Viewing blog entries in category: China Travel/Work
I finally got on the plane.
Nothing special about it, just an ordinary large jet plane.
I was seated next to a friendly guy from Delhi. He was heading back home, only making a transfer in Shanghai. He wanted to chat, like I said he was friendly. But my nerves at that point were shot.
So I explained why I was headed over, how I was very nervous, had barely been on a plane before, and let him tell me what he was doing.
But after that 5 minutes of conversation, I politely declared my nerves were bad, and stopped talking.
He didn't seem insulted, but I still felt bad about cutting off conversation.
Unfortunately, I had been telling the truth, I couldn't talk intelligently. There was also a loud rushing sound from the wind outside, or possibly the fans, so I could barely hear anything.
My hearing is not the greatest, and the wind was at just the right pitch it deafened me.
The most interesting part of the trip was the meal. I had no idea if my ticket included a meal or not. Considering it was a 12 hour trip, a meal would be really nice.
So the flight attendants started handing out meals. They were skipping some people and going directly to others. It was fairly easy to guess that you had to have specially ordered a meal to get one.
The man beside me called over a stewardess and asked what was going on. She explained that the people who ordered meals with their tickets got theirs first, and if any were left over, we'd get some then.
I was starving, but again, nerves, sheer raving terror at my future prospects, and a severe apathy brought on by hunger, kept me from arguing.
The man from Delhi, on the other hand, was not exactly apathetic.
He started arguing how the ticket didn't give him the option, and it was impossible on a 12 hour flight that we would not be served.
He did keep it fairly quiet, and didn't insult the stewardess, so I just sat in my seat and waited.
A few minutes later his supper was served. Mine came about 5 minutes later.
After that the other 2 meals came promptly to everyone.
The worst thing on the plane, other then the constant noise of the wind, was how my fingers went numb. I didn't actually stand up, except once to go to the bathroom. But I did flex my muscles regularly to keep the blood flowing. So I'm going to assume the numbness came from pressure changes. Because my toes felt totally normal, and I'd expect them to go numb long before my fingers.
Other then those two experiences, it was basically the same as the Greyhound ride, except less to see. We were constantly in the sunlight, and my side of the plane had the sun shining right in. So except for a few times early on when the shade was up (the ice around Alaska was cool) the cabin only had the overhead lights on for illumination.
As we came into Shanghai, we started getting some of the smog directly in the cabin. That was bad. Within 1 minute of smelling it my sinuses were clogged up. Not horribly, but enough to be annoying.
We got into Shanghai, I had slept enough that I was able to function, but I wasn't doing great.
We had been given a bunch of forms to fill out on the plane, and one of them, the customs questionnaire, mentioned bringing in foreign items.
Now I had a very old, sterilized moose tooth with me. It's just an odd little memento I have. I had kind of forgotten that countries don't like animal parts being brought in. So on the one form that mentioned that little detail, I listed it.
I didn't want to, but I figured it would be easier to have it right out in the open, then if they decided to search my bags, have them notice it and catch me in a lie.
I entered the terminal, handing over all the proper papers. But the customs paper was one of the last. Better yet, we grabbed our luggage, before we had to hand the paper over.
As I waited for my luggage, I saw the business man who told me I was crazy earlier in the Vancouver Airport. He was talking to some young business man about my age, who was apparently in China for the first time.
I sidled over, and was lucky enough to hear that if you walked through the "Nothing to Declare" area, and handed over your paper, they wouldn't bother checking you out. You could be through in 30 seconds.
So I grabbed another customs form, and filled that out, listing everything as "NO".
My bag took about 20 minutes to come out, so I had time to look around and make sure no one was being stopped and randomly checked.
Yes this might sound paranoid, but totalitarian country, mixed with my recent run of bad luck, made me a little cautious.
I grabbed my bag, and saw it was unopened. I had wrapped it up in packing tape and it had a cheap lock on it, so they couldn't really open it without leaving some signs.
Grabbing it I walked out through the "Nothing to Declare" area and looked for somewhere to sit.
Now I had heard that you can get a wireless connection almost anywhere in the major cities in China. I had also heard that internet cafes and kiosks were common as mud.
Mistake number 1 (Mistakes go back to 1, for each part. Otherwise I'll be up to Mistake number 100 before I'm halfway done).
I couldn't find a connection, and there were no handy dandy little internet kiosks lying around.
So I started wandering the airport looking for a wireless connection, or a little internet kiosk.
I also changed my 125 Canadian, into 670 Yuan.
Nothing. No kiosk, no signal, no friendly little signs.
This might not sound so bad. But I had been planning on going to a hostel in Shanghai. They're really cheap places, for people willing to share rooms, and sleep in dorms. There's less privacy then a hotel, no private tv and the beds are worse, but again they're cheap. And you actually get a lot more then a lot of hotels, but more on that later.
Now I should have made up a list of hostels, with the adresses, before I left. But I hadn't thought of that. If I had known when I was going to arrive in Shanghai, I might have even reserved one.
Mistake number 2.
I hadn't done any of these things.
Without the internet I couldn't find out where a hostel was. I had no idea where I could go, I was tired, and I had a very heavy bag.
Fortunately a man had come from behind a counter and asked if I needed a hotel. I had politely told him "Probably not" the first time. I went back to find him.
I told the man I wanted a cheap hotel, with internet access. He found me one for 450 Yuan. Not a lot in Canadian money, about $64. It sounded a little much, but it had free airport pickup, and it was for only one night. I took it.
Mistake number 3.
I should have bartered. I could have probably worked it down to 350 without too much effort.
I got to the hotel van, and headed downtown. Or so I thought, more on that later.
The hotel room wasn't bad, it had a bed, a tv, air conditioning, and bottles of water. Not even the poor drink directly from the tap.
And it even had internet connection
Mistake number 4.
The internet connection required a DSL cable. I had a very nice DSL cable, it came with the laptop. It was and probably still is sitting very nicely on my Dad's large computer desk, where I left it as I rushed to pack.
So without the internet, I decided I'd go to sleep and worry about it in the morning.
That morning I went to the airport.
I had no idea how far away the airport was, and needed to save money. So I planned to take the airport shuttle bus. Unfortunately it came nowhere near my hotel.
Lugging my huge duffle bag (bulging and at least 50 pounds), I hopped onto a crowded bus. It was an uncomfortable trip, people don't appreciate having their legs crushed as my duffle bag kept trying to fall on them. Finally we stopped at the shuttle bus stop.
The shuttle bus finally came. I must have gotten on near the start, because it was nearly an hour before we got to the airport.
After finally arriving at the airport, I proceeded to do what I had heard about on tv, and online. I went to information, and asked where I could wait to hear about missed tickets, and empty seats that just had to be filled.
Now everything I had heard said that airlines hate flying with empty seats. It also said that frequently passengers missed their flights, or cancelled at the last minute. If you don't mind a bit of uncertainty, you can pick up these seats for at least 20% off, frequently 50% off. This seemed like a good idea for me, a poor traveler. So I planned accordingly, not dreaming of contacting the airport to make sure they did this.
Mistake number one.
They don't do this in Canada. At least not in Vancouver. At least not in the airport I was flying out of.
I was at the airport waiting to head overseas, with no ticket.
Ok, I could deal with this. I had also heard that tickets were sometimes cheaper if you order them right at the airport, because theres no commissions for travel agents.
Mistake number 2
Not with Canadian Airlines.
Apparently to enter China you need to have a round trip ticket. This would cost more money.
The helpful lady did inform me I could head over, then send the second ticket back, and get a refund. That would take at least a month.
And all of this at the low, low price of 3500 dollars.
I had seen one way tickets to China for $700, online. I was not going to be ripped off.
Time to call in reinforcements.
I pulled out my laptop ready to find a low cost ticket online for anytime in the next three days. I didn't have to be in China for 2 weeks, so I could be picky, but I didn't really want to spend a week at the airport. Then I would phone my parents, asking them to buy it for me with their credit card.
I don't own a credit card, but I could transfer the money to them quickly through online banking.
Mistake Number 3.
You had to be a member of Telus to use the wireless connection there. I could connect, but without a password, I could do nada, zip, zero.
TO THE PAYPHONES!
I called home collect, listed off the various problems, stated what I needed done, and said I'd phone back in two hours.
It's awesome having good parents.
So I waited.
I also had lunch, I had kind of forgotten to eat.
There are two main eating areas in the airport, I found them eventually, and after a few hours of looking I could even get from one to the other with only 2 wrong turns.
The few times I had eaten at an airport before, it had been undercooked and not very tasty pizza. Here I was pleasantly surprised. The food was good, the staff professional, and it was filling. Best of all, if I avoided a few key hours, it wasn't crowded either.
Back to the payphones.
Called my Mom again, and she had gotten me a ticket with China Air. $775 for the next day, in the afternoon.
Only problem, I had to head off to their office in Vancouver to get it.
I dropped my luggage off at a lay away station (it was heavy), hopped into a cab, and through the use of a very handy GPS that is apparently now standard in Vancouver cabs, got to the travel agent.
Problem, there were two offices, one downstairs, one upstairs. The address I had was no help, it just showed the address, and the outside door number.
I looked in the first office on the bottom floor, didn't see anyone. I went up to the second floor, and looked in to see two Chinese ladies there.
So I walked in, and explained that I had a ticket waiting for me.
They said they had it.
So I went in, and answered a bunch of questions. It seemed strange they should have already known the answers, from my Mom.
Finally it came to the price. $850 payable by me, did I have a credit card.
Mistake number 4
At this point I had a serious problem. No credit card, the ticket was a hundred dollars more expensive thean promised, and my Mom had said she had paid them with her credit card already.
I asked if I could borrow the phone.
Got my Mom, and told her the problem. She and the travel agent talked. It was discovered by my Mom and I, that I should have gone downstairs instead of up.
I went, and found the right agent.
Less questions, more paper.
But I was told again that I had to pay. But this time I found out that they had only needed my Mom's credit card number to confirm the ticket, not to actually pay for it.
After confirming, numerous times, that my Mom wouldn't be charged, I pulled out my bankcard and paid.
Huzzah!!!! I had my ticket.
Now to get back to the airport.
Easier said then done.
The area had mostly warehouses and small businesses that didn't have much of a walk in clientele.
I started walking.
I grabbed a pizza at Quizno's, and kept half of it to take to the airport with me for a late night snack. Technically supper since I had had breakfast at about 12.
I also asked them to call me a cab, no one there knew the number.
So I kept walking. No payphones, and no telephone books anywhere for at least a mile.
No cab's either, at least none willing to stop.
I finally hopped on a bus. I swear it said "Airport" on it. So I assumed it would drive me to the airport.
It went two blocks did a wierd turn, dropping me off at an open air bus terminal, that was a mile and a freeway away from the airport. Apparently I had to get on another bus.
I hadn't thought to ask for a transfer.
At $3.25 per bus ride, it would have been only slightly more expensive to have gotten a cab at the travel agent.
Finally I got back to the airport. I phoned my Mom again to let her know I now had everything, and was already to go.
Then I wandered the airport.
After exploring I didn't have much to do. I found a comfortable chair and read a book I had picked up the day before.
Later I started looking around for a place to sleep. A really comfortable bench I had found to sit on was too slanted and wooden to sleep on comfortably.
I wasn't about to sleep on the floor, I didn't have a pillow, my electronics were in the only bag I was currently carrying. So the whole sleeping thing was going to require some work.
All the chairs I found were too near noisy crowds, too bright, and too uncomfortable.
Finally I found a dark corner that was being partially renovated, but was still open to the public, in the US terminal. The seats were comfortable, and there was only a single armrest on the row of four seats.
I put my pack right in front of the armrest, threw my legs over the bag and armrest, put my novel under my head for a pillow and fell asleep.
I woke up way too early the next day, but no one had come near my bag.
I did have one scary moment, while I tried to find my glasses. They had come off in my sleep. Fortunately they had landed safely on the floor between the chair and the wall.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. Until I went to get my ticket at 12.
I met a guy who told me that he was going to Shanghai on business and loved the place.
He told me a few interesting things. Some I knew, some I didn't. When I told him my plans though, he looked very concerned. Apparently travelling to China without having reservations, with no one waiting for me, and not knowing where I was going is a bad idea.
He told me how most cab drivers didn't speak English, and I would end up basically lost and confused.
Surprisingly this news did not make me feel better.
He wished me good luck, and from the way he said it, he didn't seem to think luck would be nearly enough.
I got my ticket, I had to sign a form saying I had enough money to leave China when my visa expired. They didn't care how, so long as I was gone. So my cheap, one way ticket was sufficient, and I didn't need the 3000 dollar monstrosity that Air Canada had led me to believe.
I had a few hours before my flight.
At that point I was seriously tempted just to leave the airport and run away. I had been on four airplanes in my life. From Thunder Bay to Florida via Toronto, and back again. About 6 hours total.
Now I was going on a 12 hour flight over the largest ocean in the world, to a new land, a huge city, with no quickly available support net, and very little money at this point.
The shakes came back.
I didn't run away though. I patiently walked through security, bought a bottle of water, a magazine, and a notepad. Then I waited with the other passangers at the terminal.
There were 6 other white people there. All of them were busy talking amongst themselves, and I couldn't see a way to get involved in any conversations.
There were pay internet terminals scattered throughout the airport, I had already used them earlier. So when I saw some in the terminal I went over hoping to calm my nerves. They weren't hooked up yet.
I sat down in a chair, and did what I had done on the bus ride across Canada, I cleared my mind, and basically entered a fugue state. I knew what was happening around me, I could react fairly normally, but my mind was cleared of any thoughts, or boredom.
This wasn't meditative, at least not planned meditation. It was simply a case of my mind had so many fears and concerns, it shoved them all away into a corner, and went blank.
I would have been worried, but I didn't care at the time.
Finally I got to enter the plane.
For anyone who's interested here's the first part of a journal I started writing for my Mom. She's posted it already on a board she and my Dad run, and its been posted on another board for seniors.
I have seven entries so far, and will keep writing them as long as interesting things keep happening. Some of the experiences will also be used in a book I am writing about a few people traveling over seas to work in China.
I got on the Greyhound early in the morning.
At that point I realized this was one hell of a leap of faith.
The furthest I had ever traveled alone was Florida. And I had Grandparents waiting there to pick me up at the airport.
And here I was going across a continent by bus, only to hop on the nearest plane without even having a ticket to head to Shanghai or Beijing, at least a week before the Ministry that had hired me wanted me to actually check in. Since I didn't have a plane ticket, I didn't know when I would be reaching China either, so I didn't have a reservation waiting for me.
All I had were my clothes, some electronics, four books about teaching English, one English-Chinese Dictionary, my laptop, and a huge desire to get out and do something.
I started shaking half an hour before the bus came, when I realized it was late. By the time it came I had calmed down somewhat. I think mainly to keep my Mom from worrying so much.
It may also have had something to do with the fact that I had worn a groove in the pavement from my pacing.
I got onto the bus, and found to my distaste, that it was packed. I had to ask a young woman if I could sit beside her. She was cute, but I had no desire to make conversation, and I hate how close the seats are.
Turns out she spoke French and only a tiny bit of English. So at least I didn't have to worry about talking. I don't think I could have come up with five coherent sentences at that point.
At the first stop we switched seats, so she could talk with her group. The bus was full of a group of people from Quebec, I'm not sure if they were a class, group, or what, but they were all headed for Northern BC. I was happy, I got to stare mindlessly out the window, and enjoy the cool glass on my arm and head.
Not much happened on the bus. I couldn't concentrate on the books I had brought. Through Ontario the only people around me were French speakers, or I was alone. I prefered being alone. I suck with small talk, and my mind was still incorporating the fact that I was walking blindfolded into the unknown. Even better I had put the blindfold into place, and started walking without anyone pushing me.
So I'll just say this about most of the bus ride, Northern Ontario is monotonous when you can't step off the road and actually explore. The prairies are flat. All Greyhound depots are huge ripoffs. And when you buy an overpriced notepad, don't leave it on the bus when you transfer.
The most interesting part of the bus ride was Calgary and the Rockies.
Calgary is booming right now. It's the fastest growing city in Canada, and it has one of the biggest housing crisis in Canada, only one or two other small cities in Alberta are suffering more.
So much of the buildings in Calgary are shiny, new skyscrapers, very nice to look at. Even the majority of houses, and small buildings looked new, and well kept. It looked like a city I would like to live in.
I was also impressed by all the construction going on. There were a large number of small buildings being worked on. Also in the small portion of the city there were at least 4 or 5 skyscrapers were being built.
I also found it interesting how the Science Center was called the "Telus World of Science". I know that lots of places use corporate sponsors. I approve as well of this practice.
But every other one I've heard of hasn't had the sponsors name as the main part of the name. "World of Science - sponsered by Telus" I have seen and it wouldn't had surprised me. I guess it comes from being a small town hick.
The downside I saw in Calgary, I only saw as we were leaving. Hundreds of trailers surrounded Calgary. There simply aren't enough houses for all the workers, so acres of prime land are crammed with trailers of all kinds. They were so close together, it looked like there was only just enough room to open the door. Nothing else.
Going through the Rockies was an experience.
I've seen large hills, and even small mountains. I've climbed a number of them (nothing extreme, just going up the road, or along the easy slope), but nothing prepared me for the Rockies. The way the mountains rise up, piercing the clouds and forming a wall that stretches as far as you can see is amazing.
As we drove between them, you could look up as much as the window permitted and still not see the top.
There was a storm behind us, so clouds surrounded some of the mountains. Sometimes the mountains would be perfectly clear, and you could count the boulders, and then we'd turn a corner, or go into a dip, or climb a hill and clouds would form a blanket of grey that swallowed the light.
And the colours. The grey and black of the storm clouds. The pitch black shadows that covered parts of the mountains. Pale blue from the more distant mountains. White glaciers at the mountain peaks. Streams and rivers of dark blue, with brilliant white rapids and waterfalls. Red and brown rock, suddenly turning to dark green forests, in virtually ruler straight lines. And deep valleys lost in the gloom as I looked straight down for over a thousand feet.
I wish we had driven through it during the day instead of the early evening and night time.
The rest of BC wasn't bad. Mostly trees. I need to visit there when I'm driving and have time to actually look at things.
Got to Vancouver, and I was a mess. I hadn't really had a chance to clean up, or change anything other then my shirt, so I didn't look that good. I had finally gotten over my shock at least, so I knew what I had to do.
I found a cab and had him drive me to an RBC (Royal Bank of Canada). Unfortunately it was too early and wouldn't open for about 20 minutes. So I walked through this upscale shopping mall looking for a bathroom, as I got dirty looks and pointedly ignored by the well dressed and clean, early morning patrons.
Finally found the bathroom which was a single one with a locking door. Spent 10 minutes changing, and cleaning up. Still didn't look great, but I no longer had the whole, recently homeless, greasy bum, look.
I had my first real breakfast in two days, a cinnamon bun and apple juice. I had been eating junk food and fruit on the 52 hour bus ride. Then I went back to the bank.
I asked about getting an international account, and a few other questions, only to be told that it wasn't necessary and to change it would just be a waste of time.
So I had that out of the way at least.
Next I had to buy a few things, before I took off for China. And I wanted a chance to shower, and sleep in a proper bed.
Thus I did the most intelligent thing I could think of that wouldn't cost me a lot of money in cab fare, which at that point I couldn't really afford. I hopped a bus and kept a look out for cheap hotels or a mall.
Through absolute dumb luck I found both.
I saw a mall a few streets over from the road I was on, and tried to memorize where I had seen it. Then about 1 minute later, I saw a string of low priced hotels.
So I got off and broke numerous traffic laws, because I didn't realize you couldn't cross on certain sides of the street, even though they had traffic lights there.
Asking about rooms, I discovered something very important. Low priced hotels in tourist cities, aren't low priced. But I really needed a room, so at the third hotel with the lowest rates, I grabbed a room.
After showering, shaving, and letting my arms rest (my duffel bag was bloody well heavy) I was feeling human again. Even better, small children didn't run away when they saw me coming anymore.
I went to the mall I had seen. Grabbed a keyboard as my laptops keyboard was acting up. Got some material for sewing inside pockets onto my pants, and velcro to sew onto my pockets to close them.
The inside pockets and velcro were meant to stop, or at least slow down pick pockets.
I also looked for a power converter, because I had heard that the differences in voltage could cause trouble for some appliances. But the clerk at the shop said that wouldn't be a problem. Instead he sold me a device to make plugging my stuff into the electrical outlets a little bit easier. (All of this will come up again later)
At that point I decided to call it a day except where it came to food.
I grabbed lunch at an authentic Korean restaurant. The food was super spicy, and what they did the pork should be outlawed. It probably would have helped if they had told me I was suppose to put the bean sprouts into the soup to cool it down. Instead I would eat some of the soup, gasp for breathe as my mouth overheated, eat some bean sprouts and repeat.
That night, for what I thought would be my final meal in North America, I looked around for the perfect place. Most of the nearby restaurants looked a little overpriced, and nothing really jumped out at me.
Then I found it, the perfect place to have my final North American meal. I entered the restaurant and ordered a Big Mac, fries, and coke, large sized.
I'll post part 2 tomorrow.