Saturday, May 30, 2009

South Africa Day Fifteen: Homeward Bound

On our last morning in South Africa we dropped the Jeep off with our friends and said our fond farewells before being picked up by the car for the ride to the airport. We had quite a bit of luggage--the two suitcases and 12-bottle wine box that we arrived with, plus three new 6-bottle wine boxes. When we got to the airport we had them wrap the wine boxes in plastic (a security thing that you often see in airports in Africa and Asia), and to reduce the number of checked items we had them wrap two of the 6-bottle boxes together (clever!!).

Since we were flying business class, Singapore Airlines did not bat an eye at the five checked-in items we had, and without any further ado we were sailing on through passport control and security to await our departure. I had hoped to change my remaining Rand into US Dollars, but I did not have enough to make it a sound business proposition, owing to the hefty fee they charge, so I had no choice but to spend it.

During the 10 hour flight to Singapore we were not the least bit sleepy, owing to our 1pm departure, so we spent the flight watching movies (I highly recommend Gran Torino!) and going through our photos. Of the 2,958 photos we took during the trip I managed to identify 300 or so that are worth sharing on our photo site, and started to go through them to make them fully presentable.

We landed in Singapore at 5:35am, but our connection to Beijing would not leave until 4:55pm, so we had more than enough time to go into town and do some shopping. Singapore's 24-hour Mustafa Shopping Center was our first stop of the morning, where we hoped to buy some underwear, socks and dental floss (no luck on the last item), but it was only around 7am when we got out of there, way too early for anything else to be open yet. By this point we were both getting rather groggy, and the heat and humidity of Singapore was starting to get to us. We figured we'd head over to the mall where our other shopping destination was located, hoping that it would both be air conditioned and would have somewhere to get something to eat. As it turns out, the a/c is not switched on until the shops open, but there was a food hawker center nearby where I was able to get my beloved Singaporean breakfast of nasi lemak (coconut scented rice with chili sauce, fried peanuts, cucumber, and fried chicken wing), along with a glass of fresh fruit juice. Although J2 initially demurred on having anything, as soon as he saw my dish he decided to have one, too.

At 10am our store opened up. The store we were waiting for was the same clothing store that we discovered on our Spain trip in January, called Desigual. We really like their clothing, but there is no branch in China (even though their clothes are made here), so we have to stock up when we find a branch. (Another idea for South Africa--opening up their franchise there!) We made our purchases and headed back to the airport to wait for our flight in the air conditioned comfort of the business class lounge.

As we boarded our flight to Beijing we once again caught sight of something we had not seen since leaving Asia--passengers wearing paper masks over their faces to protect themselves from the swine flu. We managed to sleep some on the 6-hour flight to Beijing, though fitfully, since these seats did not recline flat (yes, we're spoiled). Upon arrival we were told that we could not deplane until after quarantine officials had boarded and checked each and every passenger's temperature. Finally we were released, only to have to pass by not one but two infrared temperature sensors, and hand in a quarantine form to an official. The bright side to this paranoia is that by the time we got to the luggage carousels our bags had all arrived. As we passed through the customs control they asked us to have our boxes x-rayed, which I thought would mean a duty on the wine, but in fact no one even looked at what the screen revealed to be inside and we just picked up our boxes and left.

Our driver was dutifully waiting for us at the arrival hall and turned pale when he saw the volume of our bags, convinced they'd never fit in his car. But we managed it with no difficulty and by a little past midnight we were home.