Part 2: Arriving in Beijing
I was amazed when I entered the terminal in Beijing. My first reaction was, \”Holy s***! I\’m in Beijing!\” I then quickly came into contact with chaos. There were so many people, and everyone was moving so fast! It was like a mad dash to baggage claim, and I had no idea why I was running.
I once read that the Chinese do not queue. In other words, they refuse to wait in a single line for something. The Chinese simply all gather and push and shove to the front. I could not imagine a world without lines — until I made it to baggage claim at the Beijing airport. As I was waiting for my bag, I was nearly knocked down like three times. People just push and shove their way through the crowds and never look back. It\’s creepy and really frustrating. As Americans, we are told to be polite and respectful of others, especially in other countries. However, the New Yorker almost burst out of my mouth a half-dozen times at that baggage claim. One woman almost found my right foot … (TIP! Traveler be warned! It is the norm to push and shove in China! You will need to embrace this and go with it, or it will get under your skin the minute your plane lands.)
I finally found my bag and checked in for my connection. They told me that the flight would be boarding from Gate 25. As I made my way to the gate, I stopped at one of the shops to buy a bottle of water. I asked the girl at the counter (in English) if they took debit cards, and she looked at me with pure disgust. (TIP! The Chinese do not believe in credit cards. In fact, they despise the thought of being in debt. Make sure that you come into Beijing with a little RMB — the Chinese currency — in case you get hungry at the airport. Or simply exchange a bit of money as soon as you arrive.)
I found Gate 25 (parched and tired) and quickly realized that this was not going to be an easy leg of this journey. I had to walk down a series of steps that led me to Gate 25, which was a room that branched off into four other gates at each corner of the room. None of the gate attendants from the airlines had microphones to announce the flights and when to board. So, how do they let you know when it is time to board your flight? They scream their heads off in Chinese! They have to! There were hundreds of people waiting in this holding pen of a gate and it was loud! It was also warm. Talk about chaos!! I made a vow to never complain about JFK airport ever again. It was a full-on spa compared to this!
Since I had about 45 minutes to wait, I decided to go into the bathroom and change into some fresh clothes. (TIP! For long flights, be sure to pack a change of clothes in your carry-on case, as well as some basic toiletries. It will help you feel refreshed and ready for the next leg of your journey.) The bathrooms were Western-style, meaning they looked like porta-potties and were \”above ground.\” Had not had the opportunity to try the other type (hole in the ground) as of yet and was so looking forward to the experience.
After I changed, I just kept an eye on the screens (there were two little ones) until my flight number was finally called. I sat in the middle of the gate and just watched the world go by. I remembered feeling like a total misfit. For the very first time, I was the minority. I caught people staring at me and looking at my duffle bag that had a Discovery Channel logo on it. They totally knew that I was out of my element.
I was really relieved when they finally started boarding and led us out to a bus to take us to the airplane. The bus was packed to the rim before they finally closed the doors. There was an older couple standing a few feet away from me, and I made eye contact with the woman. She reminded me of my friend\’s mom, and for a moment I missed home. I quickly got up and insisted that she take my seat. She was very grateful and her husband thanked me several times in English. (TIP! There is nothing more sacred to the Chinese than their elders. Understanding their culture will help you feel more at home in this foreign land.)
Once I was on the plane, I settled in for the two-and-a-half-hour flight to Chengdu. Chengdu has a smaller airport, and it was really easy to find baggage claim. I was not even pushed!! I quickly grabbed my bag from baggage claim and met my driver from the hotel. He had a sign with my name on it. Just the kind of ease I needed after that trip! He seemed really nice but did not speak a word of English, so we had a blast laughing at each other\’s stupid hand gestures. Ah, the magic of travel and the feeling of being a fish out of water! I arrived at the hotel around midnight and checked into the beautiful Shangri La Hotel.
The Shangri La Hotel is really nice. It appears to be brand-new as it towers above the other buildings in this area of Chengdu. When my driver dropped me off, I walked through the front door and noticed how clean this hotel smelled. I was clearly not prepared for the smog of China. People told me about it, but you can never really understand it until you see it for yourself. There is a dusty residue in the air at all times of the day here. So when you walk into a hotel that has filtered air, you can really tell the difference. (TIP! Bring your allergy medication with you! You will need it, especially if you are sensitive to air pollution. If you wear contacts, be sure to bring plenty of drops to keep them clean.)
I checked into my hotel room, and it was really beautiful. The room was modern with a hint of Asian influence here and there. The bathroom was all marble and had a deep soak tub, a stand-up shower and a private commode. (Just in case you need to go in private.) You will be happy to know that there were no holes in the ground in this hotel! I did notice a few weird things right off the bat, though: 1) there was a gas mask in the closet (Why? I was not going to ask); 2) there were bottles of water everywhere — I\’ll get to that in a second; 3) everything is state of the art, from the flat-screen TV to the cool digital board that controls your lights. That was kind of cool.
Here\’s the deal with the bottles of water: you cannot trust the water in China. So you need to use bottled water any time you might ingest it. I used the tap water for my bath and I showered without a problem. I just made sure that I washed my face and brushed my teeth with bottled water. It was cool; I felt like Madonna when she used to request to bathe in whole milk. What?
(TIP! Be safe — see your doctor and make sure that you get all of the recommended immunizations before traveling to Asia. Chengdu is considered one of the \”remote\” regions, and you will need to get a few extra shots if you venture out this way.)
You think that was fun? In the next blog, I meet up with Sam and the crew and we get quite the surprise when Sam \”steps in it\” in a traditional Chinese Teahouse. Oh yeah, you can get your ears cleaned there, too.