Fear and Loathing in China (Excerpted from a Letter to Rolling Stone)

Have you ever been trapped in a situation out of which you emerged a transformed and fearless person who is not afraid to brave any storm? Imagine it is December 4, 2011, at 1 a.m., Beijing time, and your one-hour domestic flight from Dalian to Beijing has been cancelled without warning. It is your first solo international assignment, and you have much to prove as the youngest editor on your team. You haven't eaten in approximately 17 hours, you are out of yuan and your company, Mickey Mouse operation that it is, has not given you an emergency card made of plastic with a magnetic salvation strip. Your own credit cards are charged to the limit (you are young after all), and you wouldn't know where you might find an ATM, besides, in this faraway land. There is chaos breaking it out on the plane, a man is screaming obscenities in a foreign language, you are sure by his violent hand gestures toward another rankled man, and both are railing further frustrations at the stewardess who doesn't offer anything in the form of information about what's happening, comfort or food. The plane has landed an additional hour from your destination, laid over in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia (you don't know this yet), and the only thing you can think of as panic begins to restrict your throat is that you are missing the last connection flight to LAX. Your flight has been cancelled and taken offline for the night. You learn later it will be flying out to Nagasaki, Japan, and not to Beijing where only a yellow brick road will take you at this point. 

There is nothing you can do, and since this is a domestic flight, your alien tongue is as good as mum. The airport where the plane has taxied has only illuminated (not neon) characters on its edifice and it is decidedly closed for the night. You never once considered an airport might actually be small enough to do so. You have no back-up plan as you are inexperienced and never on time or prepared in your normal life, your company iPhone (your own phone has no overseas connectivity) has only a few contacts listed and the internet is not readily accessible in this remote unidentifiable town. The phone's landing page finally loads but the characters have no translate-to-English option. There is also a firewall preventing access to social media. 

As you are forced to exit the plane with the other disgruntled patrons, yourself dizzy with hunger and jet-lagged from the first leg of an ill-timed trip to cover an industry trade media tour at the COSCO shipyard in Dalian (which you were of course late in attending as well because your other two flights were delayed by several hours thanks to a heady mixture of coal-induced smog, ice, and snow), your only choice is to revert back to the rawest form of human emotion to express how helpless you feel: a baby crying out for a need she cannot yet form the words to name. Inarticulate, guttural gasp goes to silence. The attendants are speechless and confused by my emotion.

It won't be until 3 a.m., Beijing time this Monday, in an international motel (there are cigarette burns on the mattress so you feel guiltless chain smoking your Chinese Marlboros that don't have the slightest taste of the American flavor) until your SOS text message to a friend overseas finally goes through. The rest all bounced back, and you can't remember (and failed to write down ahead of time) the international code to dial out. Rookie. He calls you back with one simple, loaded question in a language that sounds so close to home: "What are you going to do now?" 

Level 3 - World: Smog forces cancellation of flights at Beijing's main airport, disrupts public transport

BEIJING, December 5, 2011 (AFP) - Beijing authorities cancelled hundreds of flights and shut highways as thick smog descended on the Chinese capital on Sunday and Monday, reducing visibility at one of the world's busiest airports.

Air quality in Beijing reached "hazardous" levels on Monday, according to the US embassy, which conducts its own measurements, while China's state Xinhua news agency said pollution was likely to reach "dangerous" levels.

Nearly 400 flights were cancelled on Sunday, China's state television network CCTV reported. 

International organisations including the United Nations list Beijing as one of the most polluted cities in the world, mainly due to its growing energy consumption, much of which is still fuelled by coal.