Thursday, August 05, 2004

Traveling Ruminations I: The Beijing Airport.
For some reason -- and I'm not saying I don't have theories -- it's way easier to get into China than to get out of China. It's kind of nice to see that old-line 70's-esque communist airports still exist, a fond throwback to the times when papers, please was more than an amusing nostalgia phrase.

The weird thing about it is, they don't seem to dig on international transfers all that much. On the transfer on the way to Chicago, they said something about making international transfers on the 3rd floor, so I trotted on up once the plane had finished taxiing itself. There were two signs up there: International Transfers, and Domestic Transfers, with an arrow pointing me through immigration. I've transferred internationally before in Narita, Japan, and they didn't make me shuffle through immigration then, so I went over to the International Transfers desk. Very helpful people at the International Transfers desk, actually; they told me that I was to go through Immigration and down to the 2nd floor. I got a bit confused at this, actually -- the Domestic Transfers sign was pointing through immigration, so I just retraced my steps and went down to the 2nd floor, where I was helpfully stopped by an armed guard.

"Where you going to?"
"Chicago."
Much chattering in Chinese, and shifty looks at the crazy foreigner.
"You want 3rd floor."
"They sent me here."
"3rd floor."

Huh. So I retraced my steps back up to the 2nd floor, and went back to the International Transfers desk. Much chattering in Chinese.

"You want the 2nd floor."
"They sent me back up here."
"2nd floor."

So I went to see my friends, Armed Chinese Guard and Chattering Airport Office Ladies on the 2nd floor again.

"3rd. Floor. 3rd floor."
"But they...but I..."
"3rd floor. United Airlines counter is not here. 3rd floor."
"..." (me banging my head against a support column - no, really.)
"3rd floor."

So I went up to the 3rd floor again, and tried to radiate the kind of despair that only international travel can inspire in a person, and the woman was kind enough to lead me through the immigration line, and help me to fill out Arrival and Departure cards. CHINA: this is stupid. You already know that I'm arriving, and you'll be able to tell later that I left -- why the paperwork and rubber stamps? Anyway, for those of you that will have to do it some day, here's how you do a transfer to the USA in Beijing:

1. Go through immigration. Give them your arrival and departure cards, both dated for the same day. Do not fill it out in pencil (as I did on my return trip), or the mean woman will make you do it again in pen. When you ask for her pen, she will refuse, and suggest that you borrow a pen from 'others'. When you ask 'what others?' she will respond 'others.' Then you go borrow a pen from the lady doing the SARS screening. Get rubber stamp.
2. Go down to the 2nd floor, past the baggage check, past the screening, to the International Transfers desk. They will look at your ticket an awful lot. Get rubber stamp.
3. Go outside. See those doors over there? That's China! You could walk right out into beautiful Beijing, but you shouldn't, because then you will be caught in China without a visa, and I'm guessing that's bad. Weird that you *could*, though. In Japan, the only way to get into the the country without passing immigration was to bust open an emergency door and book it down the tarmac. Anyway, go past the guard, who will ask for for your receipt for the Airport Tax. Act confused, and say "transfer" a lot until she waves you past.
4. Go to the airline counter for check-in. Get quizzed on how much your bag weighs (the one that got checked at the last airport), and say 'I dunno'. Get a quizzical look, because everyone should know what their luggage weighs, I guess. Get rubber stamp.
5. Go to immigration, the departure section this time. Get rubber stamp.
6. Go to the Airport Tax Checking Booth. Feign innocence, say "Transfer" a lot. Get rubber stamp.
7. Find your gate. Your flight's about to leave.

Oh, and I met the daughter of a Chinese diplomat to Holland on the way back from the US. According to her, diplomats aren't allowed to park anywhere they want, bust somebody in the face for no reason, or commit murder for fun. FYI.

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