Feb 23, 2014

Misadventures at the Chinese Airport

When I mentioned my adventure at the Chinese airport in a brief paragraph, I got several messages asking what had happened. Pull up a seat and grab your coffee - this is going to be a tale.

The cheapest flight from Japan to Thailand, without 30+ hours of layover, was with China Southern Airlines. There was one stopover in the city of Guangzhou both ways.

As soon as we landed in Guangzhou, we didn't like it. It was so polluted that the entire sky and grounds were in a gray-yellow haze. We later learned its one of the major manufacturing hubs of the country. We had to walk outside to get to the terminal. In that time, Olivia blew her nose and black stuff came out, and I developed a persistent cough that would stay with me for the rest of the vacation.

Our layover was 4 hours long in a wide departure hallway with the customary souvenir and coffee shops. It was a very small area with a "smoking room" (a half-flight of steps where you can smoke with no barrier to the rest of the hall) and a pharmacy selling "adult toys" (why???). We had no money for food, but thankfully had all brought along different snacks to share.

Olivia is a great cook, and had made us rice balls. As we're sitting in the hallway, we're cracking jokes and I dropped some of the rice from my meal. When I was told to pick it up, I said, "No, it's FREEDOM RICE!" Mr. C and Olivia just about died laughing, and it was the quote of the vacation! Then I really put my foot in my mouth and said, "I'd better eat it, there are starving children in.... oh." I was really hoping the lemon-faced woman at the departures counter couldn't understand me.

Then we went to Thailand and had wonderful, amazing adventures, forgetting all about our experience in China. Then came time to go through Guangzhou again on our way home. This time the layover was 8 hours long. I thought this was perfect because we would arrive at midnight and leave at 8am, so we could just sleep in the departure hall.

As we're going through the security at arrivals, they say the airport is "closed" and we can't be permitted beyond this point. We are like, what do you mean the airport is closed? She tells us that China Southern Airlines will provide a hotel for us to sleep the night, and as such we must apply for temporary Chinese visas to enter the country to get to the hotel.

I am not happy about this. I do not want to enter the country. If the airport is this bad, I didn't want to imagine what lay beyond it. But we had no choice.

After waiting in long lines, being herded around to a different side of the airport, and joined by other people who had been told to follow the same procedure, it was close to 1:30 until they finally said we would go through immigration and take a provided bus to the hotel. As Olivia, Mr. C, and I go through the immigration counter, they take our passports and won't return them to us!

At this point I'm freaking out. I'm beyond the barrier, technically "on Chinese soil," and the authorities have taken our passports! I must say Olivia and Mr. C were much more calm about this, while I was really angry and stressed out. No one would tell us what was going on.

Two ladies stood by us, ready to take everyone to the bus. A Russian woman goes through, and they hand her back her passport. Another couple goes through, and they hand her back their passports. Then the two ladies are like, "Okay, let's go to the bus!" They wanted us to leave the airport without any money or identification! We were adamant: "Give us our passports!"

Turns out they took our passports to run them through every single security network known to man. When they were finished, and found no reason to imprison us, a Chinese security official from an adjoining room comes up to the counter and gives the immigration officer back our passports in plastic ziploc bags. As if our American democracy was contagious.

We're take our passports back and go to get on the bus. We wait and wait at the glass doors until one arrives. The name of the hotel on the window and the one literally across the street is the same, so we think we're just going to get a short drive over the driveway. Oh, no. We get a 45-minute ride speeding down the long highway roads, out into a city we don't know anything about and a country we can't speak two words of the language in.

When we finally pull off into the parking lot of a high rise hotel, we shuffle inside, are given the keys to our room, and make our way to the fluffiest, cloud-like beds I've ever slept in (the silver lining of this whole ordeal). Just before going to sleep, Olivia tried to get on Facebook on the hotel's wireless and was confused why it wouldn't come up. "Facebook isn't working. Is something... oh. It's China."

We had to get up at 5 in order to get back to the airport again, so our sleep was brief. Waiting in the lobby the next morning (aka a few hours later) the staff passed a disgusting breakfast of sour baby tomatoes, a boxed drink of rice in grey water, and an unrecognizable side dish. We couldn't eat it.

A few minutes later we're driving back to the airport. We checked in through security without a problem, and boarded the plane that would take us away from this heavily polluted nightmare and back home to Japan. Suffice it to say, I don't have any interest in going back to Guangzhou!


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