China Trip

Saturday, August 4th (Day 1)

Our friend Amy took us to the aiport - we got there almost 3 hours early, again per advice. As it turned out, it's a good thing we did, because someone at the agency had screwed up and booked Lissa's reservation under the name Marilyn. Since that doesn't match her passport in the least, we had a problem. The poor Korean Air ticketing agent was in a bind, especially since English wasn't her first language. Her supervisor (a lovely Americanized Korean named Iris) said to contact the agency and have them fix it. I called the rep that was going with us (Victor); it turned out he was in line twenty feet away. He made a call to the agency, who called Korean Air, who fixed it ... for the outbound flights. They "tried" to fix the returning flights, but couldn't be certain if it worked. The process took an hour, and Liss was still Marilyn for the first leg, except with a Magic Stamp and written explanation on her boarding pass and an assurance that the Magic Stamp would work all the way through. It did.

A word about Victor, the agency rep. He's a baby boomer surfer dude: flip flops, sun-bleached hair, tan, winsome smile, khaki shorts, the works. Our first impression was that he had found his dream job - getting paid to travel. Oh, and it turns out he has a PhD.

Korean Air flight attendants look very classy and elegant.

After all of our preparation to ward off boredom, it turns out it wasn't really necessary. The back of each seat (and thus in front of the seat behind) has a little interactive computer, with movies, music, games, flight details, and more. We each watched three movies on the way to Seoul. I ended up reading about ten pages, she maybe thirty. The laptop never came out. We were in the middle seats (the plane is 3-4-3 seats wide), so no view or pictures of anything.

Also waiting for us at each seat was a care package of sorts - pillow, blanket, bottle of water, earphones for the computer, and what I called the bag of swag: toothbrush, toothpaste, methol-lotioned socks(!), and sleep eyemask, all in the airline's official color. Things were looking up. My shoes were off, and my feet were treated to the exotic socks.

One thing I wasn't ready for was the stress on my tailbone after eight hours or so. It was fine until I tried to make any movement whatsoever, at which time it would remind me of its presence with a dull-or-worse ache. At one point I did several stretches smack in the middle of an aisle - lots of other people did the same.

The layover was quick - when we got to the gate, they were finishing boarding. Unlike the first flight, this one felt like we were getting close. Most of the passengers were Asian, and English was the third language spoken during the announcements.

The layover was so quick, in fact, that one of our bags didn't make it to the second plane. Imagine my surprise to see a woman holding a sign with my name as I get off the flight to Beijing. She explained that they'd put it on the next flight, departing 10 minutes later. So it wasn't a big deal. But it does bring up the first example of what happens when labor is cheap. This woman was accompanied by four other people, whose only purpose that I could tell was to watch her tell me about my bag. Afterwards, the five of them walked together back to wherever it was they went.

One thing I noticed right away were the ads on everything - like the control tower and the exterior of the terminals. The government must get a lot of its income that way.

Beijing is 15 hours ahead of Seattle (Seoul 16). Since the flight was leaving at 2pm Saturday and arriving 5pm Sunday (2am in our heads), we opted to stay awake as long as we could, with the goal of crashing during the Beijing evening to wake up fresh in the Beijing morning. This actually worked pretty well, except with baggage claim and Customs (three lines, three forms) and meeting the guide and group and bussing to the hotel and checking in, we couldn't settle until 10pm, or 7am in our heads. Adding to the excitement was something we'd never seen - in order for the electricity to work in the hotel room, you have to put your room's keycard in a little slot by the front door. It took us 15 minutes to figure this out in the dark, which probably would have taken 5 minutes if we'd not been awake for 24 hours, or 5 seconds if they'd bothered to tell us at the front desk. If it hadn't been for my extensive puzzle-game experience, we might never have figured it out.

We were fine bringing our bags up ourselves, but a bellboy insisted he do it. I knew he just wanted a tip, but when he got to our room with our three bags, I didn't give him one - partially because we wanted to do it ourselves in the first place, partially because we were exhausted, and partially because we didn't have any Chinese money yet. He had an obvious look of expectation, too. Fifteen minutes later, though (with the lights finally on), the doorbell rang despite the Do Not Disturb sign. It was the bellboy - with our fourth bag. We'd forgotten. So I gave him the only small bills I had - $2.

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