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The Rainstorm

I woke at 7 when Micol started packing the sleeping bag she'd thrown on me a couple hours earlier to make me fractionally less cold. I picked myself up from the stone floor and had a look around. Everybody in Shaangxi province was inside Xi'An Airport terminal 2, trying to leave, and they could not.

We moved to the other terminal to check-in, but couldn't, because our plane was stuck somewhere. The flight wasn't cancelled, it was "Delayed. No time.", a phrase we were fast becoming sick of. Because there were no chairs in sight, we pleaded and pleaded until we were allowed to check-in and get to the lounge, and started waiting. We were getting pretty good at that.

I got bored and moved to the local Starbucks knock-off – the Chinese really are very good at counterfeiting – to edit photos again. Rolando joined me around 2PM. "I thought I was lazy," he told me, "but I'm nothing, nothing, to whoever is running this airport." Nothing was happening. There was an endless stream of announcements about bad weather and improving weather and delays and cancellations, but apart from that the airport was at a complete standstill. Occasionally there were calls to board some planes, but we never saw one take off or land. A plane came to our assigned gate, then left full of freight but without passengers. The maddening thing was that the weather was actually very good. It had not snowed in the last ten hours. The sky was the clearest I'd yet seen in China.

Eventually planes started taking off, but ours was still "delayed" with no expected departure time. Around 3PM we heard the plane was still in Shanghai, which made absolutely no sense: it was 20˚ there, and the airport was open. We had no idea what they were waiting for. Rolando and I made our way back to the departure hall to look for other airlines that might have guaranteed seats left on evening flights, and spent 40 minutes in various queues before we learned that China Southern's flight had left Pudong at last and would land at 6:05PM. It landed two hours later, "on time".

It was quarter past seven when we finally boarded the plane, in which we sat for forty-five minutes awaiting a missing passenger, additional meals, fuel, flight documents, the copilot and a few other important bits of airplane that got inexplicably mislaid. We finally took off at twenty-five past eight. The plane was ten hours behind schedule and only the fourth to leave for Pudong in the last 48 hours – normally there are nineteen per day. We had left downtown Xi'An more than thirty-six hours earlier.

Around midnight we alighted from an airport bus in the middle of Shanghai financial center under a vicious rainstorm. Instantly we were drenched. So we ran in what we hoped was the right direction, dodging cars, stopping only briefly to get our bearings, trying to recognize buildings from their lower floors, most of them disappearing into the clouds. Twenty minutes later, tired and completely soaked but happy to have finally made it, we checked in the highest hotel in the world.

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