Did the title give too much away? Perhaps. But here is what happened.

As I mentioned in my previous post, we were leaving the Forbidden City of China, feeling rather comfortable at the amount of time we had left ourselves. Albeit, it was less than what we had planned.

When we exited the Forbidden City, we began searching for the subway station entrance. Needless to say, we had gotten a little twisted around. We found signs that pointed the way to a subway entrance, but those signs were only mirages. As soon as we figured we must be pretty close, another sign emerged pointing us to a new entrance. It was the third sign that was true. That killed precious minutes, and about 10 to 15 of them.

We searched for the Airport Express connection, but we had to make a subway connection from another line to reach it. No problem. We’d do just that. We made our way to the correct line, got in, rode to our spot, and kept a steady eye on the time. It was slipping. No doubt about it.


We arrived to the Airport Express. We would have enough time (probably). As soon as we arrived, people were getting off the express, but the attendants stood in front of everyone, ensuring no one else got on.  The doors to the subway closed and off it went again. We stood there probably 10 minutes in all awaiting a subway that, for all intents and purposes, we should have been on. But they wanted to make things interesting. You know how the Chinese are. Gotta keep the world on their toes.

The subway showed back up. We hopped on. You could hear the grumblings from the moment the initial subway left us till the time we all entered the second one. We all had to suffer and there was no explanation. Channeling all kinds of Mao Zedong there.

When the express reached the airport, the doors became floodgates and we all poured into the open arms of the far away reaches of the Beijing Airport. Sue and I rushed through the main entrance area. We had a little over an hour before our plane boarded. We still had to go through inspection. It was mid-day Beijing. Rather different than 4 a.m. and hardly anyone around, as it was when we arrived.


We more or less ran to the customs area and our hearts sank. The line was outrageous. There was no way we would make it in time. Sue took the initiative to try to go through a much much muuuuuuuucccccchhhhhhhh shorter line. There was a young girl in charge of that particular line. When we walked toward it and showed our tickets, she told us to go to our original line. The one where everyone was showing the frustration of such a colossal line. We tried to argue the point, but soon we conceded. What made matters worse was that when we attempted to go to that  coveted line, everyone that came in with us from the Airport Express, had lined up. So now we were in a much longer line than had we stayed where we were like good little angels. But we weren’t good little angels. We were two people ready to flip out because we were going to miss our flight.

“Go do something,” Sue said.

“Like what?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Anything.”

It was true. I had to do something. Anything. So I went back to that line. I had my camera bag with me. I had my passport and my ticket ready to show the same girl, but this time with more urgency. About 10 other people were pushing for the same thing, yet being turned away. “OK. Be…strong.”


I walked to her and began telling her that I had to make that flight. I could sense she didn’t really understand what I saying. So I began pointing to my wrist, as if pointing to a watch, and then my ticket, reiterating in my most serious tone, that I had to make that flight. Then I did two things that will stick in my mind…maybe forever. From my camera bag, I pulled out my National Geographic [One Shot] Press Pass made specifically for moments like this. Is it a real press pass? No. Do I work for National Geographic? I would if they would hire me. Lord knows I’ve applied enough times.

I told her, “I’m a photographer.” (That statement was true. You haven’t been looking at finger paintings on this site.) She took the press pass and then handed it back to me in order to answer some other frantic flyers. She looked back at me and pointed back to my line. The one I didn’t…the one I couldn’t go back to. So I pulled out the most powerful phrase you can say in another country, especially being an American. “International Incident.” Go ahead. Say it. Let those eight syllables roll off the tongue like freedom and independence and all those inalienable rights we take for granted.

So fake press pass. The threat of a possible International Incident (how that would have been possible, I don’t know). There was some confusion in her eyes, I could tell. So it was time to lay it on thick. “Do you think I can clear that line in time to make my flight?” Another point to the invisible wristwatch. Another point to Gate E-25, wherever that freaking thing was. “I have to make…” She cut me off midsentence with the gesture I was praying for. The hand gesture pointing to the line everyone wanted to be in. The attendant walked away as did I, but we wound up in the same spot, but with me yelling, “Sue!” “Sang!” “Sang Lee!” There was no way I was leaving that post. I was hoping she hadn’t run off for some Plan B or C. Low and behold, Sue came running with our bags. The attendant looked at me and I just simply said, strongly but calmly, “I need my photographer.” Also a true statement, since she had been taking photos of me at the Forbidden City.

So we made it through the line. Passports went through. We were scanned for anything we weren’t supposed to have. We hurried to Gate E-25. Our feet hurt. Our legs were tired. Our anxiety had reached a peak where adrenaline kicks in. And we still had 20 minutes to spare. Pretty good for a National Geographic photographer who has never been hired by National Geographic.

The flight to South Korea was rather uneventful, though the passenger next to me said it was the best part of the flight because I was dropping jokes left and right. I guess that adrenaline was still running through my veins.

My next post will be about my time in the Incheon Airport, which did not go very well. Thanks, Cricket Wireless. Why? You’ll find out soon enough.