Shanghai Interlude

Sunday, 23-11-2014. Day 95, Part 2.

Once Upon a Time in China

As our plane began its bumpy descent into Shanghai's Pudong Airport, we knew one thing for certain: this was going to be a close one.

We asked a flight attendant about the status of our connecting flight, but she didn't have any information, other than we'd be landing at 5:15 p.m. The flight we were booked on was scheduled to take off at 5:25 p.m. Close indeed. Even though I was preparing myself to miss this flight, I was  more concerned about our checked luggage arriving in Tokyo without us.

We landed, taxied, and eventually arrived at the gate. By the time we got off the plane it was 5:20 p.m. We were ready to make a mad dash through the airport—until we saw there was no jetway. Instead we had to take a bus to the terminal from where the plane was parked on the tarmac. The bus was already packed, but our flight attendant, in consideration of our situation, all but jammed us inside with the other now annoyed passengers.

This bus ride felt like it took a long time. It probably didn't, but as we cruised by the other gates I kept an eye out for any waiting China Eastern planes. I didn't see any. Dread grew with every gate we drove by.

When we finally arrived at the terminal and hustled up to someone who I can only refer to as a greeter and explained our situation as best we could, she told us we had to go through immigration, get our bags, then go find a supervisor (she said them in that order). And that's when it really, finally, concretely hit home—we weren't going to be on a plane to Tokyo any time soon.

For some reason, inexperience mostly, we didn't think we needed to fill out an immigration card if we were just transiting, but we did. So I hastily scrawled our info onto four cards, and presented them to an immigration officer after a brief wait in line. A short discussion later, we were granted 24-hour temporary visas. Welcome to China.

We went to retrieve our bags, but as we stood there watching other people's luggage roll by, I began to doubt we'd see them. They had been checked through to Tokyo. As the last few bags trickled down the conveyor belt, ours were not there. So we weren't going to make our flight, but would our bags?

There was nothing to do but head over to the transit area. When we got there, we handed over our boarding passes, and the woman at the counter said, "You will not make this flight, and there's nothing else until tomorrow morning. We'll put you in a hotel for the night."

She punched a few keys and moments later told us we were booked on a flight at 9:10 the next morning, then asked us to wait while they arranged for a hotel. I asked about our luggage, and she pointed to the conveyor belt and said, "Here."

Sure enough a short but still agonizingly long time later, our three bags popped out of the small door onto the baggage carousel.

Okay, so that may not have been the best travel day we've had on the trip, but we were all together and we had all our bags, so we didn't really need anything else. Except maybe a place to sleep.

We waited until a woman walked up to us and said, "From Hong Kong? Follow me please." We gathered out stuff and started walking through the airport, following our guide. And walked and walked and walked until we went outside and she gestured to a waiting white van. We nodded and started to load our luggage in the back. When we got it all loaded up, we turned around to thank her, but she was gone.

We climbed into the van and we were off. But where were we going? About 10 minutes into the ride I started to really wonder. I looked over at Samantha and could tell she was thinking the same thing. But it wasn't too much longer before we arrived at the Yunting Holiday Hotel.

Yunting Holiday Hotel

We were checked in by a nice young man in a too-large jacket who took our boarding passes before giving us a room key. This only added to our feeling of being trapped. Usually, the first thing we do when reaching a new country is take out some spending money in the local currency from an ATM, but we didn't have a chance to do that. So we had no money and no idea where we were and no boarding passes.

He said a shuttle would take us to the airport at 7:00 in the morning. Our counter agent told us to get to the airport by 7:00, so we asked for 6:45. He nodded in agreement, then gestured to the elevator.

We asked about a place to get some food and the young man said, "We'll call your room." We were a little confused about what this meant, but we ventured up to our room—and what a room it was. Three beds, a bathroom, a television, and a pillar right in the middle. It looked like any hotel room, but there was an antiseptic sting to the air yet it didn't feel quite clean. It was just little stuff, like hairs in the bathroom sink and dust on shelves. I wish we'd taken pictures.

About 10 minutes after we got into the room, the phone rang. I picked it up. "Dinner is ready," a voice said before I could say anything. I thanked the caller, hung up, and looked over at my family. "It seems dinner is ready."

We went down to the restaurant, which had been dark when we checked in but was now brightly lit. It was set up like a buffet-style place, a few tables surrounded by bright purple plush chairs with empty chafing dishes on top of long tables in the back of the room.

A man in a white chef's coat gestured to four trays on a table in the back of the room. We each took one and sat down to eat. Dinner was a sectional plate, each with a serving of brown noodles, bok choy, white rice, and some sort of cooked meat. We were given cups so we could help ourselves to a vaguely orange soda.

As we ate, the hotel staff sat at a distant table, smoking and talking. After we finished and thanked the staff, we went back to the room. The place felt like a ghost hotel; there was no evidence anyone else was staying there and every footstep echoed down the empty halls.

It was still early, but there was nothing else to do, so we got ready for bed. This process, like it does for most people, involves brushing your teeth. And that always begs the eternal question when traveling: Can we drink the water?  After a quick (well slow, we only had Edge network connections), we opted for no, we probably shouldn't, and used bottled water instead.

The final surprise came when we got into the beds. You know how most beds are soft and at least a little supporting when you lie on them?. Not these beds. These beds were hard and pushed back with a vengeance. Seriously, I hiked the John Muir Trail for two weeks and slept on ground softer than these beds.

As the saying goes, get comfortable being uncomfortable, and this day had been filled with discomfort. We all read for a little bit and turned out the lights.

Notable Statistics:

  • Planes flown in: 1
  • Buses ridden in: 1
  • Vans taken: 1

is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. He also drinks coffee.

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Shanghai Interlude
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