection on the trip that had been in the days, weeks, and months to come…

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