Well it's that time of year again! January 5 was the start of this misadventure. I flew from Chicago to Shanghai via Beijing. The flight to Beijing is 14 hours, and this year I flew with Hainan Airlines, as their flights to China are crazy cheap right now. Sadly I wound up stuck in the middle seat, but at least I would be sharing my row with skinny Chinese people. This year I went with my preferred method of preparation for overseas travel: sleep deprivation! With back to back nights sleep of less than 4 hours of sleep I was ready to crash hard on this flight. After a meal of chicken and rice, I zonked out for about 6 hours, which was a little less than I’d hoped, but still workable. Now I just had to kill 8 hours with TV and movies. Two Bourne movies and two random Chinese movies and I was pretty much there! Although after about 12 hours there really is no comfortable way to position your butt on the chair anymore, regardless of how many times you try.
I had found out on the flight that in Beijing we would have to retrieve our bag from baggage claim and recheck it, which was lame. Our flight was a little late, plus we burned a bunch of time taxiing and had to wait for the bus to take us to the terminal. Then my backpack was one of the last ones to make it through baggage claim and things were not looking good for my transfer. A long line going through the scanner at customs had things looking pretty bleak, and having to change terminals all but ensured my fate. Check In closed. AGHH. It can never be a smooth start to one of these trips! Then of course Hainan Airlines wouldn’t refund my money or put me on another trip for free, so I had to make a new plan. I’d read the Hainan airlines customer service was horrible and if you missed your connection you were probably SOL, but I never realized they didn’t just send your bag to the final destination! Hmm. Well you get what you pay for I guess. Time to find a new flight.
Beijing airport only has free wifi if you put in your phone number. Now I don’t have a working number here, so no wifi for me. And all the free wifi places also operate like this. Crap. Even the pay wifi service Boingo wasn’t loading. Trying to speak to a Chinese cab driver with mediocre Chinese skills is always a nightmare. Trapped at the airport! However I could connect to Wechat (a chinese messaging app) so I was able to get one of my Chinese friends to send a photo with the details of an airport hotel to show the taxi driver. As soon as you step outside into the taxi line, you can just feel the smog and pollution hit you. Its pretty crazy. Beijing winter is cold, smoggy, and miserable. Talk about a place I did not want to be.
I hopped in the cab and tried to show the driver the hotel on my phone, but he started driving to get out of the queue before I could show him the screenshot. Of course I didn’t save it directly to my phone and when we got outside the airport wifi zone it didn’t load in wechat so the driver pulled over yabbering at me a million miles per hour in Chinese and all I could say was wo buzhidou! wo buzhidou! (I don’t know, I don’t know!). So paid the base fare and get out. God I hate Chinese taxis. Aaand back to the airport. Seriously, China is by far the easiest country to hate when you first arrive.
Finally I got Boingo to load and booked a 7am flight the next morning. At this point it was getting late and I decided I was just going to sleep in the airport, I’d have to be there at 5am anyway. Plus I had my sleeping pad and travel pillow so I was pretty much good to go! A few hours of really crappy sleep and I was on the plane and off to Shanghai. Thank god!