The bureaucracy of transiting through China is as one might expect. By that I mean as a guy who speaks maybe three phrases in Chinese (hello, thank you, and happy new year), I was a stranger in a strange land and so wasn’t entirely sure of the process. Given that I was grabbing a domestic flight to Kunming and then had a 13 hour layover before my flight to Myanmar, I REALLY didn’t know what to expect.
But the still valid visa from my old passport seemed to help and I got stamped and waved on through. Sure, sure, it took about an hour and a half even for the expedited line but the wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly no matter what the language so I was relieved it ONLY took 90 minutes.
Inexplicably, I was at various remote terminals throughout this itinerary so planes, buses, and people movers were de facto modes of transportation. It also meant climbing stairs like a diplomat coming and going… or hop ons if I were in Arrested Development.
On my flight to Kunming, I was a bit spaced and barely spoke a word to my seatmates. I was desperately trying to catch some sleep, fearful of spending the night in the airport as it looked ever more unlikely that the airline would comp me a transit hotel. As we taxied seemingly forever on the runways of Kunming, I chatted briefly with the two women. They were very nice and mentioned they too had a 13 hour layover; they had just gotten off a flight from JFK to Shanghai which I think may be the longest haul currently offered by airlines. They were much more coherent than I. I mentioned I was headed for Myanmar and I could tell they too were a little unsure if that was a good thing or not; they were headed to Laos. We wished each other well on the layover and discussed options for the airport. One had heard of a hotel nearby that was something like $20-30 bucks for the night and I was awfully tempted.
The plane landed somewhere around 1 AM local time and then it was yet another shuttle bus to the terminal. A man who had been sitting in front of me tripped on the stairs leading down to the tarmac and to the buses but he seemed ok. It makes me a bad person that I was glad it wasn’t me. My bruised tailbone though cried out in sympathy so there’s that. Still, I’m a bad person.
In the terminal proper, despite a variety of planes arriving en masse the airport was closed. Supposedly they would reopen at 5 AM and strewn about the cavernous bird’s nest style building were people stretched out on mats or newspapers trying to catch some sleep. The droning dual language PA announcements saying the airport was closed on level 3 but there was a rest area on level 2 didn’t seem to faze anyone though I knew it would be a long night for me. Stumbling down from level 3 to level 2, I bumped into my seatmates and we formed a fellowship of weary travelers. We actually said we should’ve done this on the plane as there’s strength and mental capacity in numbers… and I needed all the help I could get.
I had tried three information booths to ask about hotels but I suspect for the Chinese I might as well have been speaking in crayons. Fortunately, as I and Tara and Illana (I’m probably butchering the spelling) from Columbus, OH, were trying to decide on our net course of action, a woman approached us with a cell phone and a business card profferring a nearby hotel. She dialed the front desk where someone spoke at least some English and we were able to ascertain that it would be 200 yen for the night and a shuttle for “no money.” Thirty bucks for a couple hours sleep and a hot shower? That seemed entirely reasonable.
Besides, there were three of us, allowing us to watch out for each other. The first shuttle bus had but one seat and another person wanted us to put all three of our bags in. We stood firm, not wanting to separate ourselves from our luggage and not wanting to break up the newly formed alliance. Another shuttle bus would come in 10 minutes to take us.
I have to say, I’m incredibly lucky to have bumped into these women. I probably would’ve tried to struggle through the night in the airport and because I didn’t have my boarding pass yet would have had to kill time outside security until 11 AM to be able to check in with East China Airways. By paying for the hotel, I could grab a few z’s and wash some of the travel off of me.
Go Buckeyes, indeed.
The shuttle ride to the hotel proved to be something out of a fish out of water comedy. The driver took a phone call just as we were leaving and I don’t know if he had a bad connection or if he just ALWAYS TALKS LIKE THIS but he shouted syllables here and there into the phone. At first I thought he was yelling at us but then he took the phone and tapped some Chinese characters into a translation app. He showed it to Illana who read to us, “Wait one moment. Someone else is coming who knows your mom.” We took that to mean we were stopping to pick up another passenger.
At the hotel proper, we checked in. They didn’t take credit cards… or didn’t want to… and none of us had any yen. The desk would take US Dollars and there was a bit of haggling over room prices. Again, the Ohioians backstopped me and we held firm to the conversion of 200 yen to USD$30 and not the quoted $35 the guy wanted. It was about 2 AM by the time all the paperwork was done (the desk took photos of our passports and visa on his phone… a practice I vaguely recall from my Great Wall trip a few years back). We said we wanted to take the 10 AM shuttle back to the airport to make sure we didn’t run into any problems checking in for our flights. The night manager said he’d call us at 9:30 AM to make sure we were ready.
My room was 8213 and the ladies had 8307. I thought that meant we were on the 8th floor. In reality, “8” being a lucky number in Chinese culture, ALL the rooms started with that number. I was actually on the 2nd floor (China – where 8213 actually means 213… wait… is 13 lucky in Chinese?) and they were on the third floor. I thanked the women for their help and assistance and we wished each other a good night, promising to meet back up in the morning. The fellowship would not be broken.
Despite a massive time difference (I think it was 10 AM back in Los Angeles), I eventually was able to drift off to sleep for a few hours. Every so often, I’d hear a pounding and some grumbling Chinese in the hallway. Only later did it dawn on me that this was the night manager “calling” the rooms a half hour before a shuttle time. So I was second hand “called” three or four times throughout the night… or morning… or whenever the hell it was.
Thirty dollars US buys you a room with a view:
It’s 10 AM and I’m heading back to the airport with my new friends from Kunming by way of Ohio.
We grabbed breakfast as our respective ticket counters weren’t open yet when we arrived at the international terminal (all the more reason I was glad to have stayed in a hotel rather than hanging out waiting to check in at the airport). And before the fellowship broke up to go our separate ways, I grabbed a quick selfie. These ladies are wonderful and crossing paths with them was a highlight of a long travel day… into night… into day.
And things continued to be looking up. Once through security, I found a store that sold Coke Zero.
Here’s a weird imponderable — you can’t bring toy replica guns through security but you CAN buy a toy AK47 at the airport souvenir shop.