Monday, December 13, 2004

China, Part I- Getting there

[Finals are over. I'm quite happy about this, as you can no doubt tell by my colorful language and selective use of emphasis.]

I haven't really written about China, so I'll give it a shot and try not to bore you to death. See a couple of photo highlights at I'll post more pictures of the individual cities as I write about them.

The deal:
A couple years ago, before my sister got married, my parents made a deal with her: If she would plan their trip to Spain, doing all the research and making an itinerary, they would pay for her to come with them. I was working for a government contractor at the time, which means I was continually in negative vacation balance and couldn't go. My parents love to travel and they take a big vacation every other year. Russia, Italy, Kenya/Egypt, get the idea. So early this year they started talking about a summer vacation and quickly decided that they wanted to see China. China is rapidly changing, despite its oppressive government, so the decision to go now was also to see it before it becomes completely Westernized.

I not-so-subtlely dropped the hint that since I missed out on Spain, I should get the same deal- itinerary & guide service in exchange for flight. They bought it, even though they knew full well I've never been to China (aside: they're my parents, so they're privy to that sort of personal information). They were also kind enough to wait until the spring semester ended. I bought the guide-books and combed the web for travel info. The People's Republic has a consulate here in Houston, so I stopped by to pick up visa applications. On line at the consulate I was chatting with a Canadian who happened to be here and also headed to China. Turns out China charges US$50 for a visa, but they also charge CDN$50 for Canadians! Not fair, their money isn't worth as much! I came up with a list of must-see places (The Forbidden City, The Great Wall, The Terracotta Warriors, etc.) and quickly realized that I couldn't squeeze it all into 2 weeks. Mom & Dad, ever the troopers, agreed to let me drag them around China for 3 weeks instead. Mom's only requirement was that we get out of the cities and see the countryside. China isn't exactly the kind of country where westerners can rent a car and just drive, so we found a resort town serviced by air & bus and I worked 2.5 days into the schedule.

I've flown across the Pacific (Japan) before and it ain't fun. We flew from Houston to Dallas, Dallas to Seoul-Incheon, Seoul to Beijing. Total time in the air was something like 20 hours, if memory serves. If you haven't been on a long-distance coach flight in the last couple of years, you're missing out. There's TV screens everywhere with a moving-map GPS display that shows exactly how slow 600 mph is. I woke up from my medicated slumber to see the Aleutians and Siberia. I'll save you the trouble- It's white. (aside: Seriously though, it's a stark beauty.) Unfortunately we didn't get to leave the airport in Seoul, so I'm going to have to make that damn flight again to see Korea. Duty Free is my father's heroin and Seoul-Incheon International has EVERYTHING. Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Rolex, Cartier. Except giant Toblerone, I couldn't find it. Wicked liquors they got, no giant Toblerones.

Once you get in the line for the connecting flight to mainland China, you're immediately aware that you're going to see nothing but Chinese people for the next 3 weeks. Not a problem, I'm a big fan of their food. (aside: Yes smartass, they don't call it Chinese food, it's just 'food'. I never get tired of being asked that one.) Seoul is in the north of South Korea and the GPS display has the DMZ very clearly marked. "Ladies and Gentlemen, if you look out the right side of the aircraft you'll see that the SAM has locked on to outboard #2..."

Arrival in the People's Republic was without fanfare, considering that at the time I wasn't the blogging celebrity that I am now. (aside: Seriously, Houston's paparazzi can be so trying.) The People's International Airport is clean and orderly, as is the People's Baggage Claim and the People's Customs Desk. Chinese currency (the Yuan or Renminbi, RMB) doesn't float on international markets, so whereever you go you get the same exchange rate for US Dollars. We exchanged some money at the airport and hopped into a taxi...

[Next: Beijing]


At 1:00 AM, Blogger Heather said...

Study? Are you kidding? I'm a freaking genius. I don't study. Except for cursed college algebra...

Now, everyone go talk to each other on my blog so I have a ridiculous amount of comments and feel popular.

At 2:59 AM, Blogger mellancollyeyes said...

and...? and...? this sucks...i'm so impatient. I want the rest of the story, tinyhands, and i want it soon. if you don't deliver, there will be consequences.

At 6:16 AM, Blogger Badaunt said...

Bloody hell, things have REALLY changed there. You've just arrived, and already everything sounds different. And it wasn't that long ago I was there (counts on fingers, runs out of fingers...) a bit more than 10 years ago.

One currency? No FEC? No black market? No getting followed by people muttering "Moneychange? Moneychange?" the moment you get past customs? (Fantastic rates they gave, too - double what you'd get at the bank.) A clean airport? Not that I arrived by plane, I went by ferry, and arrived into what looked like a barn. Everything orderly? Hmph! My bags got unloaded and thrown in a dusty corner and when I asked where they were someone pointed. "Where's customs?" I asked, and someone else said, "That was it." They'd probably searched the bags thoroughly on the boat anyway, but never mind. I was upset. I'd thrown three books overboard because I was worried customs would give me a hard time about them. What a WASTE.

It sounds like a different country. Tell me more.

At 7:59 AM, Blogger emily said...

Hey, Tiny, I'm headed there next week!
From Seoul (Incheon) I'm taking the ferry to Tianjin, and we;re spending a week or so in Beijing, before I fly to Bangkok.

Do tell us more. Soon.
Have you read Theroux's Riding the Iron Rooster? Damn good read, and mentions the FEC's and everything else. Really shows the rapid change there.

At 9:07 AM, Blogger Zelda said...

Dangit. I drink a little wine, make a little joke, and suddenly I'm outed as a citizen of Fort Bend County.

How about this: You deserve to get hotly, steamily, and pornographically lucky with a gorgeous woman who is kind and has a great sense of humor. No joke.

At 9:08 AM, Blogger Zelda said...

Oh, and add me to the list of people imminently wanting to know more about China.

At 9:09 AM, Blogger Allie#3ga said...

nice pics tiny - thanks for sharing!

At 9:48 AM, Blogger se7en said...

LoL Zelda =)

Sounds like great fun Mr Hands, and nice pics too! Didja see any tanks in Tiananmen Square? And tell us more.

If anyone is curious, I call him Mr Hands because of the scottish accent stuff. I picture him in a tux at an elegant bar, martini in hand (shaken not stirred) and a beautiful woman asks:

"Pleased to meet you Mr..."
"Hands..Tiny Hands" he replies in his best scottish accent. =)

At 12:16 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Bonnie Heather- Your intelligence is why you're my favorite.

Adrianne- My apologies for not squeezing 3 weeks of one of the most fascinating countries I've ever seen into one concise entry. I've always said I need to be more succinct. Impatient, that's cute. You're my favorite.

Theic- I saw plenty of black market, but I don't recall currency scammers. No FECs. (Foreign Exchange Certificates were special money only issued to foreigners.) You've been everywhere, you're my favorite.

At 12:18 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Emily- I stuck with reading travel guides. Mom read novel-form histories like that. Worked out well that she could tell stories about the places we were seeing. I'll try to get Beijing into one post tonight, but I know it's hard to read huge entries. I love that you're headed there, that makes you my favorite.

Z- *and the villagers rejoiced, hurrah* You're still my favorite. ;)

Al- Always nice, my favorite.

Lucky 7- No tanks, but that was the ONLY place I saw military in uniform. Scottish, awesome, my fave.

At 12:53 PM, Blogger Zelda said...

You're so cute and equal. You're my favorite.

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Heather said...

Jude Law is my favorite.

At 1:17 PM, Blogger Allie#3ga said...

you know, i actually have business cards on them that say " You're my favorite, don't tell the others" cause i'm just that damn cool....sidebar - Kevin Spacey has always been one of my favorites!

At 5:55 PM, Blogger christ*el #3tx said...

but in reality, I'M allie's favorite.

don't tell the others.

and please tell us more about China, but this time, use the scottish accent heather says you have. i love accents.

At 7:25 PM, Blogger se7en said...

Since we have set a precedent for commenting on Mr Hands blog to each other...

inky you almost got me with your last comment on the previous post.
I lost to Zelda!
Zelda=9 comments
Seven=8 comments *snif*

Oh and since I am here anyway, Mr Hands you are truly blessed to have so many wonderful friends!


At 11:28 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Lucky 7- I sure am. Merry Christmas Bedford Falls!

At 11:52 PM, Blogger Zelda said...

Merry Christmas Emporium!

(It took me years to figure out what he had said).

At 6:11 PM, Blogger Heather said...

Happy New Year to jail.


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