China 1999

Written by Al Wong (Write to me)

This is my experience in Beijing, China in the Summer of 1999. If you came to this webpage first, it's better if you start from the beginning of the story.

Friday, July 23rd
Morning Photo Run, Beijing Airport Immigration,
Flight to Hong Kong, End of Trip Summary

Today's activities include:

  • Morning Photo Run. It was 8:30am and I still had to get one roll of photos at the Kodak place in beida nanmeer. Since we were leaving at 10am, I thought I had plenty of time. Not!

    The taxi cab ride to the Kodak place took 45 minutes! It normally takes about 10-15 minutes. The problem was due to the morning traffic and because the driver didn't know where he was going. He had to stop and ask for directions 3 times! He was also a very agressive driver. I was glad I was out of his cab. I let him keep the $1RMB in change he owed me.

    Got the photos. A quick look shows they are OK. Flagged another taxi cab down to go back to the academy. The ride back took only 40 minutes. Not only did we go through traffic again but the driver had to ask for directions twice. We ended up driving through my favorite long and narrow, dirt road with deep dips and potholes back to the academy with 5 minutes to spare!

    If I had to do this morning over, I'm not sure I would have made this photo run. It took too much time to get one roll of photos. I did get to see the street life of Beijing one last time though.

    Brought down my luggage and stowed it. Said goodbye to Andrew who got stomach trouble again because of something he ate yesterday. He's staying over one more night in Beijing which is a good thing. It'll give him some time to get over it.

  • Beijing Airport Immigration. The airport tax is $90RMB to go from Beijing to Hong Kong. The airport tax was $50RMB to go from Beijing to Xi'an. Since Hong Kong is officially part of China now, I was surprised at the higher fee.

    Anyway, I said my goodbyes to the people in my tour group and went to the ticket stand for my flight to get a boarding pass to Hong Kong.

    Something should be done about the immigration lines at the Beijing airport. I got my boarding pass and checked in my luggage in about 5 minutes. I waited in the immigration line for over an hour! The immigration people seem to take their job too seriously looking for people who want to depart the country illegally. (And China wanted to host the Summer 2000 Olympics? I don't think so.)

    The immigration person I had to deal with took his sweet time checking everyone's passport and asking nosey questions. I was wondering why the lines weren't moving at all.

    I struck up a conversation with someone else in line who goes to Beijing about once every month for business. He saids they are always this slow.

    Finally, I get to the head of the line. I have 10 minutes left before my flight leaves and there are airport people walking by with signs showing flight numbers. There is an airport person flashing a sign with my flight number. This is a last call for boarding on my flight. I wave my ticket at the airport person (I've seen other people do this) so that he knows there are still some people left who are on this flight. He acknowledges me.

    The immigration guy looks at my passport like it was a fake! He's flipping through the pages of my passport. He's checking the binding. He's checking my signature. He's typing my passport information onto his computer. Now it looks like he's scanning my passport under some sort of black light. I couldn't believe it! I think there would be better ways to leave the country than faking a passport in an airport. Then he starts asking me questions in Chinese and I am answering as best as I can. Around the fourth or fifth question, I realized I wasn't going to get out of there if I keep answering his questions. So I started saying I didn't understand what he said. (It's true. Some of his questions I didn't understand.) I could tell this was frustrating him to no end. He finally lets me go after scrutinizing my passport and my face one last time. Fascist pig.

  • Flight to Hong Kong (HK). The flight was delayed one hour because there was a queue of departing flights ahead of us. (The flight to Xi'an and back were also delayed about an hour too. I guess delayed flights is a regular thing in China.)

    [Hong Hong Night Skyline] The flight itself was uneventful. During the takeoff and altitude climb, I was looking out the window at all the crop fields. Beijing is still a very agricultural city. Approaching HK, I could see the new construction and buildings of the airport. They did a lot of work here!

    After going through HK immigration and getting my checked in luggage, I was only 90 minutes late of scheduled arrival time. Not too bad.

  • End of Trip Summary. This trip is worth it if you can stand the dormitory room, eating Chinese food for every meal and endure early wakeup calls of 6:30am-7am.

    I didn't care for the dorm room and have already described it in great detail in my earlier daily entries. I don't mind eating Chinese food every meal because I grew up eating Chinese food and love it. The early morning wake up calls I just tolerated because there was so much to do everyday.

    These are my suggestions to Cathy Wei for future China trips:

    • Start the class sessions earlier than a week into the trip. I was ready to start class a few days after arrival. You can put in more class sessions too if you start earlier.

    • Schedule a clothes shopping spree earlier in the trip. Waiting a week into the trip to buy clothes is too long. I only brought a few changes of clothes and expected to quickly buy most of my clothes in China.

    • Have more fresh fruits available during meals. Eating oily cooked vegetables every meal gets old after a while. As does eating watermelon every meal.

    • People should bring more money than $500US. I ended up spending a little less than $800.00US for the entire trip. Asking around, I have two more data points. One person spent $700US total and another person spent $1,000US total. I think bringing $700US-$1,000US is a more reasonable amount if you plan to buy souvenirs and for other out-of-pocket costs.

    For me, this trip was worth doing once. Overall, it was a good experience.

    Would I do it again? Only if I could live in a hotel rather than the dorms. Not only I didn't like living in the dorms (Bad lighting, no hot water for four days, leaky toilets, power failures, complicated phone calling, mosquitoes) but the taxi cabs consistently had a hard time finding the language academy because it was tucked away on an obscure street. Much of my time and renminbi was wasted because of this.

    Also, this academy is not conveniently located to access essential services like money exchange, post office, outside laundry service, groceries, etc. About the only service available was a Kodak photo place which I didn't learn about until after a few weeks into the trip.

China 1999 My Writings Al's Wild Web Page

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Last updated : October 21, 1999
Copyright 1999 Al Wong, Los Angeles, California, USA
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