Steph Yiu

Day #19: A photo essay

Since my flight to Boston was delayed tonight, I quickly ran around the airport and snapped some photographs of iconic locations in my mind. O’Hare airport holds a very special place in my heart: my first memories of the United States.

My first visit to the United States was in 8th grade. I felt like a very lucky girl — I got to make the trip with my dad as he dropped me off at summer camp. On our way there, we had to stop for a layover in Chicago. Don’t laugh, but you know I found mesmerizing? The underground tunnel in Terminal 1. Sure, it plays the United music and flashes tacky lights. But when you are 13 and you haven’t learned to be skeptical yet, it seemed like a very cool underground spot. My dad and I took photos here and I remember oohing and ahhing. This spot honestly holds one of my first memories of the United States.

The other clear memory I have from my first trip: Sue, the dinosaur. I don’t think I realized that this was a replica when I first saw it, but my dad and I were definitely impressed. He and I are pretty big nerds, and we spent quite some time checking out the Field Museum store that Sue stands next to. We bought a book about Sue, which remained on my bookshelf in Singapore for years.

My junior year in high school, I flew solo from Singapore to the United States for a 14-day whirlwind tour. While I didn’t fly into O’Hare for that trip, I did spend a lot of time at airports, and trying to negotiate airport telephones. I grew up with handphones in Singapore, did not purchase “international roaming” for the trip. Not familiar with how U.S. phone numbers worked, or with how U.S. payphones worked, I remember standing in front of one of these phones for ages, frustrated as I could not understand how to get it to work. (I eventually borrowed a cell phone from a kind, but slightly annoyed, passerby).

When I finally moved the United States for college, I ended up back in Chicago. I don’t think I could’ve survived university if my best friend Kathy hadn’t come along with me. One one or two occasions, we’ve did the Chicago-Singapore (and back) winter break flights together. I have a series of photographs of us mugging for the camera as we glided through the tunnel on this travellator.

During college, I made sure I wore my purple Northwestern sweatshirt every time I returned from a holiday break. The reason? I was hoping to spot another NU student so that we could split a ride back. More often than not, I’d end up finding a Northwestern student on my cross-Pacific flight. Eventually, I stopped wearing the sweatshirt and this airport shuttle service became my go to spot every time I landed at O’Hare.

Chalk it up to bad signage, but every time I used take the ‘L’ to the airport, I got really confused. There is non-existent signage from the station to the check-in counters. I am confused no more. I’ve done the journey so many times at this point that I know to look for this “special” escalator. Walk out of the station, through the tunnel and take a LEFT. This escalator is like the short cut in video games. You already have your boarding pass printed, and this escalator will take you directly from the tunnel to United priority check-in (because I always fly United, I always print my boarding pass, and lately I’ve been flying Premiere.)

Day 19 – done!

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