Oh, the joys of traveling in China. After three nights in Shanghai and three more in Qingdao, our most interesting time of the week ended up being on the last night so I will start there and write about the rest of our trip in the next post.
At the end of one week National Holiday, we thought the fun was over as we headed to the Qingdao airport on Friday afternoon but little did we know what was in store for us for the next 24 hours. As we have always said, every time we walk out the door in this country, it is an adventure of some sort! We got to the airport in plenty of time, as always, to catch our 8:00 pm flight back to Wuhan. Of course, as always, the boarding was delayed for about half an hour but that didn’t surprise us. In the meantime, we had befriended a couple of French girls from France who were also returning to Wuhan so we had someone to talk to off and on during the waiting period. We were the only four “foreigners” that were about to board the plane.
Everything seemed normal as we headed out to the little transport bus that would take us across the runway to our waiting plane. We actually got to the plane’s staircase and some had climbed the stairs to begin entering the plane. But wait, they were stopped at the door by one of the flight attendants and told to return to ground level. What the hell?? You would think if we got this far, that we would actually be allowed on the plane but we could see that there was a problem with something. Sure enough, a few minutes later we were boarded back onto the bus and brought back to the waiting room of the airport with no explanation. An hour later, there was still no explanation of what was going on, either in Chinese or in English. Two hours later, a crowd started gathering in front of the small lounge where the pilot and crew were sitting. We heard some shouting and a few minutes later one of the airport employees walked back to our section of the waiting room to confer with some of his peers. He had obviously been in a scuffle and been hit in the face! This called for closer scrutiny so Nancy and I walked over to the lounge to check out what was going on.
I have to say at this point that Lucky Air and the Qingdao Airport employees picked the wrong group and the wrong individual to piss off on this evening 1) a planeload of Wuhan residents, who always have a bit of an edge at the best of times and love nothing better than a good scrap and 2) my wife, Nancy. When we got to the employees’ lounge a crowd had gathered, both inside and outside of the room, shouting and screaming in Wuhanese. We soon found a young woman who translated to us what was going on. The pilot said there was something wrong with the plane and he wasn’t going to fly it, an airport mechanic had checked out the problem and said it was fine, there was no promise of a future flight that evening. They finally got in touch with one of the airline executives by phone who said that they would give us a 200RMB refund at midnight and we would be on our own to get back to Wuhan however and whenever we could. And that was when all hell broke loose!! Since most of us had paid at least 1000RMB for our tickets, you can see why there was a little bitterness
There was yelling and screaming. By now all the airline people had left and only the airport employees were left to deal with the upset mob. One woman started throwing stuff at the guys but she was stopped by another passenger and told to calm down. Nancy was applauded and cheered when she got into the thick of things and said, “No way. We want to go to Wuhan tonight,” in her broken Chinese. It was only 10:30 by then and we had left other airports for Wuhan much later than that in the past. By then it was getting pretty ugly and one of the more outspoken passengers (other than Nancy) called the police, who arrived soon after. Of course, they just stood around and looked dumbfounded as they usually do. Nancy had someone translate to the cops that she wanted to report a theft and could she fill in a form for that. The cop ignored that one lol. It was all quite the spectacle. Finally, at midnight, after lots more shouting by the passengers, constant talking on the phone by the airport personnel, and supervision by the cops, we were told that the airline would pay us 300RMB each, put us up in a hotel for the night and fly us out the next day at 11:00 am. Not great but better than 200 and a kick in the butt!
The next day, after a wake-up call by the hotel at 7:00am, we found out that we would be leaving at 10 that morning. Could it really be happening? Once again, we got to the airport, rebooked in, got new tickets and headed for the gate. Boarding time arrived…9:30…9:35…9:45. We were chatting away with our new-found friends wondering what would happen next. One of the passengers took over the computer at the airport check-in gate to find out for himself what was going on. Only in China!! Finally the little bus arrived and we headed for the plane. It looked like it hadn’t moved since the night before. We get on and waited and waited and waited and… The door was still open 20 minutes after everyone was on the plane. We noticed the flight attendants were looking a little nervous and then the curtain closed at the front of the cabin. There were five airport employees gathered around the staircase outside and a lot of bustling around behind the curtain. I said jokingly, “They are probably looking for a toolbox.” Sure enough, a few minutes later, we were told that they were fixing something and that we would be taking off soon! OMG. And still we waited. They made a few announcements in Chinese but not English so Nancy went up behind the curtain and the pilot came out and talked to her in English. Apparently, they were waiting for some document which was supposed to arrive in 10 minutes or so. Maybe they should have got their paperwork together a little earlier… We finally took off and arrived safe and sound in Wuhan a couple of hours later. Such an uneventful little trip!!
As for the rest of the trip, Shanghai was great; we basically were there to look for a bunch of pirated software. There is a wonderful market/mall where you can buy great programs for next to nothing. Did a little sightseeing as well. Then it was on to Qingdao, a city on the northeast coast which has been compared to Northern California and is also called China’s Switzerland. I can tell you now that it is not even close to either lol. Its German background is interesting (it was occupied by the Germans for a couple of decades around the turn of the century) and much of the architecture in the old city has a distinct European influence but that is where the similarity ends. The beaches and villa-covered rolling hills down to them would have been nice if we could have seen them through the thick blanket of smog. We could barely see the water from the boardwalk! It was the home of the Olympic sailing competition and is home to the Tsingtao brewing company, the second largest brewery in China.
I admire how far and fast the Chinese have come but they have a long ways to go. As we were walking along, we saw a mother holding her son as he peed into a trash container in the busy shopping area of town. As we rode to the airport on the bus, we saw a grown man shitting on the sidewalk in the downtown area. I don’t think you would see either of those activites in Northern California or Switzerland!