Monday, May 24, 2010

China Trip, Chapter two, "The Arrival!"

Chapter two The arrival

Things I have learned so far this trip:

1.Leave one day early so you can arrive at the departure airport with those you wish to travel with.

2.Never allow yourself to be given paper tickets by any airline for ANY REASON.

3.Always allow many hours between connections. "Good" (tight) connections mean more chance for missing that connection.

4.If you find yourself in my situation, just go right to departures for any airline and buy a new ticket. You can worry about the refund later and you might actually be able to catch those you wish to travel with. Don't waste time calling the 800 #'s for airlines because they can't help you. If you booked through a travel agent, call THEM, immediately.

5. Pack all clothes and toiletries and anything else you'll immediately need in your carry on luggage. I would have been shopping for new if I hadn't done this.

6. If you want traveler's checks, buy them in your hometown even if you need to open a new account to get them.  I recommend taking your debit card if you are traveling to a large city. There are  24 hour ATMs which will give you Chinese money (so no finding a bank and standing in line and filling out forms to exchange your traveller's checks or American cash). The charge was only $1.50, but Wells Fargo charged me $4.50.

Things I did right:

1. Have a wheeled carry on with a second bag that slips right over the carry on's handle

2. Stayed the course. Did not let them (Korean airlines) "win".

3. Packed candy in my carry on

4. Brought a travel wrap in my carry on.

5. Pack clothes and toiletries in my carry on.

Jim's Aunt Maggie told me never to pray for patience, that "tribulation bringeth
forth patience". She was certainly right! I'd been through some "vacation hell" so
far and was several days behind my sister who was in China.

I made my way to the underground train and my departure gate. I had time to kill but, was taking NO chances after my luck (or lack of) so far. On the train, I spot a woman with many rings on. Although she looks like hell, I compliment her on her "jewels" and we strike up a conversation. I could tell by looking that she was exhausted (under the carefully applied makeup and shiny hair).

Turns out she'd been stranded in Seattle for 18 hours and had bathed in the bathroom sink. She'd been given coupons for food and drink by Northwest but no hotel room. She wasn't terribly impressed even though what she got was a heck of a lot more than I got from Korean! (One bag with a wheel broken off and the second that I imagined to be suspiciously light. I should have checked it when I picked it up but didn't and I busily imagined the Korean employees taking all my Levis since the bag sat for three days in their easy reach.)
Dolly, the woman from Florida who had been stranded by Northwest, said she was flying to Alaska to meet a man she'd met on the Internet some months before. She and I visited until her flight boarded and she invited Jim and I to come to Florida. She said she'd show us the sights. Turns out she collects shot glasses and spoons.

I went to my gate to await my flight. I wrote a card to Jim and one to my mom for mother's day. The only mail receptacle was outside the airport and the gate agent said he'd drop them in the mail for me. (Mom says she got hers while Jim never received his.)

After boarding, I wrote in my diary at 7:42pm on 5-3-08: "Well, believe it or not, I am on board a United airlines flight to LA, bound for Beijing! We just took off - the plane made some funny noises and kind of had bouncing wings and fluid swooshing off the wing out my 14F window seat....guess it is an seatmate is from Sweden and he is tired. Like I will be when I get to Kunming. I'm tired right now and I never thought I'd be on another plane!"

The flight is smooth as silk and only about a person in every other seat. I was given OJ, water and two packs of pretzels. I now have a collection of them!

10:02, beginning our descent into LA. I bet I'll sleep like a baby on the way over to China. I am feeling drained.

10:22, Best landing I've ever had. The pilot just feathered the plane to the ground and I told the captain so on my way out of the plane.

I had trouble finding my way out of the terminal and spotted two flight attendants who told me to catch the bus to terminal #two. I was the last person on bus number two and had to stand behind the driver. A whole group of folks tried and almost succeeded in getting off at the wrong stop in spite of the driver who gathered them back up and got them back on the bus. This forced me to the back of the bus where a kind faced Asian gentleman initiated conversation. We were both relieved to learn that we needed Air China and since I needed a boarding pass for the Beijing-Kunming flight we got into the ticketing line at Air China where I noticed the most lovely, little, old Chinese woman who was about 4' tall. My friend had told me his name was
Jow (Zhao) and he thought that we may be wrong by standing in line but, as it turned out, we both needed to be there to get boarding passes. Zhao's English was very good and we visited about our countries. He said he works as a software developer and has been to Memphis, LA, Cincinnati and many foreign cities. His two older brothers live in the desert area in NW China where his parents farmed until a "Yao Man" killed his father. Apparently his father was riding his bicycle to the mountains (several hour ride that he took every day to get water) when the Yao man who worked for the military struck and killed his father with a military vehicle. Zhao said the road was good, his father was off to the side as he should have been, the sun was not in the driver's eyes, etc.. The Yao man had a license but didn't know how to drive and a small stipend was made to the mother after this healthy 76-year old's life was snuffed out. Zhao was deeply affected and even though this tragedy was about four years ago, he still mourns his father.

We got our seat assignments and made our way through security and to our gate where Zhao gave me his cell phone number so that he could serve as a translator in Beijing if I should have trouble. He also wrote me a note that said, "I am going to Kunming, via Air China, can you help me find my way?" So thoughtful! We took pictures together and exchanged email addresses while waiting to board the plane.

Upon boarding, I showed my boarding pass to the attendant and he pointed across the entryway. I was shocked! Next to first class and the seats that make into beds, this was probably the best seat on the plane! Tons of legroom and no one sitting next to me! We pushed back and I am thinking that for as badly as "round one" went, "round two" is shaping up pretty well!

We travel down the runway for what seems like a long time at a very high rate of speed until ZOOM, we are airborne (I've never been on a plane this big before - is a 747-400 I think). The flight attendants all seem very interested in the fact that I am writing continuously in my notebook. Wonder if they think I'm a real writer and
will feature them in an article?

Note*- LA airport is filthy compared to Denver and Seattle.

We are served an awesome little meal, I should have had the pork noodles but had
shrimp fried rice instead. It was served with a roll, fresh fruit and an delicious
and unusual salad made with chicken, corn tomatoes, lettuce. The meal was followed
by Jasmine tea that was SO good! (I made a mental note to get some while in china.)

Catherine, (from Beijing but, living in LA now) was a lady I met at LAX in the line
to purchase water. She sat by me a lot of the flight as her small son Bryce was
stretched out across her seat with her husband Scott.

We had wonderful conversation about our lives and she told me of losing her mother and later dreaming of her. I gave her a pair of earrings and Bryce some string cheese and pretzels. Both
Catherine and Zhao had offered to get me through customs and on my way to my
departure gate for Kunming. Such kindness from strangers! I later gave Zhao a
dishcloth in return.

I managed to get several naps as did the guy a few seats over. Turned out he too
spoke fluent English and he assured me that the connection to Kunming is easy to
find. He was the 4th person who assured me that I would have no problem. I am also
told that since we arrive so early, the airport will not be crowded. I was anxious
to see what their definition of "not crowded" was!

Customs forms follow breakfast and I notice the flight crew cleaning the bathrooms
again. They cleaned them about every 30 minutes all flight long. Lots of male
"dribblage" I suppose made all this cleaning necessary. They even had a great
smelling hand lotion in the lavatory as well as toilet seat covers.

Since my seat was near the bathroom, I became a self-appointed bathroom monitor.
Most folks could not figure out how to open the bathroom door (myself included on an
earlier flight). You had to push right in the center of the door and it opened in
(bi fold fashion). I had to make many pushing motions to get people into the
bathrooms! I also rescued a little old man after I noticed the door bulging out on
its hinges repeatedly, accompanied by some very furious banging. The man was
relieved to be let out and you could just tell that he wanted no part of being
locked in that tiny bathroom for the rest of the flight!

Breakfast time was coming as they'd turned the cabin lights on and our choices were
fish or pork. I chose pork and it was served in gravy with mushrooms and maybe
eggplant with rice and Chinese broccoli, green salad, bun and lemon cake for
dessert. Jasmine tea followed again. Really good grub for airline food!

We had a smooth landing and the signage at the PEK airport was in English and quite
easy to follow. We all sailed right through customs and Zhao went with me to baggage
via an unmanned monorail, to claim my bags and help me recheck them. Zhao and
Catherine and family departed and I proceeded upstairs to clear security, for the
3rd time since arriving Seattle. I did just fine until I was detained after going
through x-ray. I was wanded, made to remove my shoes and patted down like you can't
believe. The young woman is now as familiar with my breasts as my physician and she
even had her hands IN the waistband of my underwear! I thought surely we should be
introduced at least and maybe she should buy me dinner if she was going to go any
further! And, she had no gloves on! (I was mentally calculating how long it had been
since I'd showered.)

Meanwhile, another male examiner (my new name for airport security) is loudly
exclaiming, "SEER! SEER!" while looking straight at me. Having no clue what in
blazes he wants and feeling a bit off kilter after just having been felt up by the
"examiner" I proceeded to hand him my boarding pass. That didn't make him happy at
all so I just shrugged and told him that I was sorry and I didn't understand what he
wanted. (I'm sure he perfectly understood this). Finally he made a cutting motion
with his fingers and I realized that he meant scissors. The light went on in my head
and I said, "YES!" (I had tiny scissors in my knitting bag that I'd carried clear
from Williston.) He motioned for me to get them out and I did at which time he held
them up for the rest of the "examiners" to see and there was much speaking and head
shaking and nodding. He then set the scissors down and I went to pick them up which
was met with an enthusiastic two hand gesture indicating that I was NEVER to touch
my scissors again. They scanned my ticket into a computer and it looked to me like
they might be locating my seat on the plane's layout. I was wondering if
I would now be flagged by the worldwide TSA since I had been carrying "SEER"? I then
"inquired" about my shoes by sticking one stocking foot up high enough for the
"examiners" to see. He nodded and eventually my shoes came sliding down to me. I
gathered my things and put myself "back together" and went immediately toward my

It took awhile to get there and along the way I found an open, little, bistro type
cafe where I could buy water. I didn't have any Chinese currency at this point so I
gave the girls working there a $5 bill. After much calculating, giggling, chattering and
examination of the money, the girls gave me some change and then thanked me in
English after which they giggled madly. Guess they were trying to practice up for
the Olympics and the influx of English speaking people.

I decided to check out the facilities and see if there were any squat toilets that I'd read so much about in
the restrooms. I knew at some point I would find them in the restrooms however this
visit revealed only new, squeaky clean western toilets.

I finally arrived at what I thought should be the gate after traversing escalators
and long corridors only to discover that there was no sign that said, "Kunming." The
waiting room was full of folks and I approached one little lady and questioningly
said, "Kunming?" She rattled off a speedy and lengthy reply, in Chinese, to which I
could only shake my head. She smiled and shrugged and showed me her boarding pass
that said, PEK (Beijing) to KMG (Kunming). I knew that if she was in the right
place, I was too and that I should just follow her! Soon a little bus pulled up
outside and the sign on the overhead board changed to Kunming and everyone waiting
hopped up and got on the bus.

The little bus was crammed with bodies and took us
right out on the tarmac to a waiting plane. The line to board was not too orderly
but, no one pushed or shoved, they just "took cuts" in line. We boarded via stairs
just like "Air Force One!"

I was seriously a minority at this point (dirty blond hair and blue eyes), as I had been since leaving LAX but, the man a few seats over spoke excellent English. He was a language major going to Laos for Holiday. The woman who sat in the middle also spoke great English. Her name was Lin Juan and she was a corporate lawyer who aspired to attend one of the top 10 US law schools. My bet is she'll make it.

After a nap, we were served a "box lunch" with a hot dish. The box lunch was eggs
boiled in tea, a pack of pickled veggie relish, and a sandwich made with mystery
meat. The hot dish was porridge made of rice( I think). The other option had been
the western meal and this particular time, I should have gone western. They were
given scrambled eggs, toast, white round sausage shaped like small hot dogs and
toast with the box lunch. We had been given the dish of bland porridge. I took one
bite of the porridge and covered it back up. Not fit for consumption without
something for flavor. Apparently the pickled veggie relish is supposed to be added
to it but I had already eaten it on my sandwich. Who knew? Lin Yuan gave me her tea
soaked egg and her relish. She said she had gone to boarding school having to eat
the relish every day of her life and didn't particularly care for it. In return, I
gave her and the language student candy. I was given a Chinese newspaper printed in
English were I learned of the dreaded Hand, foot and mouth outbreak that had killed
22 children near where I was headed. (I later would wonder why kids died from a
normal childhood disease?) In between naps, I wondered if the airlines put the
bright, English speaking folks near me knowing they spoke English or if it was just
a fluke? Sure made my flight to Kunming more enjoyable either way!

My flight arrived In Kunming and we were unloaded on the tarmac and herded onto a
crowded bus. I noticed many smells - some of them familiar (garlic, onion, cigarettes,
smoke, body odor) and some of them unfamiliar, as we stood crowded onto the bus like
cattle in a semi. I couldn't help but think how Jim would be hating life right now
as I took note of the fact that there was no ventilation and NO windows on the bus.
I was even feeling a bit claustrophobic, despite my elation at having arrived in China after experiencing "vacation hell", airline style.

I was the last from my flight to enter the terminal and I immediately spotted sister
Penny toting a GIANT bouquet of yellow lilies, waving to me from across the glass.

Liping (Penny's daughter in law), Liping's daughter Meiya (Penny's granddaughter)
and Liping's father, mother, and brother Lifeng were all on hand to greet me and
they held up signs that said, "Welcome Kitty!" "The Adventure Continues!" and
"Welcome to China" in Chinese. I got so tickled by it all but, couldn't leave the
secure area until I got my luggage. I waved at Meiya through the glass and she gave
me her index finger and one thumb farmer wave.

I was completely fried by now, to say the least but, needed to get my luggage and
make my way through the teeming throng of folks trying to get their luggage tags
checked by the little man checking tags and leave the airport. I chatted with a
friendly man from Mexico while we waited for our bags and he just shook his head at
my tale of Korean airlines and their superb customer service.

Once I made my way through the jostling bag line and out of the airport we grabbed a
taxi, as there were too many of us to fit into Lifeng's car. Liping, Penny, Meiya
and I squeezed into one taxi and we were off in a drizzle, headed for the Jin condo
where we would spend our nights in Kunming.

Traffic zoomed along madly with lots of
honking and speeding. The driver was a bit on the aggressive side and it seemed that
pedestrians take their lives in their own hands when crossing streets (only saw one
official crosswalk with blinking stop and go lights the whole trip) but, we made it
in one piece to the condo, in spite of the many mopeds and bicycles jockeying for
position on the narrow, crowded streets. My luggage and the rest of the family also
made it and we all went up to the 3rd floor walk up. I hit the shower after a brief
tour of our room and the bathroom. Apparently the silk market was closing at 5pm and
we only had a few hours to shop! Finally, I was able to start my "sister's excellent China adventure vacation! This was the final day of the 'silk expo'.

Things I learned thus far:

1. Many Chinese people speak English

2. Most Chinese people are NOT rude or pushy; they are very friendly, helpful, courteous and generous.

3. Many young Chinese leave China to be free. They feel like they are brainwashed from the time they are old enough to understand language and taught to follow along like sheep, never questioning the government.

4.After boarding a plane, most Asian people curl up and go promptly to sleep, even during takeoff!
5. Airplane bathrooms are hard "find your way into" (and sometimes out of) no matter your race!

6. The Kunming Airport loudspeaker is WAY too loud, probably causing everyone who passes through hearing loss. No Chinese OSHA overseeing the volume perhaps?

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