Friday, June 19, 2009

Shanghai, here I come!!

My travel itinerary for Day 1 was Dulles to JFK to Beijing to Shanghai. Despite a long check in line at the United counter and a long line for the security check, my flight to JFK went off without a hitch. I arrived in plenty of time to check in at the Air China counter and go through the security lines at JFK. As I sat in the departure gate, the skies outside were getting more and more ominous. I started to worry that we would be delayed by bad weather and we eventually were. By the time the plane taxied down the runway and lifted off, we were two hours late leaving – that was my two hours of layover in Beijing so as we took off from JFK, I already knew I had missed my connecting flight to Shanghai.

I settled in for the long flight. No problem – I’ve handled long distance flights before A few meals and movies to occupy my time and I’m good to but there were no frills on this trip. 2 meals and everyone ate the same thing and only one movie that everyone saw. The meals were a strange combination of East and West – Chinese entrée flanked by Western bread, salad and dessert. The airline needs to hire a new Executive Chef. The movie was “Body of Lies” which I caught snippets of between catnapping. Fortunately, one of the sound channels was in English so I didn’t have to listen to Leonardo Di Caprio and Russell Crowe exchange dialog in Mandarin. Not a bad flight but next time I think I will fly United.

Shortly after the first meal, the attendants distributed Health Declaration Forms for all passengers to complete. Basically, you had to provide travel and health information. The former not only included the flight number you were travelling on, but the seat number you were sitting in, your accommodation information for the next 7 days and the name of a person who knew where you would be in case of emergency or who could provide critical health information. The latter set of questions on the form was definitely targeted at trying to figure out whether you might have contracted the H1N1 or Swine Flu virus in recent days e.g. Question 7 – “Have you had close contact with patients of flu or persons with flu-like symptoms within the last 7 days?”

At the very bottom of the form was a spot for the quarantine official to take your temperature. I thought no matter how cold I might be when the plane lands, no way I’m covering up! If I have to, I will shiver my way off the plane :-)

14 hours after leaving JFK, we arrived into Beijing. It was 8pm on June 19th – the exact time my Air China flight was to leave for Shanghai. Oh well. Nothing I could do but hope I could get on another flight. I was eager to get off the plane, to stretch my legs and figure out how to get to Shanghai. But before, I could lift my butt off the seat, the attendant announced over the PA system that we would have to remain seated to pass quarantine check. Here it comes, I thought – I will be booted out of the country before I could even enter.

A few minutes later, several people boarded the plane. They were dressed head to toe in white Tyvek suits. Their faces were covered by breathing masks, their hands by gloves and their feet but by the paper footies that surgeons wear. They started down the aisles and one by one, held a meter up to each person’s forehead to measure body temperature. I got zapped but I guess my readout registered that my body temperature was in range as the quarantine official passed by me. The quarantine officials were quick and efficient going through our cabin but not the next one. At one point, I noticed several of them huddling around a seat. Oh no, I thought to myself. We have one sick passenger on board and they’re going to quarantine the entire plane. A few tense minutes, at least for me, later and the officials left the plane. We were then given the green light to disembark. Woohoo!! I made it into China!!

But not so fast, I still had to make it past the Health Check line at the Arrival Terminal before getting real clearance. I still had to turn in my form and get it stamped.

Keeping my fingers crossed, I got off the plane and started walking towards Immigration. To say that Beijing International Airport is large is truly an understatement. This is one h-u-g-e airport!! It took nearly 10 minutes for the airport shuttle to take us from the plane to the arrival gate and then nearly 20 minutes for me to get from the arrival gate to the Health Check line. Sheesh…..this airport is ridiculously large!!

Good news is that I made it past both the Health Check line and Immigration!! Welcome to China!!

Since Beijing was my port of entry into China, I had to get my luggage and go through Customs. I waited at the luggage carousel and I waited and I waited and I waited. When the conveyor belt stopped and I still had not seen my backpack show up, I was resigned to the fact that my next destination would be the lost luggage office for Air China. *sigh*.

With my “lost luggage claim form” paperwork completed, I was told to just head over to the Domestic Transfers area and the Air China officials would reticket me and sure enough, they did! I managed to get on a flight to Shanghai that was departing two hours after my original one…..at least that’s what was on the schedule. Weather delayed takeoff so we didn’t start taxing down the runway until it was close to midnight. I knew it would be about an hour and half long flight so that meant getting into Shanghai at 1:30am. Just thinking about that made me feel tired. I realized that I had already be enroute to Shanghai for 27 hours and I figured I had at least two more to go. Luckily, there were no further delays once we took off and we arrived into Shanghai.

Hoping against odds, I joined the rest of the passengers and the luggage carousel – maybe my pack had been shipped ahead but alas, that was not the case. It was truly lost :-(

I exited the terminal in search of a taxi stand. Immediately, I was offered a ride and I was too tired to object. I followed the man to the carpark and waited for a car to show up. I had printed out the name of the hotel in Chinese along with a map so I was certain we could get there without problems. We hit the highway leading to the city. One thing about the highways in Shanghai – they are excellent!! Wide lanes and well marked! At 2am in the morning, there is barely any traffic so we zoomed into the city. Once there though, the poor driver got lost trying to get to the hotel. I managed to find the phone number for the hotel and after placing a call to get directions, he eventually got me to my destination. With getting lost, we had travelled nearly 50 km, 10 more than what the hotel said the distance would be on their website. Oh well, these things happen. I paid the driver the 200 yuan that his meter said I owed him. I was too tired to argue for a discount.

My room was waiting for me along with a note from the guide who would be taking me to Suzhou and Zhouzhuang the next day. By now,it was about 2:30a and his note read that he would meet me in the lobby at 9:15a. Perfect, I thought. I would get at least 5 hours of sleep.

I got to my room and all I wanted to do was shower and hit the sack and that’s what I did to end my first travel day. It had been a really, really long travel day but I made it to Shanghai safe and sound and that’s all that mattered.