June 3-4 - Oh (Air) Canada!

Posted by Thalea on 5. Jun 2012

I woke up this morning a full hour before I’d planned: my body apparently sensed sunlight and woke up in a panic, again. Like always, I just stayed awake and decided to surf the web for a bit. I had had a bad dream about my eventual hotel in Beijing because I’d read a review of it online that said that that hotel charged for internet. I decided to look around to see if I could find a more reliable hotel (Motel 168 and Jinjiang Inn are almost always safe bets). When I logged into my eLong account (eLong is the Chinese version of Expedia) and checked my reservation, to my dismay, I found that it had been cancelled (again, not by me). Although the dream did not make my sleep very peaceful, I was glad I had the dream in the first place to prompt me to look for another hotel, otherwise I wouldn’t have known my reservation had been cancelled until I got to China, which would have been a real nightmare (I’ve lived that particular nightmare one year before when I was in Xi’An, Shaanxi China). I decided to go with my safe bet of either Motel 168 or Jinjiang Inn, and tried to find one near the train station (Beijing West Train Station). I found a Jinjiang Inn near the train station and booked a room. I then called eLong to make sure that my reservation was definitely being held and try to find out why the others had been cancelled in the first place. The operator didn’t quite understand what I was asking her regarding the other cancelled reservations but she assured me that this one was definitely reserved (surprisingly [not], her assurance did not put me at ease in the slightest). After I got off the phone, I checked my email for my reservation confirmation and found an email about my previous reservation. It turned out that the hotel I had tried to reserve first was not authorized to host foreigners, so my reservations had been cancelled for me. This is the situation that I experienced in Xi’An, except that I did not make any online reservations. After reading this email, I was more at ease (at last), because I’d never encountered problems with eLong before. It had always been a really reliable site.

After this, I had to remap directions from the airport to my new new hotel and save them as a pdf so that I could print them down at the lobby. I then hurriedly got cleaned up and started packing my things back into my suitcase, having strewn electronics everywhere. I got everything together, did a quick sweep of the room, and headed downstairs. I went to the printing station and printed my boarding pass and the directions to the Beijing hotel. Since I had used up my five free pages last night, and since the black and white map didn’t look so great the first go around, I decided to just eat the cost (once again) and pay for two color pages ($1 per page). Having printed my document, I went to the front desk and checked out. I asked the employee how to get to the terminal I was leaving out of, because it was a different one from which I’d entered last night. She told me to go out of the main door and take the elevator up, where there would be a train that goes to the other terminal. I did as she said and easily found the train. I was more than happy to leave that hotel.

I got on the train when it arrived and rode a very short 2 minutes to the other terminal. I then entered the airport and looked around for where I needed to check in. This was no easy task. After about 5 minutes of looking, I found the spot where I needed to check in. There were throngs of people and a long snaking line to the check-in desks. My anxiety rose just a few notches. After much confusion, I realized that I had to go to a kiosk to print out my own bag tags. So I went to a kiosk and waited behind a Korean couple who was using the kiosk and a woman who was waiting for them to finish. The Korean couple seemed to have difficulty with the kiosk, but eventually figured out what they needed to do, printed their items, and moved aside. The next woman also seemed to have trouble with the kiosk. All the other kiosks had people waiting to use them, so there was no use in me switching to a different kiosk. The whole time I was in this area of the airport, I had been trying to get my iPhone to connect to the supposedly free WiFi, but it kept trying to connect to Boingo Hotspot and it was not liking it at all. After about 10-15 minutes of the woman in front of me messing with the kiosk, she turned around and asked me if I knew how to scan the passport. Judging by the picture on the kiosk showing you how to scan the passport, I showed her and she finally moved on to the next steps of her check-in process. By this time, I’d really had it. I looked around and noticed an open kiosk. I dashed to it and began my check-in process. I went through it surprisingly quickly without any problems until the very last step when I clicked confirm and the screen said something like, “your registration could not be processed, please go to the check-in assistance counter”). An airport employee helped me find said counter, and I waited in line to have my things checked in. At long last, I got to the counter, checked my bag, and made my merry way through security and to my gate.

By the time I sat down, I had about 30 minutes of free time before the plane would begin boarding. I pulled out my laptop and tried to get online. To my actual pleasant surprise, it connected quickly and it was indeed free. I guess the internet likes laptop computers but not cell phones. I used my time to message my friends and family of my status in the airport. I tried to set up my laptop so that I could share the internet with my iPhone (which would have made messaging easier), but it just didn’t work, and my iPhone simply refused to connect to the WiFi. While I was sitting, I noticed two different youngsters, one a “terrible two” and the other an infant. I prayed that I would be seated far away from them. Unfortunately, my prayer went unheeded.

Soon, it was time to board the plane. This plane was a larger plane, so I was able to take my carry-on suitcase onto the plane. Even still, I grabbed the items I wanted from it before getting on the plane. As I entered the plane and looked for my seat, I noticed that all of the overhead bins were filling up fast. I had to put my carry-on suitcase several rows behind where I was actually sitting. Then I went back to my seat, which was one row and opposite of the infant — who was prone to screaming out of necessity and discomfort — and directly in front of the toddler — who was prone to screaming just for attention.

I sat down at in my seat near the window. There was an older Chinese man sitting to my right. While sitting down, I noticed that the seat backs had TV’s in them, so I looked for a headphone jack to try and plug in my headphones and watch TV. The jack was on my right arm rest, which had been pulled up. I pulled it down and said “excuse me” in Chinese to the Chinese man out of habit. He moved his arm and then did a sort of double take. He gave me an inquisitive look and then asked if I could speak Chinese. I nodded, and then we chatted for a while in Chinese. He seemed pleasantly surprised and a bit more perked up. I was happy for that.

While we were on the plane sitting at the gate, I noticed that I was getting warm. Before long, I was roasting. A flight attendant went on the intercom and basically said that they know it’s hot and that there isn’t anything they could do about it at the moment. A bit later, the captain came on the intercom and explained that the auxiliary power to the engine wasn’t working. Apparently, this power is what would have kept the AC on. He said we’d have to wait until he turned on both engines and began taxying down the runway before the AC came on. Really, Air Canada? Power to one of the engines wasn’t working? Really? Come on.

In any case, I was too sleepy to care by this point. I fell asleep before we took off. I woke up about 30 minutes later and tried to shift in my seat so that I could go back to sleep. Unfortunately, the toddler behind me was craving attention and decided that it was the perfect time to start yelling, pulling at my seat, and just hop around. His parents seemed unaware that their child was being bratty. Since the kid was making such a racket, and especially since the infant had taken to screaming again, I decided to pull out my laptop and work on my blog entires. I decided to look at my boarding pass to figure out how long of a flight I was in for to judge how long in relation my computer would last. At first I thought it would be a two-hour flight, but something was nagging at the back of my brain. Then it hit me: I didn’t account for a change in time zones. It was then that I realized that the flight would be about fours total, which sounded much more correct, considering I was flying from Toronto to Vancouver (my connection before heading off to Beijing). While not happy that I couldn’t get back to sleep, I took advantage of the opportunity presented to me to fully flush out my blog entries up to that point so that I wouldn’t have to use my laptop energy doing so on the longer Vancouver–Beijing flight.

I listened to bluegrass most of the way. When the album was finished, I switched to Holst’s The Planets. I was just about finished writing the blog entry when my laptop died. Luckily, I had saved often. I put my laptop away and surfed the seat-back TV for something to watch, but with just half an hour before landing, nothing seemed worth beginning, so I just contented myself with watching the scenery below. I saw a lot of water, mountains, and city. Vancouver was looking like a place I would have liked to have had more time to visit.

When we landed, I hopped out of my seat with my things and ventured towards the rear of the plane, where I could access my carry-on suitcase. Another passenger helped me get to it, and eventually we were all able to exit the aircraft. I hurried to the nearest departure screen so that I could find out where my next flight would be leaving from. Finding out where my next gate was, I walked quickly to the appropriate place. I knew that the plane should be boarding at the time that I landed, so I needed to hurry. Thankfully, I could access WiFi through my iPhone, and it was free. I sent a few updates to friends and family through Textnow, although I was pretty sad that I didn’t have more time to just rest and chat.

I soon arrived at my new gate, and they were indeed boarding. The gate agent was able to use my passport to find and print out my boarding pass. I sent my final few texts then got on the plane.

This plane, naturally, had many more Chinese people than non-Chinese, and I was starting to feel “at home” in a weird way. To my astonishment and great relief, there were no small children on this plane, so I knew it would be a rather peaceful ride.

The meals on this flight were actually pretty decent, although my stomach was acting weird so I had to eat my food very slowly. I watched several movies, TV show episodes, and documentaries while on the flight in between periodic short naps. I couldn’t really get comfortable enough to actually sleep, but I was able to doze a few times.

Soon, it was time to land after 10-11 cramped hours. I put all of my things back in my carry-on suitcase and headed off the plane with everyone else. As I entered the airport, I turned on my Chinese cell phone so that I could call friends and family back in the US to let them know I’d landed. But when I tried to make a call, my phone said that my SIM card was invalid, meaning that I needed to buy a new SIM card immediately. I then tried to use my iPhone to get online through WiFi, but that wasn’t working (Boingo Hotspots REALLY do not like internet access through your phone).

I resigned myself to fixing my problems after I got through Chinese Customs. The line for Customs was extremely long, and moving at an elderly snail’s pace. After having waited for about 30 minutes and only 3-4 people having gone through in my line, I decided to whip out my laptop to see if I could get online with it. Thankfully, I was able to get online and send some messages to friends and family through Skype. After about another hour of waiting in line, it was finally my turn to go through. The Customs agent noticed on my passport that I’d been to China to study before, so she asked me questions in Chinese rather than English. I answered, but I didn’t say much because I was just ready to get out of there. She was nice, though.

Getting through Customs, I walked to the train that would take me to baggage claim. When I got to the baggage claim area, I quickly found my bag and then headed out into the main lobby of the airport. I saw a sign for cell phone rental, so I walked in that general direction. As I was walking, I spotted an ATM so I stopped and withdrew some cash, then headed toward the cell phone rental shop, which was actually one level below where I was. Getting to the shop, I started asking the lady if I could buy a new SIM card there instead of renting a phone, but she didn’t quite understand what I was saying, so I just spoke to her in Chinese, and we got the whole process worked out. I even helped translate for a couple of Americans who showed up looking to rent a phone because they didn’t speak Chinese and the lady’s English comprehension was not so great. I was glad that I was able to help them.

At last, having money and a new SIM card, I went back up a level to get on the airport express train, where I would transfer to a different subway line and find my way to my hotel. Although I had directions to my hotel, part of the directions required me to take the bus, which I really didn’t want to do. I had planned on catching a cab to the hotel after getting off the subway. After a quiet ride on the express train, then a busy and cramped ride on my transfer train, I arrived at the station where I would need to catch a cab.

I walked out and was approached by a shady guy trying to get me to take his illegal taxi service; I shooed him away. I then walked to a street intersection where I tried to hail a cab. I must have waved at about 20-25 cabs in a 45-minute time span, but none of them wanted to pick me up, most likely because I’m a foreigner and they assume that I can’t speak Chinese or won’t be able to tell them coherently where I wanted to go. I had no choice but to resign myself taking the bus. I found the appropriate bus stop according to my directions, hopped on a line that would take me to the stop near my hotel, and pushed and shoved my way on the bus, suitcases and all. It was crowded and smelly, but I was just glad to finally be on my way to the hotel. I did chat a little with a young woman on the bus about where I was going and why I had so much stuff on the bus (no taxi would pick me up). She recommended that I take a seat when one opened up because I looked tired. I told her that my stop was coming up soon, so it was ok.

Indeed, my stop came up soon, and I got off. I only had to walk a very short distance before I saw my hotel (Jinjiang Inn). I walked to the front door as dust and sand was continuously blown in my face by the wind (Beijing is notorious for dusty/sandy days). At long, long last, I get to the hotel and checked in, although not before one of the front desk workers rudely snapped a picture of my face with her cell phone. I was too exhausted to tell her off, though. I got my room key and headed up to my room. I immediately took out my laptop to try and get online. The ethernet socket in my room wasn’t working, so I was really frustrated by this time. I tried sending a text with my Chinese cell phone to the US, but apparently had used up all of my minutes sending the last 6-7 texts to the US. So, I trekked back downstairs to the front desk and told them that the internet wasn’t working. The male worker who had checked me in came to my room and actually directed me towards the hotel’s WiFi signal (I noticed the WiFi connection, but didn’t realize it belonged to the hotel). He typed in the connection password and I was online and very happy. Before he left, I asked him where I could buy a recharge card, and he told me where I could go.

I gathered my phone and my purse and headed back outside to a nearby electronics store where I tried to purchase a phone recharge card. However, the store only sold cell phone plans, not the simple recharge card, so I would have to go elsewhere. On my way back to the hotel, I stopped a little hole-in-the-wall convenience store where I bought some noodles, juice, and water. The cashier woman grossly overcharged me, but I didn’t care because I was just too tired. After I paid, I proceeded to ask her in Chinese where I could buy a phone recharge card, at which point about 8-10 people started crowding the door of the shop to watch me speak Chinese. Both of us ignoring them, she asked me a few questions and then pulled out a box full of recharge cards and selected the correct card based on my phone service. After that, I think she was much more amiable towards me. I think if I go back to that store, she’ll be less likely to overcharge me. I bought the card, took my groceries, and ventured back to my room.

I made several Skype calls back in my room, as well as updated my Facebook status, checked and sent a few emails, and recharged my cell phone minutes. I also got on Netflix (through my proxy) and watched a little bit of King of the Hill. I then prepared to take a shower. When I opened my suitcase, I found that my shampoo had exploded inside of my toiletries bag and there was some shampoo on the inside of my suitcase, although none of it got on my clothes, thank goodness. I decided to deal with the shampoo mess in the morning. I took an extremely hot shower (for which I was very grateful), put a little lotion on my hands and face (Beijing is very dry), and got in my bed. Mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted, I fell asleep instantly, finally feeling rewarded for the last few days of my many difficult trials.


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