Monday, October 10, 2011

Traveling alone to Shanghai

To those who don't know the background, Emily, Lauren, and I were supposed to fly together to Shanghai. We all went through the same website for China Eastern, filled out all the forms, got to the payment info, clicked submit...and then my card was the only payment it would accept. They both tried for at least 2 hours to get their cards to work, but it was a no go. They ended up having to book a different flight with another airline, leaving me to fly solo to Shanghai and meet up with them later.

My first journey flying alone in China kicked off to a good start as I, surprisingly, woke up in a good mood, bright and early at 4AM. My flight wasn't until 7:30, but I knew it was at least a half hour ride to the airport, and I had no idea how easy or hard it would be to catch a cab so early. The website said to arrive 90 minutes to 2 hours before a domestic flight, so I figured if I walked out the door at 5AM, I would be good.

I walked out the front door of our apartment building to a very ghostly and deserted Wenyuan Street. I figured I would have to walk to the main drag to hail a cab, so that was no big deal. I started to get a little nervous once I passed three cabs that had been parked on the curb while their drivers took naps. Crap. I was a little scared that all of the open cabs would just be parked on the sidewalk while their drivers slept. Well, most of them were. I kept walking and got passed by at least two open cabs. I'm sure I was entertaining the two other women on the road, who were sweeping the street, as I yelled various insults after the cab drivers that passed me.

Finally, I got a cab to pull over. I had the sheet from Mr. Dong gripped in my hand and pointed at the messy Chinese script. It read, "I want to go to the Shijiazhuang airport." He shook his head vigorously no, while making hand movements at me to shoo me out of the front seat. No? I pointed at the paper. Still a no go.

A little bit pissed off, I got out of the cab and started my tirade in English as he drove away. "No airport?!? I know it's a long way away, but I'm an American! Milk the foreigner for money, buddy! It's not like I would have known the difference! LAZY BUM!"

Of course, he was far gone, not that he would have understood a word I said. The ladies sweeping the street will probably tell the story of the time they watched the crazy white lady yell at nothing in the dark at house parties for years to come.

I finally got a cab driver to agree to bring me to the airport after only 15 minutes of looking, which isn't too bad. (I had given myself at least a half hour). I wanted to hug him, but settled for a creepily big smile and a very excited, "xiexie!!"

I want to think that people here understand that I'm very excited and grateful when I say things that way, but since they don't really use inflection in Chinese, I know they probably just think I'm crazy. And I know a lot of other countries think Americans are weird because we smile too much, but whatever. Given the language barrier, I use what I can.

My cab driver was very nice and taught me the word for airport - fei ji chang. Very helpful. I then experienced my first Chinese gas station, as we were in for a pretty long journey. In case anyone is interested, the gas thing was in the trunk of the cab.

After filling up, we set out for the highway. I also got to experience my first Chinese tollway. We drove on for a while, headed out of town, and passed by mining and cement trucks, and went over a long bridge. After about 20 minutes of seeing absolutely nothing but darkness and highway (no street lights), I started to get a little nervous. I hadn't seen a single sign for the airport. I knew most of my paranoia was simply because it was still dark out. (Yes, I'm still slightly afraid of the dark, if only because my biggest fear is the unknown, and not being able to see anything for miles in a country where you don't speak the language is quite terrifying.)

I resigned myself to the fact that, if it got to be 6AM and I still hadn't seen any signs of an airport, one of two things was happening. Either he had misunderstood me and was taking me to the Beijing airport, or I was being abducted. I assessed the situation and the possible weapons I had with me. I was on my way to an airport, so I had no sharp objects. I also only had a purse and a backpack, which would probably do me more harm than good because they would just weigh me down.

Wait! I had some Big Sexy Hair hairspray in my bag! Perfect. It was full, so not only could the spray itself double as mase, but it was heavy enough to be a blunt object if I needed to hit someone in the head. I was proud of how resourceful I could be in the face of impending doom.

The moral of this story is this, ladies: never mind how much people make fun of you. Carry a can of hairspray on your person at all times if you're a paranoid freak like me.

Just as I was letting my mind get the best of me and imagining possible escape scenarios, I finally saw the sign for the Shijiazhuang airport. Crisis averted, and it was only 5:45 AM.

We pulled up to the front of the airport, and I paid him 100 yuan. It was a little pricey, but I know very few places where you can take a cab for a half hour and pay less than 20 bucks. The airport is small, but clean, and I found a little coffee shop where I could sit and type on my iPad. There are only about 10 or so gates at the airport, so it's pretty comparable in size to the Des Moines airport.

The ticket counter wasn't open when I first got there, so everyone was standing around in a blob of people. I figured the counter would open at 6, but it was more like 6:10 or 6:15. People made some half-assed lines, but everyone still pushed, shoved, and cut in line to get their bags checked. Typical China. I finally got up to the counter, armed with my phrase book, and the lady spoke English! In under a minute, my backpack was sent with the checked baggage, and I was on my way to security. As I walked away, one of the China Eastern security guys grabbed my arm and motioned for me to follow him back to the scanning machines. He spoke a little English, and handed me my backpack. I asked him what the problem was and he said something about hair. I unlocked the bag and showed him my bottle of hairspray. He asked me what it was called and pointed at the big "SEXY" on the side of the bottle. I replied that no, it was the brand, and told him it was called hairspray. He repeated "hairspray" over and over as he shook the can around. Apparently done with his search, he handed the bottle back to me. I put it back in, relocked my bag, and went on with it.

The security line was short and uneventful. Shortly after getting through, I found a coffee shop. I ordered the cheapest coffee, Colombian, which cost me 38 kuai. Extremely pricey for coffee, and quite possible the smallest cup ever. Not gonna lie, though, I had two. Soon after finishing my first cup, I decided that I really needed something to eat to take my Bonine. The only food option I saw around me was bowl of noodles, which I really didn't want that early in the morning. Then, I saw a lady at the coffee shop walk by me, carrying a plate of dumplings. I rushed up to the counter, gestured frantically at the dumplings, and asked for another cup of coffee. Another 100 kuai later and I was quite possibly the happiest mei guo ren in all of China.

The flight itself was clean and uneventful. Three seats on each side of the aisle, and I chose an aisle seat. We landed in a little less than 2 hours and I was off on my first adventure in Shanghai!

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