As I suspected we didn’t sleep very well. I had set the alarm for 8am, but we were both wide awake at 7am. The dogs had to get to the vet’s office where they will be boarded while we are gone. One of our Chihuahuas, Belle, had a life threatening defect of her trachea that caused her to have problems breathing. Well, the surgery to correct it has surely improved her quality of life, but has made her more prone to aspiration pneumonia (sound familiar? Kai has the same problem). So, we cannot let her board places that don’t have direct access to medical care.
Nancy got up, ate a bowl of cereal and started packing the dogs’ bag of food, medicine and other stuff they’ll need for the time we are gone.
While she was doing that, I was drafting a couple documents for work that I woke up in the middle of the night remembering that I hadn’t done. Unfortunately, it was rather important, so I couldn’t leave without doing it.
After we were both done, we harnessed up the dogs and loaded them in the car and headed out to the Vet’s Office. Belle, loves to be in the car so she just enjoyed the ride, but Coco never likes being in a car, so it was stressful for her.
But, once we got out of the car at the Vet’s Office, Belle realized what was up and really didn’t want to go in. So, we had to carry them in and drop them off. That was tough. I don’t like leaving them for that long. I’m always worried something will go wrong and we cannot be there.
After dropping the dogs off we headed back home and finished packing. We had 2 hours until our ride to the airport was to show up. It only took an hour to finish packing and then we had an hour to download some new songs from iTunes onto our iPods.
Our ride showed up exactly on time and we had a smooth ride to the airport.
We were only brining 1 checked back and 4 carry-ons (2 rolling bags, and 2 backpacks). There was pretty much no one in the OKC airport. We walked right up to the counter for American Airlines. We don’t particularly like American Airlines because of past experiences with bad customer service, but we really didn’t have a choice on this trip. We were just hoping that this trip would be better.
It took a good 30 minutes to get us checked in. There seemed to be problems with the computer being able to scan my passport. That is always my luck. I’m the one whose credit cards never can be read so why would my passport be any different. I should point out that since we were going overseas and NOT flying a domestic carrier, apparently we weren’t charged the bag fees that are driving everyone nuts.
After finally getting all our boarding passes. We had passes to get us to Taipei which wouldn’t be used because we had to check in again in at LAX for the Pacific Ocean leg of our journey.
The TSA security checkpoint was quiet as well. My backpack had to be scanned 3 times which didn’t shock me. It usually has to get scanned 2 times every time I carry it through because of all the electronics inside. I tried to pack better this time, but I guess I made it worse…haha
We made our way to our gate where we had a good hour or so wait until boarding. On this trip we really wanted to have plenty of time between flights to allow for delays and not screw us up.
I made the mistake of not paying attention when the lady who checked us in and ended up losing our seats on the back of the plane to seats near the front. For you see, if you don’t fly Southwest Airlines, who board by groups of A, B, and C based on when you check in, you have to board back to front. The later you board the plane, the less chance you’ll have overhead storage.
Well, we were in the last group to board the plane and the gate agent told Nancy that her bag was too big. Well, her bag was a nice Samsonite bag that was clearly labeled as being a TSA approved carryon bag. So they bring out the cage and ask her to put it in there and it was no where near large enough to fit her bag. Well, I don’t know many laptop bags that could fit in that “sizing guide”. So,we had to quickly move stuff from that bag to our backpacks. The problem with the Samsonite is that is has a lot of volume that easily collapses, but the American Airlines agent wouldn’t let her compress the bag but to just lighly place it in the cage and if it didn’t fit by gravity alone, we had to pay to check the bag to our final destination of China. We refused. We knew the bag would fit. This agent was nice and said that should could tell that the bag wasn’t as full as it looked like and should fit.
We boarded the plane and as I suspected all our overhead storage was taken. Fortunately, this was a OKC to DFW trip so most of the people onboard are business travelers this helped us but we had to go back to row 19 to find overhead storage. Guess what, Nancy’s bag not only fit, but slide in without any force and with a good 4 inches of clearance. Well, our seats were at row 6. So, I don’t know how the person who changed our seats could claim these were “better seats”. We have to wait until the plane empties to get our bags. It didn’t take long for me to remember why I prefer to fly Southwest Airlines.
The flight to Dallas was uneventful and quick. Our flight was at 2:15PM so by the time we landed we were pretty hungry (I hadn’t eaten yet while Nancy only had a bowl of cereal).
We ended up having McDonald’s because we already knew how our stomachs would respond to that food. We have a whole lot of flying left to go and didn’t want to have an upset stomach.
We had a longer wait for this flight than we did in OKC and time seemed to crawl. On this flight, I went to the gate agent and requested to get moved as far back in the plane as I could. He told me that he hardly ever gets someone asking for that. They all want to sit as close to the front. I told him that the plane boards back to front and people refuse to put their small item at their feet which steals all the overhead bins so if you board last you have no space. He told me that I was smart and gave me seats in the next to last row.
We found out our flight was delayed due to “mechanical difficulty”. I was so glad we had a 4hr45min layover in LAX so I wasn’t sweating this delay.
Ultimately, we were about 45 minutes delayed by the time they started boarding.
When it was time to board, we were one of the first people to get on and once again, the gate agent pulled Nancy aside and told us that her bag was too big and once again told her to put in in the “sizer” and once again it didn’t fit.
We pointed out to the agent that we just flew down from OKC on a much smaller American Airlines plane and the bag fit without issue. She told us that she highly doubted the bag fit. Nancy showed her that the bag has a lot of dead space in it and the bag actually is just the same size as mine if you compress the top. She said that we had to pay to check it in to our final destination (mind you that people going overseas don’t pay for bags to get checked in). We told her that we are going to China and that wasn’t an option especially since we know the bag would fit. At this point I was pretty agitated. She had a nasty tone in her voice and I unfortunately respond to that with getting one myself (it’s a character flaw I’m aware of and try to avoid but is hard when you are exhausted).
I pointed out to this person that we are going to China for an adoption and our carryon bags have items in them that we cannot afford to get delayed due to luggage problems. This was the first person we have encountered on this trip who didn’t have a softening of the heart when they hear the purpose of our trip (that it isn’t pleasure). In fact, it was this knowledge that changed the tone of the gate agent in OKC.
She finally told us that she’s going to let us on the plane but it was people like us with our “overpacked” bags that are breaking the overhead bins.
Now, I know there might be people who read this that work in the airline industry and I know there are people who do indeed try to bring gigantic bags onto the plane (or too many) but this wasn’t the case. We were using a bag that according to the labeling by Samsonite was an approved carry-on and samsonite is a known and trusted manufacturer of luggage. I guess what irritated me was that this new aggressiveness seems to correspond with the new baggage fees the airlines have instituted. It’s in the airline’s best interest to get as many carryons flagged as “too big”. And to add insult to injury the way we were treated really made us feel like their attitude was that we should feel happy they allowed us onto their plane instead of being glad that we gave them business. If airlines are insisting that a smaller bag size and weight limit then they need to make the TSA mandate that luggage manufacturers cannot claim a bag is approved carryon when it isn’t.
Well, after that drama was over (and it did get a bit heated and for a second there I thought I may have taken it too far with my “tone”), we boarded the plane and sure enough Nancy’s bag fit with plenty of spare room.
This American Airlines flight had a paid meal. Apparently, for $10 we could get a sandwich or pay $3.25 for a chocolate chip cookie. No thank you, I’m not paying Disney prices for food unless I get the Disney service.
The 3 hour flight was cramped but we had an empty seat next to us so we had some room to stash our winter coats (it’s going to be darn near freezing in Beijing and Zhengzhou).
We made it to LAX without any issue and since we were in the back of the plane we did have to wait to get off the plane. Even with the delay we still had a ton of time.
For those who haven’t flown into LAX and needed to catch an international flight, we found out that you have to leave the secured area and come back in. We really weren’t sure which way to go, but a business traveler heard us talking and pointed us in the right direction.
When we got to the right place, we found Eva Air without issue. In fact,it’s hard to miss it. They had clearly designated lines for their Premier (First Class/Business Class), Elite (Deluxe Economy), and Economy.
There were not any agents at the counter yet. So we made our way to the Elite line and were the second people in line. The line for Economy was already full and the Premier line had a lot of people too.
We guessed that since there were only 2 flights out of LAX and the first one was at 10:45PM that they didn’t have the desk manned at all times.
Sure enough after about a 30 minute wait, the doors opened and a bunch of elegantly attired people came out and opened up their lines.
When it was our turn, it appeared that my passport was going to have problems again. We heard the agent make a call speaking in Mandarin and then took my passport and went to go talk to a supervisor. When she came back we asked her if everything was alright. She told us that everything was fine. It was just that our reservation noted there is an infant with us and she didn’t see one. It was at this time we informed her that we were going to China to adopt and the infant won’t be with us until the trip home.
After getting our boarding passes, she noted the size of Nancy’s carryon (here we go again). She informed us that on flights to China there is a 7kg weight limit so she asked Nancy to weigh her bag. It weighed 14kg! Nancy turned to me and said, “I’ll just check it, it’ll get to our destination now”. So, the agent put a sticker on it and we asked if it was checked to Beijing. She gave us a puzzled look and asked, “Do you want me to check it?” We told her that we thought that’s what she was doing since it was way over 7kg. She said, that “she gave it to us” and smiled. Apparently the tag that she put on Nancy’s bag stated that it was weighed and met the 7kg limit. She then put a tag on mine and we were on our way.
The international terminal appears to be going through a major remodel because there were construction walls everywhere, plastic and concrete floors. We made our way back to security to get our bags checked.
Nancy had to go through a separate line because she had some liquid medicine. Even though she had a longer line she got through faster than I did because I had a person in front of me who apparently hasn’t ever flown before. She kept tripping the metal detector.
We had to walk quite a ways to get to gate 103 where we were catching our flight to China. The part of the airport was dull and boring. There was only 1 (yes one) place to get food and it pretty much was hot dogs and pre-packaged sandwiches.
There was also only one outlet in the entire gate waiting area.
By this time, it was almost midnight in Oklahoma and we were tired. So, we walked the terminal a bit to keep the blood flowing. As it got closer to boarding time, agents came out and setup a bunch of roped off lines for each of the classes. They seemed to be organized and knew that line jumping might be an option so there was only one clear way to get in line and onto the plane.
We had no issue getting on this plane. We weren’t stopped about Nancy’s bag. I must say, the First class section was nice, but the Elite class was awesome as well. We had bulkhead seats and I could stretch out my legs completely and just barely touch the bulkhead. Each seat has a 110V power outlet and it’s own video screen with movie and TV choices. Our seat also has a leg rest that comes out and reclines quite a bit.
The take off process was very subtle. There wasn’t a blatant safety spiel and they really didn’t tell you to turn off your electronics until they were already starting the taxi process.
The climb after takeoff was steep but while we were still climbing one of the flight attendants (who all seemed to be female) came and told us that we could start using our entertainment center and showed us how to use it.
We also got dinner service right after takeoff. We got the beef and potatoes and even though we didn’t get real silverware, the spread was nice and more importantly extremely tasty. The downside is that cups they gave us for drinks were tiny. I was drinking my water in single gulps.
I woke up around 1AM China Time and Nancy was already awake. She started watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I fired up the netbook to start some blog writing. While I worked on the blog, I listened to podcasts and music on my iPod.
A short while later, we got offered breakfast. The choices were frittata and Chinese style congee. Nancy hates eggs so she had the congee. I wasn’t feeling adventurous so I had the frittata.
After eating our breakfast I went back to blogging and Nancy finished watching Harry Potter and then started watching GI Joe. She wasn’t going to have time to finish it because we were very close to getting to Taiwan.
As we were packing up our backpacks so we could stow them for landing (since we had a bulkhead seat we didn’t have a seat in front of us to stash our backpacks), Nancy struck up a conversation with the family to our left who were traveling to Taiwan with their two boys. They felt bad thinking their kids rambunctiousness had disturbed us. It turns out their two boys are the same exact age difference as Kai and Kylee will be.
Landing was smooth and in my case, my ears didn’t even clog up like they usually do. Disembarking was smooth too. We had plenty of room to get up and get everything out of the overhead bins before it was time to get off the plane.
Once we were off, we had to walk a bit to find where to go for transfers. After walking a bit, we saw a sign pointing to the right saying “Transfers” and two ladies waving people on.
On the other side was another X-Ray machine. So, I had to once again go through my ritual so as to make sure I don’t forget to remove something and trip the alarm.
I felt a bit more rushed this time because I really wasn’t sure what I was doing or where i was going. Nancy went ahead of me and it took me awhile to get ready. After making my way through the metal detector and shuffling over to some seats to the side with all my stuff bundled up in my arms, I tried to get dressed. I put my netbook down on the seat and it slid off and made a loud thud as it hit the ground. I opened up it’s neoprene case and saw the case was cracked but didn’t have time to check to see if it still worked. I was a bit upset but what can I do.
We made our way to the terminal, but the monitors didn’t have our flight listed. I was worried that we were in the wrong area of the airport.
Nancy’s came up with the plan to walk to the gate associated with the next flight that Eva was taking off from. That way we could talk to a gate agent when they showed up.
As we walked through the terminal we noted all the shops that sold non-food items. There was a lot of electronics store, high end boutique shops and places to sit and relax. In some ways it looked more like a mall than an airport.
When we got to the gate for the next Eva Air flight, we checked the monitor again and this time Beijing showed up and we knew what gate we had to be at. Of course, it was in the opposite direction.
When we got to our gate for our flight to Beijing, I fired up the laptop and f ound out that it still worked. We also saw a sign for free Wi-Fi so Nancy and I were able to get a couple blog posts uploaded (apparently Facebook and Twitter aren’t blocked here).
I did look for a plug in case the battery drops too low and noticed all the plugs here are the kind you find in America and upon closer examination, I could see they weren’t 220V outlets. They were listed as 125V. So, I should be able to plug up if needed.
I ended up not needing a plug and just worked off the battery. I knew there would be an outlet on the plane and I had enough juice in the battery to get us to flight time.
After awhile we decided to walk around a bit and since the shops were now open, we did some window shopping. There were a lot of electronic shops plus shops selling cultural stuff.
The one thing that we found really interesting was the many themed gate waiting areas. There was the Hello Kitty gate and several gates themed after different aspects of Taiwan life (plants, animals, sea life, etc). It was pretty cool.
By the time we walked all the way down and back, we still pretty much were the only people at our gate waiting for the flight to Beijing. This wasn’t to last long as people started to pile into the area.
After awhile we started noticing people going through the doors marked “Gate 9” and down some stairs. We weren’t sure what was going on since a good many people were still sitting where we were. But eventually I noticed an American gentleman go down leaving his wife up there with us. He was obviously scouting out the situation. When he came back and got his wife, she had caught our eye and motioned for us to come with them. She could tell we were lost and had no idea what was going on.
When we got downstairs what was waiting for us was the actual boarding gate. The room was narrow and deep with rows and rows of chairs. Unlike at LAX there were only two roped off lines. One was for First Class the other was for Economy. I went and asked one of the gate agents if there was an Elite Class for this plane and I was told there weren’t enough rows for passengers on this flight to warrant it. That told me that our flight probably had some freight on it. For, you see, Eva Air mixes freight with passengers on the flights between Mainland China and Taiwan. From what I was told, this is how they keep their ticket prices low.
We were informed that our flight would be 30 minutes delayed but we weren’t given a reason.
We were sitting across from the American couple that tipped us off to the fact that we needed to come down and had a nice chat. The wife was giving Nancy tips on things like how best to use the squatter bathrooms (lift up the pant legs before pulling down the pants) and that the one bathroom at the Great Wall that has a “western toilet” typically is less crowded and cleaner. Plus to always carry tissue because there is no guarantee that the bathroom will have toilet paper.
They were really nice and wished us luck on our little adventure. Eventually they started boarding and the mad rush to get in line began. You’d think it was the running of the brides.
When they called our group to board, we quickly jumped into the stream of people boarding the plane.
Even though there wasn’t an Elite Class for this flight, our seats were exactly like the ones we had on our flight from LAX. There were more people seated in this area than last time, but we had no issues getting overhead storage.
This was only a 3 hour flight. So, I pretty much only had time to watch one movie. So,I fired up The Ugly Truth. Nancy stuck to reading her new Dan Brown novel.
On this flight we were given a arrival/departure card to fill out and a form from the Chinese Quarantine and Health Department (not the real name, I cannot remember) which basically asks you where are you coming from, have you been exposed to anyone with the flu in the past 7 days and where are you going to be for the next 7 days. Oh, by the way, if you misstate the information criminal charges may be involved.
Based on prior experiences back in the 80’s I was under the impression these forms were not only important but must be filled out prior to leaving the plane. Well, as luck would have it, we didn’t have pin.
So, being the obsessive compulsive type that I am, this became the thing I fixated on during this part of the trip.
We got a great meal of Chicken and Noodles on the plane, so that made 3 fabulous meals provided by Eva Air in the Elite Class section of the plane.
We realized that we needed our passport and visa numbers but had already stowed them, so we filled in as much as we could realizing we’d fill the rest in later if we could. We decided to hang back while everyone else disembarked so that we could finish filling in our paperwork. It was after we handed the pen back the flight attendant that we realized that we needed to fill in some itinerary info which meant we had to crack open our envelope of important papers that included documents we couldn’t afford to lose.
We decided to continue on and find a place to take care of that later. Well, it was quite a long walk from the gate we got off the plane to where they check you for temperatures. Right before you got there, a table was provided with pens chained to the table.
As we waited for our turn a police officer waved us over and pointed out a much longer table that no one was standing at. It was here that we pulled out our ininerary and filled in the remaining info. This was probably a blessing in disguise because by the time we finished this, the line to be processed was gone. We walked up to separate officers and handed them our form. At this point, they quickly scanned it and just handed it back with a stamp.
We proceeded to follow the signs to Baggage Claim. We eventually came to where we needed to go visit another officer and hand them that stamped form. I forgot to mention that we were getting scanned with infrared scanners to look for body heat in at least 3 different places during this process.
We handed the form to the officer who just waved us on. So, all my fretting was for nothing. It doesn’t look like anyone really scrutinizes it. I guess they just want to see you filled everything in.
The next step was to get our bags, but in order to get to Baggage Claim, we had to ride a “light rail” over there. Unlike in the United States where people seem to go out of their way to not get crammed into a train, people here just rushed into the situation. We dove right in with them and while uncomfortable, everyone was really polite about it.
When we got off the train, we had a short walk before fining the carousel that our bag would be showing up at. Nancy stood to the side away from the crowds while I went to find an opening and wait for our bag.
I probably only waited for about 15 minutes but it felt like an hour. These bag carousels were huge and the amount of people crammed around them was quite a bit. I yanked our bag off the belt when I saw it. I went back to get Nancy and we made our way to customs. Since we didn’t have anything to declare, we just went through the “Nothing to Declare” line.
As we exited the baggage area there was a sea of people waiting for people to do the same. Lots of sign holding people. Most of them were in Chinese Characters. But, we quickly found our CCAI representative, Sindy. She quickly filled us in on the details for the next 2 days and gave us an itinerary for the tours we’ll be taking.
On Friday, we’ll be touring Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City in the morning and the Silk Factory and see an Acrobatic Show in the afternoon. It sounds like a group dinner may happen that night.
On Saturday, we’ll be going to the Jade Factory and the Great Wall in the morning and participate in a Tea Ceremony and take the HuTong Tour (not sure what that is) in the afternoon. Then another group dinner at night.
Apparently, Sindy was going to be at the airport until 9PM waiting for all the families to show up so she introduced us to the guy who was going to take us to the hotel and we were off.
The airport in Beijing is H-U-G-E. It took what seemed like forever to get to the parking garage. Plus, it was close to freezing outside and you could feel that cold as we got closer to the garage.
We finally got the garage and it had to be one of the nicest parking structures I’ve seen. The ground was even painted and the paint was still in pristine condition.
Our drive was quick to get back to us and threw our bags into the car and away we went.
The Grand Hotel Beijing (where we were staying) wasn’t close to the airport and it seemed like an eternity before we got to the hotel. Our drive was nice to point out important buildings a lot the way and tried to strike up small talk.
Sindy had told us that we were all pre-checked in and all we’d have to do was show our passport and they’d have our key ready for us in an envelope.
Well, when we handed them our passports, we were told that they didn’t have a reservation for us. They proceeded to ask us if we were at the right hotel. We told them that our adoption agency drove us here and that we were with a group of other families. Then we pulled out our itinerary from our final trip packet and showed to them. At first they said we were at the wrong Hotel Grand Beijing but when they saw the phone number provided they knew we were where we were supposed to.
I guess the lady behind the counter saw Sindy’s name on the paperwork in our packet because after awhile, she handed Nancy the phone and said that it was Sindy. Sindy told Nancy that she was going to figure out what was going on and for us to not go anywhere (I don’t know where we could’ve gone).
We say in the lobby and waited. In the meantime, my knack for obsessing on the negative prompted me to point out that if we didn’t get a reservation, we may have no place to stay tonight. Nancy didn’t appreciate that so after the 2nd time of bringing it up and the 2nd time getting the look that says to shut up, I shut up.
I don’t know how long it was before one of the gentlemen behind the desk came over and told us Sindy was on the phone again. Nancy spoke to her and found out that there must’ve been a miscommunication between the hotel and our agency’s travel department but it was all straightened out.
We were handed our keys and told that even though we paid for a standard they were putting us in a deluxe suite then we were told to follow one of their people to the room where we were shown how things work. It was pretty cool how the room key is put into a slot inside the door to activate all the lights. If you pull the key, the lights turn off.
Nancy decided that she needed a nap. I told her that I wasn’t going to let her nap long because we needed to quickly force our bodies onto China time.
As she napped, I worked on this blog post.
I did let her lay down for about 2 hours and I took a shower. After finally prodding Nancy out of bed, she took a shower and we were ready to try and find some food. At this time, it was 6PM China Time.
Before we could get any dinner, we needed to exchange some US dollars into Chinese currency (yuan). We needed some cash for the tours the next day and some walking around cash so we converted US$300. Well, that turned out to be a lot of yuan so we took most of it back to the room.
Once the money was safely stowed in the safe, we went back down to try and get some dinner.
Sindy had told us if we took a left out of the hotel we’d run into a giant mall. This mall was more than gigantic, it was gargantuan. As we walked into the mall, we had a local woman and baby start yelling at us in Mandarin. I was pretty sure she was wanting money because we’ve been warned by many people about how American tourists are targeted this way.
As we walked the mall there wasn’t really any places to eat jumping out at us. At this point, Nancy pointed out that she needed to eat NOW because baby Kylee wasn’t going to wait any longer for food. Nancy found a restaurant and it really had nothing I could eat on it. So we decided to go to the Outback Steakhouse inside the Hotel Beijing across the street.
We made our way across the street. I forgot to mention that the outside temp was hanging right around freezing. We found our way to Outback and got a seat.
The place was pretty empty and it didn’t take long to get served. We ordered our usual (8oz filet) and bottled water (you cannot drink the tap water). The bottle of water was tiny, insanely tiny.
The interesting thing was that they served different bread (white instead of the dark bread they serve in the US) and the sweet potatoes were different. I cannot describe the taste but they were much larger than what I was used to and very yellow instead of orange inside.
Well, the bill came and I got sticker shock. This is what I get because I cannot make a decision. It is a point of great contention with Nancy and me because I am physically incapable of making decisions when it comes to spending money.
Needless to say we were both tired and I was probably 10x crankier than Nancy. In my defense I did warn her that I didn’t handle jet lag well and my family has the stories to prove it.
So, we came back to the room and started boiling some water because the hotel only gives you 2 small bottles of water a day for free. The rest cost about US$.75/bottle and as dehydrated as I am, it would cost a small fortune to get me hydrated.
Well, Nancy is reading her Dan Brown book while I finish this up, so I’m calling it quits for the day.
Tomorrow we need to be at breakfast early because we have to meet our group at 9AM in the lobby for a fun filled day of touring.