Back to Beijing: The Journey Begins

I usually avoid writing too much about our airport experiences, but we had a unique one at Incheon airport. If you are not aware of this already, Chinese people LOVE to shop; especially high-end goods. At the airport in Seoul, the concourses are lined with enormous duty-free shops selling all types of goodies.

When we lined up to board the plane, it became obvious that most of those on our flight were mainland Chinese people that had been on a shopping junket. They were all fully loaded with carry-ons plus multiple duty-free shopping bags.

As we stood in line, a young woman came up to us, speaking rapidly to us in Chinese. I thought she needed to cut through the line, so stepped back and gestured that she could pass in front of us. She continued to gesture and talk rapidly to us. It appeared that she wanted us to hold her bag for her. Given all of the warnings about not watching people’s bags we have heard over the years, we firmly declined. She did not easily give up. She put on a whole sequence of body language and facial expressions to show her desperation for us to hold her bag for her. We held firm and turned her down.

As we stood, we watched this little scene play out repeatedly up and down the line. We noticed that a couple of airline employees were grabbing carry-on and shopping bags from passengers and weighing them. If they were overweight, the owner had to leave the goods behind! We have never seen this before. On EVA air, we had our backpacks weighed at check-in, but this was part of the pre-boarding at the gate. We continued to be approached until we boarded. As the boarding time got nearer, the young women got more desperate. It became quite the cat and mouse game! The gate agents would confiscate bags and then continue weighing. The young ladies would then sneak around to pick up their bags. The gate agents would once again confiscate the bags. Continue process until boarding.

The flight itself was uneventful. By now, we were accustomed to the excessive security that you run into in China. We stopped at the fingerprint scanners but since we had entered China previously our prints were already in the system we immediately received our “OK” pass to continue to immigration. The lines for immigration were short since there were not many foreigners on our flight. We quickly cleared immigration, then customs, and continued to pick up our luggage.

We planned on getting a taxi to the hotel. We went towards the taxi queue but were directed to a separate desk by one of the workers. We told the person where we wanted to go and were quoted an exorbitant price (280 Yuan); I explained that we only paid 120 to get from the hotel to the airport previously. She was firm in that we had to pay that amount. We needed to get to the hotel for a meeting at 6 pm so decided to bite the bullet and pay the additional cost. I believe we should have ignored the worker and continued to the regular taxi queue. I think we were sent to the special “foreigner” line and paid the special “foreigner” price!

The only advantage to paying extra was that we got to the hotel extra fast. We didn’t have to wait in the queue and we had the world’s fastest driver. He drove on the shoulder for most of the drive since there was quite a bit of traffic in the regular lanes. He was a crazy man! But, we arrived safe and sound in record time.

Too bad we rushed to get to the hotel! Our group all showed up on time, but the tour guide was not there. We had expected to be greeted when we checked in, or at least to be given a packet of information, but did not. No one, including the hotel, seemed to know where our tour manager (CEO in Gadventures terms) was. Someone from the group called the company and was told that our CEO was running late and would be there shortly. It seemed to me that the company should have taken the initiative to let us know rather than the other way around.

Svetlana, our CEO, finally showed up and told us to meet her in the conference room on the 9th floor of the hotel. We were told to bring our passports. I had ours in our purse, but when I checked, found that one of Clayton’s passports was not there. OMG! Not a good feeling! Clayton needed two passports because his 10-year multiple entry visa was in his old passport. We went to our room, thinking that he might have left the passport there, but came up empty. By now, we were feeling panicked. No passport, no travel. We went back to the front desk. It turns out that they had not given it back to us when we checked in. They handed us two passports and I just put them in my purse without counting. Whew!!!

By the time we got upstairs, the meeting had already begun. Svetlana needed to check our passports and then gave us a brief outline of how the next couple of days would go. She also took us on a brief tour around the neighborhood so we could find places to eat and places to buy groceries for the train trip ahead. Strong suggestion: bring your own tp on the train! We learned this the hard way on our Vietnam train experience so I had brought a supply from home. We needed to pick up a couple of mugs for coffee and a few snacks, but were otherwise good to go.