Culture, Humor

Flying Back to China

by Myra Brien – The Calculated Adventurist

My family and I are all settled into our “new” house. I say “new” because our house is actually pretty old, but we’re happy with it and that’s what counts. Instead of saying it’s old, I like to say it has character. Saying it has character excuses the fact that nothing I need can be purchased for it off the shelf, because things like closet doors are not standard size, everything has to be custom, which means more money. But it’s OK because character is important too, right? Only if there’s money to be had, my husband would say.

By far, this was the most difficult move we have done yet, and it was just within town! Even moving to China wasn’t this hard. Maybe it’s because we have The Boy now and stability is so much more important to me. Even now, the thought of getting on a plane is too much for me to handle.

When we were childless and fancy free however, flying was something that I looked forward to … even more so if we got business class because it meant we were going somewhere or returning home. I didn’t care about the fact that we were treated like criminals going through security or that I may or may not get on the plane after all since we flew as much as we could on stand-by to save money.

After our first Summer home from China, we were set to return. All was well, especially so because we got business class. We relaxed, that is until we came to Siberia where there was a lot of turbulence and at hour “three” I asked my husband to get me some ginger ale … but he couldn’t because the seat-belt sign was on.

I think my stomach problems had something to do with the turbulence, but it may have also been exasperated by the fact that we had a moment of private panic about our Chinese visa once we got on the plane. At the time, we didn’t yet understand that we were considered permanent residents of Beijing because of my husband’s visa status and job.

It was at that moment that we looked at each other and said,”What if Brian (my husband’s boss) was wrong? What if we really did have to go to the Chinese consulate again over the summer to renew our visa?” Then it was, “Well, if that’s the case, we’re screwed. Can’t do anything about it now.”  That’s because anyone who tries to go through Chinese customs without a visa is ushered into a hidden room and out through a maze of fluorescent lit hallways that lead straight back to the next plane that goes anywhere in the US. I don’t think Chinese Customs Enforcement would understand the excuse, “But our boss said our resident permit was sufficient! I didn’t know!” So, after the fleeting panic, fleeting because it was too late anyway if there was a problem, we enjoyed business class and lived it up. We had Chicken Satay for lunch with a glass of wine and cheesecake for dessert.

Now back to after the turbulence over Siberia:

We were bumping along, my Chicken Satay and cheesecake sloshing and shaking in my stomach, and I turned to my husband and said, “I don’t feel so good.” Hours into the turbulence I was able to sleep a bit. Hour “four” I spent most of the time trying not to hurl.

Then we were descending over Beijing. The Captain said the weather was 84 degrees and clear. Clear?! Only if you think brown sky is clear. I started taking deep breaths despite the brown air, massaging my ear lobes, rocking back and forth, anything to try not to throw up as we landed. Another couple near us noticed my discomfort, but they didn’t say anything, even when I threw up neatly in the bag they provide for just the occasion and repeatedly did so until the plane was on the ground. I hoped they wouldn’t report me to the Chinese doctor police.

After we landed and were taxiing on the runway, my husband thought it was a good idea to say, “You’d better get rid of your barf bag in case doctors with masks come on the plane.” Sometimes that happens … But I mistakenly thought he said, “There are doctors with masks getting on the plane.” So I ignored the seat belt signs and ran back to the bathroom to throw it out in the trash.

All people entering China are put through health inspection before going through Customs. It really just means filling out a form certifying you’re not crazy or have a contagious disease.  If you ever fly to China, you’ll probably see a video before you land that gives foreigners tips and info about going through Chinese Customs. It’s pretty intimidating. There are diagrams and talk of temperature scanners and if you have a fever, you are told to go tell someone so they can quarantine you. (A tip, if you ever are on a flight to China and you have a fever, take lots of medication and don’t tell Customs. Walk through the scanner quickly.)

It was 84 degrees when we landed. If you want to know what 84 degrees in Beijing is like when going through Customs, turn on your shower as hot as it will go with the bathroom door closed and no ventilation, and then walk in after about 20 minutes. Terminal 3 at the Beijing Capitol Airport also doesn’t have air conditioning so it was not only hot and humid but also smelled like stale cigarette smoke. We were funneled into a Disneyland line like maze and hand over our health document at the first immigration check. We ended up making it through, and then we had to go through the Customs line. Moment of truth: My husband was first in one line … I was directed to go into another. The Customs officer looked at me, my passport, then stamped it. Relief! My husband’s boss was right! A Residency Permit was sufficient to return to China.

Flights to and from China were always eventful and we have had a few misadventures, but it was worth it and we could always count on our driver being there to pick us up and takes us back to our tiny campus apartment. Next time I’ll give you the low-down on LiangHe, our Beijing driver.

See Myra’s personal blog: The Interactive Expat

About The Calculated Adventurist

My name is Myra and I lived in Beijing, China for two years. I consider moving to China one of the best decisions my husband and I ever made. I get many questions about our China experience and thought it would be fun to start a blog so everyone can have an idea about what it's really like to live there.


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