Skip to main content
PBS logo

The Eclectic Pen - A Novice Travler In Beijing

By: IONE L. (zaneygraylady)   + 85 more  
Date Submitted: 8/24/2007
Last Updated: 8/24/2007
Genre: Biographies & Memoirs » Travelers & Explorers
Words: 1,409

  Never in my wildest dreams had I ever considered traveling to China. The longest plane trip I took was to Florida to visit my in laws and Disney World. But when my son Jesse announced to me that his girlfriend was pregnant and they were getting married I didnít hesitate to state, ďIím going to the weddingĒ. The only problem was, he lives in China.

We had a whole year to plan for our trip. We got the proper travel books checked airlines and hotels. As much as we tried to prepare for our trip to China it was full of mishaps and adventure. It was a lot like the amazing race without the million dollars at the end. Since our son, daughter in law and new granddaughter live there we intend to visit quite often.

Day One August 8
Our flight departed at 9:45AM from Kalamazoo Michigan. It is a small airport and all went well. We arrived in Chicago about the same time since they are an hour behind us. We had a one-hour layover, just enough time to find our flight to Shanghai. The flight to Shangahi was thirteen hours long. It was comfortable enough since we were in a five-seat row and there were only three in our row we got to spread out. We had movies to watch, meals and I brought a book to entertain me.

The real challenge came when we got to the airport in Shangahi. We had to get our luggage, find our connecting flight to Beijing and wait for six hours. In Chicago that wouldnít have been a problem but since we didnít speak the language there were several challenges. First was finding our way around. Second was getting the proper money since we only had dollars. Next was finding something to eat and somewhere to sit.

After we collected our baggage I went to one of the booths to change some of our money. I handed the girl a twenty and she informed me it would cost me six dollars to exchange our money. Cheapskate that I am I declined. There was a bank at the airport so next luggage in tow, I tried to exchange my money there. The fee was the same. My husband had the bright idea to go to an ATM and sure enough it did give us some Chinese money called RBM or Yuan. We got five hundred Yuan. I was worried since I didnít leave five hundred dollars in my checking account at home and didnít want to bounce any checks for bills coming in. I tried to ask people who spoke English what I was spending in American dollars but either I didnít understand their answer or they didnít understand my question. I was stressing out over everything we bought not knowing what I was really spending on anything. Was that coke really six dollars?

They wouldnít let us check our luggage until an hour before our plane left so we had to find a place to stash it. For eighty RBM we could do that. It seemed high to me but we were tired hungry and hot and not in the mood to lug around two suitcases each. I found a bathroom and to my pleasure it had western toilets. I did need to use my own toilet paper as Iíd been warned and was smart enough to bring.

We were famished there were only a couple of choices of where to eat. There was a coffee shop and a sit down restaurant. We chose the sit down restaurant so we could sit and relax. My husband didnít like the way anything looked on the menu so he ordered coffee with cream, which got a strange reaction from the waitress. I ordered a waffle. On the picture there was fruit and syrup with it. The waitress kept asking me something about the pork and finally I figured she was asking if I wanted mashed pork with my waffle. I said yes since I thought it was probably sausage and my husband would eat it. They brought my husband iced coffee with sugar syrup and I got my waffle no fruit and the mashed pork looked like pork dust. I didnít try it and my husband didnít either. I didnít get syrup with my waffle and no butter either so I asked for some. The waitress didnít understand what I was asking for so I finally took my husbandís sugar syrup for his coffee and put that on the waffle. Not good but edible.

We still had hours to go since our flight was going to be two hours late. I needed to let my son know so I tried to figure out how to use a pay phone. A kind gentleman saw my confusion and showed me a machine where I could get a phone card but I didnít have the right change. We went to the coffee shop to get my husband some real coffee and change for the phone card. I left him at the coffee shop and went to get the phone card when this guy came up to me with a phone card and motioned that he would sell me the same one for the same price himself. It looked like he made his money just waiting for people buying phone cards. I hoped I wasnít being duped but it did look the same and I have trouble saying no to people even in English. I tried to call my son but kept getting a recording in Chinese. I told my husband and he said it could be a recording on my sonís phone. Finally my husband found out from someone that we needed to put in the area code for Beijing and the card worked for us.

It was a real relief getting hold of our son and knowing that he would be waiting for us at the airport in Beijing even if our flight were not getting in until midnight. We were exhausted and I was really looking forward to getting to our hotel and relaxing.

An hour before our departure to Beijing we were allowed to check our baggage and enter the international side of the airport. To our surprise that side was cool, had plenty of seats and many more restaurants to choose from. All I wanted by then was a cold coke and had no trouble finding one there. Coca Cola is understandable in any language to my delight since I am addicted to it.

Our flight to Beijing was only a couple of hours. We landed in Beijing and had a little more confusion as to where to get our bags. I also had to use the bathroom. This time it was the bathroom I had been warned about. The dreaded hole in the floor. There is porcelain down there but there is nowhere to sit. You have to squat. A fifty seven year old lady does not squat much less get back up if she does. If I fell it would be disastrous. There were no bars to hold onto and what about making sure you hit the right spot and not getting any pee on your pants? I had to go so I went and miraculously I didn't fall in and I got back up. I was probably lucky that time but didn't want to repeat that experience.

Finally we got our bags and exited the terminal. I looked for my son and there he was with my beautiful daughter in law to be. We had our introduction and hugs and they took us to our hotel.

It was after midnight in Beijing when we got to our hotel. The hotel and our room were luxurious. I was so glad that even though we are of modest means we opted for a five star hotel. We had left Kalamazoo the day before and had been traveling for more than 24 hours and really needed some refuge. In the days to come it would mean all the more to us.

Tips from a weary traveler:
Try to arrange your flight so that you donít have a layover in a foreign country
Familiarize yourself with the exchange rates
Try to exchange some currency before you leave
Bring plenty of snacks
Pack half as much as you think you need (our hotel had a laundry service)

Stay tuned for day two

The Eclectic Pen » All Stories by IONE L. (zaneygraylady)

Member Comments

Leave a comment about this story...

Comments 1 to 1 of 1
Silvercat - - 8/24/2007 9:31 PM ET
Ione...this is wonderful to read! I am standing by for day 2... :)
Comments 1 to 1 of 1