You’d think, traveling by air to Beijing a few times in the past few months, the process of going through customs and checks would be old shoe by now. In fact, no matter how much I prepared for this morning, I don’t think anything would have made it go in any way, shape, or form better. It seemed determined to be difficult from the start. We have decided to take a small family vacation to Hong Kong, a place that we’ve been told is a “must see” for our stay in China.
Aside: HK is not technically China, but it’s kind of China. If you travel from China to HK, you are technically leaving the country and must fill out an exit form. When we return to Hohhot or Beijing, respectively, we will have to re-enter the country. Weird, I know. Also, they drive on the OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD and none of our electronics work here (not that they work in China, either. We have adaptors for our computers. I don’t know what we’ll do about our electronics here…seems irrational to buy an adaptor for a stay of a few days).
Molly and I were to leave from Hohhot Airport and connect to a flight in Beijing that would take us to Hong Kong. Mom would leave from Beijing and take some alternate route to Hong Kong. The three of us were supposed to land in HK a few minutes apart.
On our commute, Molly and I were supposed to have two nice hours between that flight and our connecting flight at Beijing – and although the plane landed on time, we had to take a bus from the plane to the actual building. Once we made it to baggage claim we had a forty minute wait until we actually had our checked baggage. We had to sprint to our place to wait in line for the next flight. It was 11:35, our plane was scheduled to leave at 12:30.
Aside: apparently, if one is leaving the country, one must go through a check at the last place you fly from the country. Since in Hohhot we were only technically going to Beijing, we could not send our luggage on to HK and go through customs once. This isn’t the case in the US, in my experience anyway. We were not expecting the double check.
The attendant told us our flight was already boarding and that they had stopped accepting check-ins five minutes before. He kindly let us check our luggage though, and pointed us on the way to our gate. We had to run to a tram that would taxi us to a completely different terminal (a commute of nearly five minutes!). We took off at a run and got on an escalator that would end at the tram waiting line. Except I dropped my boarding pass at the top of the escalator and didn’t realize till halfway down that I had lost it. Sprinting back up the downwards moving escalator, I made it almost to the top and saw my pass lying there, untouched, on the floor. As I reached for it, I fell. Luckily someone came by and handed it to me and helped me up (falling on an escalator is not only painful, it’s kind of scary. It’s an irrational fear, but WHAT if I got sucked under at the bottom?!?!).
It was 11:50 when we got off the tram and we ran to customs. We forgot about our exit form until we were halfway up in the line. We were hurriedly looking up our passport numbers and trying to write legibly as we inched forward. It was 11:55 when we got up front and Molly was cleared quickly through customs. I was stuck behind a mom and her five-year-old son, though. Traveling with kids is tough, I get it. Especially traveling internationally. But I could not be patient waiting for the mom to try to get her son to look into the camera that does a face scan and compares your face to your passport’s picture.
I was shifting from foot to foot, chewing my nails, and worrying about Molly, who had already had her carry on checked and was out of sight. What if she already got on the plane? What if the plane left? What if we were late? What if we had to get a new flight and didn’t end up leaving the country for a day? Or two days? Or THREE days? What if we weren’t able to call Mom and tell her – she was already on a plane to HK by that time. In retrospect, I feel kind of lame for being so worried. I should have known that my worrying would accomplish nothing – either we’d make it or we wouldn’t. Everything happens for a reason, and even if we did or did not miss our flight, my impatient shuffling wouldn’t have affected the outcome in any way.
It was 12:00 by the time I got all the way through (only five minutes, I know, but it seemed like twenty to me, and I was accosted by a TSA person. AGAIN! She took off my belt. Words were said. Things got awkward. I suppose they expect international travelers to know the drill…). We started running to our gate when a man in a white golf-cart kind of thing pulled up next to us and asked where we were going. He told us to hop in, and hurry. He would get us there! We heaved a sigh of relief. Finally! More help! Until we were situated and he told us it would cost 10 RMB. Sorry, but our money was tucked away. Aggravated by a set back of a seemingly well-meaning person, we set off running (again).
We made it, though, and arrived a few moments after our Mom in HK (our phones don’t work here, but luckily she was waiting for us at baggage claim!). And once we were on our plane, everything was fine – we had the most amazing pilot. His voice was fantastic and he gave the best synopsis of weather conditions and told us at the end to fly Dragon Air so he could have the pleasure of speaking with us soon. I wrote a compliment card about that voice (no lie. It seems to me people only use comment cards to complain, but I’ll give credit where credit is due).
I think at the beginning of my trip (from the US), I thought: I just have to get to China, and everything will be fine. But now that I’m here, new challenges and tests of faith and patience forever present themselves. And sometimes I just have to take a deep breath and realize that there’s nothing I can do in almost every situation I’ve been placed in. I just need to relax and maybe open my eyes to what is going on around me in that moment, instead of focusing on what I cannot change. Maybe I missed something important today, standing there and abusing my fingernails – I’ll never know. But I am thankful to be here and to be with family.