“Wherever you turn in China – shops, restaurants, hotels – the people are spitting on the ground!”
Sitting in a taxi, rushing home unexpectedly to the apartment on the day of departure, I was blessed with the luck of having a taxi driver who apparently knew a thing or two about China and was determined to tell me about it. He happily told me, in detail, that the Chinese were on the whole rude, antisocial and notoriously bad tippers.
He knew most of this from conversations with businessmen that he ferries to the airport. Most of these businessmen he’d met were headed to Beijing and Chang… Chan…
Changchun, I asked? That’s where I’m headed.
That’s it, he said, a very strange place, not a tourist location at all. It’s a big city by European standards, but very rural, very poor. Everyone stays in their hotels because there’s nothing to do.
Just what I needed to hear at that moment. I was rushing home to pack our suitcases following a phone call from Oliver in Frankfurt, enroute from New York to Munich. Although the Lufthansa operator had told me that the flight was on time, it was in fact three hours delayed. This ruined our original plan of Oliver landing early that morning in Munich, taking a rental car to the apartment, showering and re-packing his suitcase with all our things that I’d laid out on the table before going to work. So now, instead of working a half day and meeting a fully refreshed and prepared Oliver, I had to bug out early, skip two meetings, take a 30 euro cab ride home, grab all of stuff and rush to the airport in our car in hopes that we still make the flight.
I’d left the office at a run, but however you looked at it, I was cutting it close.
Here were the challenges: He was coming with two bags and could only take one to China. Because of the delays, it was also likely that his luggage was still in New York. If his bags were late, we’d have to be prepared to fly without them. I had to bring fresh changes of underwear, shirts, spare suits, basically everything for him along with my own things. He’d have to pick and choose what to take in the parking lot, pack it in suitcases (I’d have to bring two in case his didn’t show) and then we’d leave the rest in the car and re-park it in the long term parking lot.
At home I just grabbed things right and left and shoved them into a laundry basket. I’d hoped for a more relaxed start to a trip sure to have its share of nerves and stress. The last time we’d flown I’d been in a such a hurry that I’d forgotten several things, most importantly my wallet. I kept going over a mental list, trying to avoid that familiar sinking feeling of remembering something too late. There was no point in packing the suitcases, as we’d have to repack them anyway. With a full car, I headed out of the parking garage, gunning the engine to get it up and out the steep ramp, earning a glare from a woman on her bike who’d decided to linger right in front of the doorway with her son.
The glare I returned surely reflected my thoughts at that moment. You’re the one standing in the place most likely to have a car driving through it. Get out of my way.
As soon as I was out on the street, the gas light went on. Lovely. As I’m filling up the tank at the closest gas station I keep looking at my watch, calculating how much time it would take to get to the airport. Oliver calls. He’s in Munich, where am I? Why am I still in town? The reply I let loose on him signaled clearly enough that I was aware of the time crunch and more than ready to unleash more verbal abuse if he didn’t contain his stress to himself. I had more than enough for myself already. I was back on the road in minutes, speeding towards the airport.
We were flying at 6:30, I was supposed to be there by 4pm so that Oliver would have time to pack. When I pulled into the arrivals parking lot, it was 4:47. Meeting at the car with his luggage, that had luckily arrived, we didn’t even say hello before tearing the suitcases open and dumping the contents on the ground and re-packing. Everything extra, dirty or too bulky was left in a huge pile in the back of the car. We went first to check in before re-parking the car, deciding that the risk of missing the flight was higher and we would have to hope that we’d still have time to move the car to a cheaper lot.
While I was racing to the airport, Oliver had tried to check us in. The flight was overbooked and we because of my late arrival, we were on the waiting list. The woman at the counter had tried to upgrade us to business class but couldn’t cancel my economy seat in the system because I’d booked a special meal. A damn vegetarian meal cost me a free upgrade to business class? I made a note of that for the future. Buying take out at the airport is better anyway.
With 20 minutes left for re-parking the car and getting to the gate, our hopes for a calm moment and a quick drink in the lounge before take out were forgotten. The fully booked plane worked in our favor when we arrived at a brisk walk-jog at the gate, just in time.
Once in the air, our flight attendant showed her professionalism by not batting an eye when we ordered two drinks, each. We’d almost not made it, but we were on our way to China.
End Part 2.