Tuesday, October 20, 2009

March 2008 - The Journey

The frantic did we get everything done before we leave race was on. Even though we had been preparing, still there was that final packing to do, figuring out did we remember everything that needed to be done.

As I left work late on March 5th, I was still busy writing notes of things that needed to be done while I was gone. Well into that evening I was online busy handing over duties to others to cover for me while gone. I had asked several people for help without telling the reason I was going to be away - I wanted to surprise folks.

A sample post to one of the lists I managed -

"On the 6th of March for about three weeks I'm going to be away from my computer. This situation has arrived that I need to be away, where computer access will be limited and what little time I'll have for such will mainly be used to let those close know how I'm doing. This absence is not due to illness.

I hope to be back in the saddle by the first of April but will take it a day at a time on my return.

While I could say more, I'll leave it at that as I don't feel comfortable sharing more at this time."

It appears my last email was sent out at 115 AM 3/6 - the morning we were later heading for China.

We got up around 330 AM, got all our last minute items together. A friend picked us up at 4 AM for the 15 minute trip to the airport, dropped us off at the airport. Our luggage checked through to Shanghai, we boarded our American Airlines jet and departed Chattanooga at 6:25 AM.

The flight to Chicago put us in Chicago a little after 9 AM. As we neared Chicago, the stewardess came through the cabin informing passengers not terminating their travels in Chicago which gate to go to for their next flight. She would ask where each passenger was going, consult her information and give them the needed info. When she got to us, about 2/3 of the way from the front of the plane, she asked where we were going to. We said Shanghai. She said you have to be kidding me. You are the 5th and 6th persons on this flight going to Shanghai. What's the deal with Shanghai? Landing in Chicago and deplaning I saw a man I recognized from church. We caught up with him and introduced ourselves. We discovered he was a businessman heading first to Shanghai and then to western China on business. When he learned the reason for our trip, he invited us to have breakfast with him. For airport food, it was good to have one last meal before departing to the unknown.

Our flight to Shanghai left Chicago around 11 AM local time. Our seats were near the back of the plane, center section where the plane was 5 seats across in our section with sets of 2 seats each across the aisles to our left and right. We were flying American Airlines. We flew due north from Chicago and looking out a window near one of the bathrooms, I saw Hudson Bay which doesn't look that big from 30,000 plus feet. Our route took us over the Arctic Circle within 300 miles of the North Pole, then westward for a while. Later we came in over Siberia which appeared like white flour with mountains poking through.

Our original flight plan would have brought us near North Korea but a hundred miles or so we diverted and flew over Beijing instead. I looked for the Great Wall, with the help of a graduate of a university in Chicago without success. It was interesting to run into this young woman. She was originally from Shanghai and was returning home after recently graduating law school in Chicago. She was hoping to work for a firm there to practice international law. Speaking of her experience in America the one thing she had trouble wrapping her mind around was the concept of personal freedom.

As we approached Shanghai, about 50-75 miles out we started seeing skyscrapers dotting the landscape. We arrived in Shanghai about 330 in the afternoon of the 7th, having at some point crossed the International Date Line in our westward journey. The flight was 14 hours long and it was daylight the whole time.

It was cold in Shanghai and we were not dressed for it. After clearing customs which went fast and precise, we made our way to baggage claim, as we had to transfer airlines. Coming from baggage claim to the main terminal we were met by a wall of people waiting for certain individuals. Some were holding signs. I was pushing our baggage on a cart and my wife was behind me. As I came upon this crowd, I wished I could have remembered my Chinese phrase of greeting for such an occasion but alas I did not remember it until a few minutes later - dajia hao (Hello everyone!). Opportunity lost.

In the main terminal we found our new airline but discovered we could not check in until 2 hours before our flight. We had a 4 hour wait. On this level doors were every 100 feet or so and opened to the passenger pickup / drop off points. Each time the doors opened a new cold draft came in. We finally found a downstairs away from cold air and taking an elevator to that floor found a place we could sit until we could check in. Having now been up for well over 24 hours, we were groggy. My wife took a nap, but not daring to fall asleep, to keep our bags safe, I started trudging along behind the baggage pushing it and looking in the various shops. The most interesting find - pickled chicken foot.

After two hours we headed up one floor to check in. Getting our turn we presented our e-tickets and passports. The agent conferred with another and then another and finally a person in some sort of security uniform said to me, you follow me. Leaving my wife wondering what in the world, off we went. He showed me to the airline counter of the flight we were taking and chattered something to the lady there. After more conferring, I finally got documentation to take back to the check in place.

Our flight left Shanghai at around 730 that evening. We had found some food in one of the stores selling the pickled chicken feet which was a novelty for us. We arrived in Guangzhou, a beautiful airport around 1100. Proceeding from baggage pickup, there were few waiting and we found our guide and our driver easily. The ride to our hotel took about 30 minutes and we began getting to know Helen, our guide. We arrived at our hotel, The White Swan close to midnight - 31 hours after departing Chattanooga. As we approached this tall building and others lit with bright lights, I said to myself I wonder if we'll be on the 14th floor. Checked in, Helen went on her way, leaving us to rest in room 1414.

Monday, October 5, 2009

February, 2008

On we rolled into February and waiting. I don't recall when we got her pictures of her birthday party in China which was not exactly on her birthday but we were delighted, surprised that she'd grown as for some reason it never dawned on us that well, duh, she would change being a child.

8th birthday

Looking back at past emails I discovered that our LOA (Letter of Acceptance) arrived 25 Jan 2008. The last piece of the puzzle needed before Travel Approval would be issued.

One month to the day after LOA our TA arrived. So on 2/25 I was informed that we were leaving on March 6th - quite an unexpected time line.

From a note I wrote at the time - "We have to stay in Tian's province, Guangdong, for 2 1/2 weeks before we can go elsewhere in China. Our appointment with the American embassy to process Tian's paperwork for citizenship in the US is the 24th of March.

Then we go to Beijing for a few days before returning home."

In the next few days we were offered the option of paying China another $150 to cut our trip short by a few days versus staying in Guangzhou another few days at $200 a day. Decisions, decisions. Well that took about 30 seconds. So our itinerary was changed to leave 6 March, return 21 March.

Now we move forward to March, 2008 - Welcome Tian.