China Year 2 – Day 1…Welcome Back


I feel as if it’s impossible not to over-pack regardless of how much I actually need to bring.  Last year, I went to China with an acceptable amount of stuff.  Then, I left most of it there, along with the additional purchases and gifts I acquired throughout the year.  However, upon my return, I managed to have a travel backpack as my carry-on and two 51 pound bags to be checked.  So, that was my biggest issue of stress leading up to my flight.  What if they said my carry-on was too big, even despite the fact that I had measured it (and it was only a tad bit too large).  What if the zipper on the suitcase that I bought in China (20 U.S. dollars) broke (it actually was already broken…I just hoped  it didn’t completely pop open).  Or worse than even luggage mishaps, what if I had made a mistake while applying for my visa?

Fortunately, I didn’t run into any of these issues.  The biggest problem I had was when I stood at the check-in machine like an idiot for 5 minutes before realizing my boarding pass had been printed and was in the bottom of the machine.  They didn’t even have a real customs place to go through.  Some woman looked at my passport briefly and pressed a few buttons on my check-in machine, but there was no place for them to officially check my passport and visa like I had remembered.  But, then again, I was in New Jersey….

When I boarded the flight around noonish, pissed off that everyone had clearly disregarded the specific rows that had been called (nearly 100 people got into line for rows 40-45…who knew those 6 rows could fit so many Chinese people…I mean, I know they are small…but….)  So, I was probably the 3rd from last person to get in line.  When I arrived at my seat, the 20 year old Chinese dude behind me asked, “Is that your seat?”

“Of course.”

“Are you flying alone?”

Unfortunately, yes.

“Well, my father and I got split up.  Would you mind switching seats with him so that we could sit together.”

Assuming his father was the Chinese man already seated, I agreed.

“Okay, I’ll show you his seat.”

Great, I thought, as he directed me to the back of the plane.

“So are you traveling?” he asked, trying to be friendly to the naive American he had just conned.

“No, I’m teaching English.”

It went on for a minute or two longer before I asked what he was doing in America.

“I’m a student.”

“Oh, where at?”

“Massachusetts,” he said.  “Boston.”

Anyone who goes to school in Boston says Boston, not Massachusetts first.  This kid was hiding something.

“What school in Boston.”

“MIT” he said.

“Oh.  Good school.”

“Thanks.”

His father was sitting in a seat with extra leg room, something I wouldn’t have given up to sit with my son.  But, at this point, he had no choice.  His father had to get up and hand over his seat to me.  I had lucked out.  Or so I thought.

I turned to my left.  Big Chinese woman with an adorable 2 year old girl in her lap.

I turned to my right.  Smaller Chinese woman with a 3 month old girl in her lap.  This baby was screaming her head off.  Bloody murder.

So, there we were, 3 seats with extra leg room, but 5 people.  And these two people at my sides were family.  This meant that they wanted to converse…over me.

A flight attendant saw the perilous situation I was in and whispered, “A different middle seat just opened up, would you like it?”

I deferred.  The baby couldn’t cry the entire flight, and this leg room was fantastic.

A different flight attendant handed me headphones, “Looks like you’ll need ’em,” she said.

And a third, speaking Chinese (oh yeah, the women at my sides only spoke Chinese) asked the bigger lady if she wanted to switch seats with me.  “Bu yao!” she replied.  That means, “I don’t want to!”  And oddly enough, I didn’t want her too either.  I almost felt as if I was part of this Chinese family, and from my seat, I had the perfect view of each baby.

The 3 month old, while cute, was 3 months old.  All babies that young are cute.  So it was a stereotypically cute baby.  But, this 2 year old baby was probably the cutest baby girl I have seen ever.  She had a perfectly chubby face accentuated by her little double chin that was most notable when she flashed her two front teeth in a hearty smile.  She was so pleasant, and she kept pointing at the small baby and she would either say, “Baby!” or “Mei mei” (younger sister).

Throughout the ride, 2YO (2 year old) would blow kisses at people, wave to others, smile and giggle, and most surprising of all-eat a hot dog.  This baby was so cute, I actually thought about the odds of getting away with stealing her.  Slim to none.  I went through every possible situation in my head.  Nothing worked.  It was even painful to watch her sometimes because she was that cute.  I almost got jealous when she started giving other people more attention…

But, it became official.  I was part of the family.  Since they had refused to switch seats and often talked over me, I was automatically included in their flight lives.  I had to help them open plastic bags.  I did a horrible translation for one of them.  What the hell are Shanghai noodles?  I didn’t know.  I just said noodles.  Whatever.  But most importantly, I filled out the 3 month old’s immigration card.  That’s how I know she is 3 months old…not because I talked to them…because I didn’t.  Her name is Helen Hong.  She’s an American visiting friends/family…or so that’s what I checked off.  I wish those cards were more creative.  Richard and I had to write the story of how two people met for an Australian Visa once, and that was way more fun.  But, this solidified my position as a member of this flight family.

After getting off the flight and getting my luggage (which took forever seeing as my one bag was the last to come out), I was walking to the exit when a man kind of signaled to me.  I was wearing a stupid fedora, I thought he pointed at that, but NO.  It was the map.  I had a huge world map attached to the side of the bag.

They made me open it and inspected how China was displayed.  Uh oh.  Controversy.  Lots of whispering between this man and woman.  Finally, the woman said to me:

“You see, Taiwan cannot be shown as its own country.  Taiwan is part of China and should be shown as part of China.  Look, it is separate from China on this map.”

“It is separated by water on the map not because it’s a different country, but because that’s how it is in real life.  There is water between Taiwan and mainland China.”

“But, it is listed as Taiwan still.”

“That’s because it is Taiwan.”

Then she pointed to Hong Kong showing me how it barely looked like a city, never mind its own country.  But then I noticed something.

“Well, if you look at the map correctly, different neighboring countries are different colors.  China and Taiwan are the same color because they are the same country.”

“Oh.  I see.  Let me go discuss this with them.”

She then walked away and discussed it with her little possy.  Finally, they allowed me to go through with my map.  I had won.  Bring it on, China.

Jade (my Chinese contact) was outside the door waiting for me in the crowd holding the sign, “FRANK.”  The first time I had ever had one of those.  And I was happiest that mine was the only sign in all capital letters and with nothing else written on it.  Other people had Mr. or the companies name or something.  Mine was just FRANK.

We took the shuttle to my hotel and she left me.  China rarely has a schedule for events, and this company had actually gone through the trouble of making one for me.  So I was excited that I knew what I would be doing.  Unfortunately, the schedule was just for show, and everything was changed last minute anyway.  There would be no dinner.  I could do that on my own.  We would not be meeting at 9 AM.  It was now 10 AM.  And, my flight was no longer at 3PM.  Now it was at 5PM.  Thanks.

The rest of the day is as follows:

– Turned on the computer.

– Bought a new proxy…facebook, here I come.

– Showered.

– Cleaned my toe (I had to get 4 stitches in it the other day…)

– Went down to the front desk because they needed to make another copy of my passport.

– Walked outside to roam around.  Realized I knew where I was and hated this area.  Returned to the hotel.

– Went to eat dinner on the 2nd floor.

– It was a sketchy hallway, and the lady at the desk wasn’t very intelligent.  Sorry…

– The food was okay.  Better than expected, actually.

– Returned to my room.

– Opened the door.

– Two business card hit the ground from…the top of the door??

—->  The cards were for “massage.”  That’s the only word I can read on it, but I knew what it was before I even picked it up.  The half naked…and fully naked (laying down..okay) girls gave it away.  The best part about these cards is that there is a white girl on one side and an Asian on the other.  And where the hell did they come from?  Did someone secretly stuff them in the door wedge after I had left for a moment?  I don’t know, but I’m glad it happened.  It makes me feel like I’m right back at home at Yahua (orientation hotel from last year.)

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