This better not be a harbinger

Trip Start Sep 04, 2007
Trip End Nov 20, 2007

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Flag of China  ,
Monday, September 10, 2007

You read stories of the frustrating inefficiencies of a Communist system, but you don't really understand (or I didn't, anyway) until you get a dose of it in person. On my way from Hong Kong to Ulaan Baator on Friday, I had to change planes in Beijing. How hard can it be? You get off one flight in the international terminal and you get onto another flight, right? Well, for starters, I forgot that Hong Kong is now officially a part of China, so I was arriving on a domestic flight, not an international flight. I'll take full credit for that mistake. The rest of the fiasco gets pinned on someone else, though. Before I finally arrived at the gate for my flight to Ulaan Baator, I had to:
- Fill out three forms on the plane and two more forms in the airport, and give four of them away in four different places. (I still have one form. I hope no one finds out.)
- Give up my cart twice because officious women standing at arbitrary locations insisted on collecting carts for no apparent reason. (I shouldn't need a cart, but I'm hauling around a bunch of stuff for the hiking and camping part of the trip to Shipton's Arch plus travel guides for two countries, three cities, and the Silk Road plus two books on China by Peter Hessler plus a couple of fat novels that I expect to get to during long train trips. Much of it, including all of the books except David CopperfieldJonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel, and a couple of travel guides, is going back to Seattle when I return to Beijing after the tour.)
- Give up my cart a third time because I had to go up a flight of stairs and couldn't find an elevator.
- Have my bags nuked twice.
- Repeatedly guess at where I was supposed to go because signage was almost non-existent and customer service was a complete unknown.

Thankfully, I had plenty of time to make my connection to Ulaan Baator, and the absurdity of it all gave me several good laughs, but if this is any indication of what is in store for me during my stay in mainland China, the laughs will become, I predict, a bit more hysterical with each new episode of institutional silliness.

By the way, I can read email in my account right now but I can't reply, so if you pinged me and haven't heard anything back, please be patient. I'm guessing that the connection is so slow (yes, slower than my dialup connection at home) that it times out before the reply form displays. Here's hoping that the connection will be faster in Beijing than it is in Ulaan Baator. (The problem I had last night with even seeing email turned out to be a problem with an Internet Explorer security setting. All better now.)

To answer a question that I got in email, I can see comments that you post to the blog, so knock yourselves out. :-)
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guither on

While I feel for your obstacles (I'm remembering the train tickets from Slovakia to Budapest), I'm enjoying reading about your adventures already.

Just remember that the train ticket screw-ups resulted in us being able to spend time in Kosice. Just try to enjoy the problems that will inevitably occur.

scottk on

Re: I have to ask...
Maybe when I'm finished with my house ;-) I'll have time to surf the web. Besides, I work for Cisco Systems, and I live in Microsoft's home town (sort of). If I really need one, I can probably get one of the fastest Internet connections on the planet.

scottk on

Re: You made it!
Amazing. Yes, I am going to Chengdu. I'll ping them today. Many thanks for the heads up.


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