Sunday, February 19, 2012

Silencing the airport noise

by Kevin

After a few bad experiences with poorly designed Chinese airports, last week we finally found something good about one of the worst. Flying through the Guangzhou airport -- where you often have to leave the secure area and run completely across the airport if connecting from a domestic to international flight -- we discovered the nursery.

We arrived from Bankok with almost four hours to kill until our next flight (we had just missed the cutoff to use a special "layover lounge" offered for those with layovers of more than four hours). We weren't looking forward to the prospect of trying to entertain Juliana for that entire time. Just yesterday, Juliana kept an entire crowd of waiting passengers entertained as she threw her little ball across the floor and chased it, tossing out gleeful squeals of delight or  "ut ohs" with every toss. Then I spent some time trying to divert her from the trash can and evoking pained screams when I blockaded her from following mommy into the dingy bathroom. By the time we got onto the plane, we were probably more tired than she was.

So, at the Guangzhou airport, when I noted the nearly empty baby nursery, I figured it was worth a try. Ruth seemed apprenhesive: "do you think they would just let us hang out in there?"

The answer is yes.

When we walked into the carpeted room, which is lined on three sides with 18 comfy plush chairs--the kind airports only supply in some posh first-class lounge--a pair of Chinese grandparents were changing their newborn granddaughter's diaper while her baby's parents quietly looked on. The restrooms were spotless -- better than anything I've ever seen in a public place in China.

Juliana in Guangzhou airport nursery

And in another corner of the room, an airport employee had pulled a chair cushion onto an armrest, propped up a newspaper, and settled in for at least an hourlong xiuxi in spite of the noisy squelches eminating from her walklie-talkie every few minutes.

We fed Juliana some yogurt and she excitedly imitated the newborn's coos. When the family and walkie-talkie toting napper left, we decided to close the doors  and try giving Juliana a nap.

It was like shoving cottin into our weary ears. Immediately, the hustle and bustle of the airport was muffled. Flight announcements disappeared, squeaking luggage wheels faded. We were left with near silence.

Within a few minutes of rocking her in my arms, Juliana was asleep. And Ruth closed her eyes to rest. For a good 20 minutes, the silence remained.
Until another airport worker arrived. Pushing a wheelchair-bound passenger, she thrust the doors wide. Airport noise rushed in like water from behind a dam. Seemilngly oblivious to the napping baby in my arms, she made no attempt to quiet her walkie-talkie, which blared incessantly while she smugly clanked tea cups and scrawled something into a log book. I scoweled at her and scrambled to turn on Juliana's white noise ocean sounds to drown out the clatter. Thankfully, she kept on sleeping. Then, as suddenly as she arrived, the worker hurriedly left the nursery, leaving the doors ajar.
Guangzhou airport nursery

Ruth got up and shut them and the quiet returned. Ten minutes later she returned, now with three young children in tow.She again propped the doors wide. I scowled and again worked to drown out the noise, which clung to her like a shadow. When she left, Ruth again shut the doors. But again she returned ten minutes later and again she smugly propped the doors wide and sat down to sip her tea and chat with another airport employee who had come in moments before.

Soon, a mother with an infant wrapped in several layers of thick clothing joined us. Juliana finally succumbed to the clammor and woke up, but boarding time was approaching, so it was OK. As I changed her daiper, the doors stood open.
But everything changed the moment the Chinese mother started peeling away the layers of her child's clothing. Suddenly, the smug door-flinger-opener became concerned about a draft coming into the room. "The baby will catch a cold," she exclaimed as she hurried to close the doors. Again the room grew quiet as we walked to the gate to begin boarding our plane. Still, I think it was the quietest place we've ever found in an airport -- certainly the first time since Juliana hit six months that she's taken a decent nap in one.

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