This post is a continuation of my epic adventure to China. If you haven’t familiarized yourself with Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3, those are probably good places to start. If you click on each on the links above, you’ll be taken directly to the respective pages.
It’ll fill you in on the back story, but as with many things in life, it’s your choice. Knowledge can be power, and overwhelming.
Touchdown 2: Beijing
It’s 21:55 local time in Beijing and I’m sitting at a table experiencing my first Chinese Starbucks after shoveling my face full of a Thai Express Chicken and Cashew bowl (I was most certainly catabolic before ingesting the protein), as noted above.
Decaf Tall Mocha. I’ve been off coffee for a few weeks now, and haven’t had the urge to have any so I’m keeping it going. This may have been a bad idea in hindsight.
Since you’re probably the smart, observant type of reader, you almost certainly noticed that I wrote that I’m still in Beijing. And you probably thought to yourself, wait, knowing his itinerary, he should have landed at his final destination of Changchun at least a couple hours ago.
[author’s note: you actually wouldn’t have known that because I didn’t post up my actual time-based itinerary anywhere – you don’t need to feel bad that you don’t care about me enough to know these things in real life.]
Yup. Still here in Beijing.
As always the adventure continues.
At the time of takeoff from Montreal to Beijing, I wasn’t aware of it, but we were delayed. There was an extra long line at the aircraft de-icing shower preceded by some general airline delays and runway traffic which pushed our arrival to about 18:30 local time.
While we still made great time, it wasn’t great enough.
At 18:40, I was still in the process of deplaning. And by deplaning I mean joining the mad rush of everyone jumping into the aisle and rushing to empty the overhead bins, before the plane had even come to a full stop.
My connecting flight departed at 18:40 pm.
Based solely on our landing time, and the fact that we would likely not get off the aircraft for another 15 or 20 minutes, unless miracles exist, my connecting flight would be gone for sure.
Reality check, miracles didn’t exist.
I had missed my flight and so much more.
Next flight, easy right?
Through text communication with my contacts, I found out there was a flight at 20:05. Looking at the current time, and the rebooking process, the chances of making that one, not even close.
Now this is where being a foreign man in a foreign land comes in to play.
Hide and Seek
I hit up at least 5 or 6 Air China counters, along with numerous staff with identifying badges complete with Air China lanyards, airport security, and any general airport people I could see, to try to figure out where my luggage would be. No one could tell me. Or could understand me. Or both.
For the record, my Mandarin is about 1 phrase: shi shi. Unfortunately not a phrase that could help me out in my current predicament.
The big problem, you see, was that I was told my luggage was originally checked straight through to my final destination. But because I didn’t make that flight, neither did my luggage. And in order to re-book, I’d need my luggage with me. I was sent to various carousels, various counters and at almost every one of them I was sent elsewhere.
This felt like a real life version of dealing with North American telecom providers and their help lines. Flipped from person to person, having to repeat the same story only to be shuffled to someone else where the process starts over. This time it was in person.
Finally, on being sent to the Air China Duty Agent, who astutely pointed out that my early flight had already left and that I’d missed it, he said I need to go to a specific counter to pick up my luggage.
K16. Probably the first real, strong, solid lead.
Salvation at K16
There was one elderly woman in front of me in a wheelchair being assisted by the staff. I was first in line after her. Or so I thought, because as soon as that woman was being wheeled away, about 4 or 5 people pushed past me and rushed the agent at the desk. They didn’t care about the yellow line with the two feet painted on the ground that clearly said “Stay behind yellow line”.
For the record, so you know, I was behind that line.
Not to be outdone by the unfairness of it all, I pushed myself up to the counter, using my pointy elbows to advantage, trying to hold my ground. The agent ended up assisting about 3 people who had originally been behind me, who had disobeyed the yellow line. The non-rule followers. They knew how to be louder, bolder, and more insistent.
When in Rome…
I took my cues from them and made sure the counter agent saw my ticket as I left the safety of that yellow line, which I was just as rudely shoving in his face as the others, waving it to and fro. Knowing the futility of using my words, I did, however, gesticulate silently, Chaplinesque.
Another gentleman, who had tried to push past using his larger frame, couldn’t quite get around me based on how I’d positioned my body beside the other people who had been able to move quicker than he had.
It was at that point the agent realized that I had been in line before all the people who were now crowded well into his personal space, or that I was the only one not yelling angrily at him in Mandarin (probably because I didn’t know what to yell?).
He chose at that moment to assist me. Sugar vs. vinegar. I was the sugar. Brown sugar.
The larger guy behind me LOST HIS SHIT, along with his travel companion to a much lesser degree. He voiced his displeasure in his outdoor voice and in no uncertain terms. It was a sight to behold in the relative stillness and quiet of late night at the Beijing International Airport.
And while I couldn’t tell exactly what he said, it was definitely not nice. There are certain tones of voice that don’t require translation. The meanings are understood. The agent, for a brief instant, lost his cool and responded in kind.
That only irked the man behind me more.
The Rage Rising.
I could feel the rage rise up. Intense. Seething. I could feel his fury. It matched the sound.
He started slamming his ticket in front of the agent on the desk, aggressively reaching over my right shoulder. Slapping the counter repeatedly with it. His body tightly pressed against mine from behind, the big angry spoon. There was no warmth or comfort there.
I could sense the spittle, as if in slow motion, dropping from his ever-flapping maw, coating me, my recently washed tresses, and silently tapping their displeasure as they landed on my shoulder, my back. Droplets visible on the counter in their delicate dome-like form, held together by the incredibly elegant forces of adhesion and cohesion.
To Punch or Not to Punch?
That is the question…
Being the foreign man in the foreign land, I just kept my mouth shut, and my iron fists un-clenched. I resisted the ingrained urge to shove the guy off my back, which it felt like he was crawling up on.
He was tight against my back, pressing me against the counter edge, the only thing stopping my insides from being contused and compressed were my arms braced against the frame, well trained from years of isometric holds and various horizontal presses.
On one final slam on the counter, the agent picked up the big angry spoon’s ticket and threw it back at him. The rage evident. I’m fairly certain it wasn’t that action that shut the man up, but the words that accompanied it – because he settled down instantly while still cursing, albeit more quietly and less aggressively. He glowered at me every so often.
The agent, in that moment, had pulled his power card.
I’m almost certain of it. The agent turned back to the task at hand of tracking down my wayward goods. He hopped on the phone, and in a few moments wrote something on the back of my baggage claim tags.
I was given direction to a special luggage claim area. My stuff would be delivered there.
H40. More salvation.
Off I went to the oversized baggage area. After using Google translate to confirm that I was indeed in the area where missing baggage could be reclaimed, I waited. And waited. And waited.
After almost an hour and half, I left my stoic post in H40 and went back to my friend the agent at K16. After explaining to him that my luggage was still AWOL, he picked up the phone again and did his magic, again.
He looked up at me, and I could tell he was waiting for me to lose it, preparing himself for the onslaught of vitriol and anger and frustration. From the few moments I’d spent around him, I feel as though he’s in one of those customer service positions where one would need to develop a very thick skin.
He was indeed a baggage handler.
Lost baggage in one way, and found baggage in another.
He confirmed that my luggage was indeed somewhere in the Beijing airport. But couldn’t tell me exactly where. He said it should be on its way to H40 and that all I could do is wait.
And with those two words, I returned to my solitary post at special area H20.
Which also happened to be where my back-riding, spittle-flinging buddy had also been waiting.
All I was hoping for, all I needed to set things right, was to get my stuff before he got his. Karmic retribution, if that’s your sort of thing.
I didn’t have to wait long. Another 15 minutes (after waiting almost 3 hrs since landing, 15 mins is just 1/12th so no biggie) and there they were.
Now remember earlier how I said that next flight was at 20:05, well it was past 21:30 now so that flight had long ago departed as well.
What I hadn’t mentioned was that the next flight out was 12:55, tomorrow.
And that adventure will be saved for another time.