1. First, not a lesson learned, but one reinforced. When traveling, always fill a carry-on bag with necessary toiletries, medications, and clean undies. My fabulous new collapsible carry-on from Biaggi was packed with enough stuff to get me through three days in San Francisco without need to repeat outfits nor undergarments.
(One aside on underwear--just before leaving, I got a press release from Travel Guard with ten packing tips. One was: Bring extra underwear and throw it away along the way so you will have more space in your luggage for things you buy. I've seen this tip before and it always make me chuckle. Because, seriously, unless you are packing elephant-sized granny pants in your trunk (note pun, please), I don't see how throwing out underwear gives anyone extra room. Butt I digress).
2. Despite the fact that airlines say bags do not fly on overseas flights unless matched to on-board passengers, the experience of my luggage suggests otherwise. My duffle spent four lovely nights in the Beijing Airport, without a visa and without a matching passenger.
3. If you want a ticket agent instead of a disembodied voice on the United Help Line, say "agent" when first prompted to "press 1 for this, press 2 for that." The voice will then say, "I think you want an agent, but first, let me see if I can help you." Then, the voice starts the "press 1" routine again. At that point, repeat "agent" and you will be connected to a real person--or at least you will be put on hold to speak to a real person.
4. While it is not any faster, I was told by an in-the-know United baggage representative (I have met many along this journey) that if you call (281) 821-3526, you will be connected to the Houston Help Desk, versus being routed to an outsourced aid line.
5. United charges $200 to reinstate frequent flyer mileage (I had booked my Moscow to DC return flight via MileagePlus). Boo.
6. Health care is better in San Francisco than it is in Washington, DC.
7. Although www.agoda.com is owned by Priceline, it seems to have more flexible refund policies.
8. It pays to increase your word power. While updating those involved with this trip about my daily status, at one point I noted that "the odds of traveling to China this afternoon are at 5%. But if you see pigs or vacas/cows in the sky around noon-time, I am likely China-bound." This riff on "when pigs fly" left me wondering--what do they call that kind of phrase? It's an adynaton, a phrase about which I will be writing further soon (now that I have time on my hands).
The definition: Hyberbole so great as to be an impossibility.
In Italian, it's Quando gli asini voleranno (when donkeys fly)
In Spanish, it's Quando las vacas vuelen (when the cows fly)
In Chinese (sigh), they use "除非太陽打西邊出來" (when the sun rises in the west) and
In Russian, (sigh again), it's когда рак на горе свистнет (when the crawfish whistles on the mountain).
None of the above occurred. I am now back home in Washington, DC, which I'd only prefer to China/Russia quando as galinhas tiverem dentes.
I welcome your suggestions for filling out #9.