Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Well that wasn't what I expected...

I've purchased all my tickets so far using Southwest Airline rapid rewards points. For the Seoul to Sydney leg, a China Souther Airlines ticket was tens of thousands of points less than the rest; so I jumped on it without really looking at the connection times... Only later did I notice I had signed up for a 15 hour overnight layover in Guangzhou China. I wasn't really looking forward to that since I was sure I couldn't leave the airport without getting a Visa. Even with the layover the price was good enough I couldn't really complain.
So after a short last night in Daegu I headed off for an airport adventure. Normally I have no trouble sleeping on airplanes and I probably should have tried to sleep some, but I was busy and didn't feel tired yet. By the time we landed in Guangzhou I was starting to think a nap in a quiet corner of the international terminal would suit me just fine. 
The customs agent took one look at my departure ticket and told me 15 hours was too long to stay in the airport and they would provide a hotel and a special transit Visa for free. Bureaucracy is bureaucracy no matter the country so it took well over an hour, some patience, and my own dedicated assistent to get my 15 hour Visa approved and the hotel booked. Now I had a new dilemma though. I was plenty tired enough to just sleep all evening, but I also had a free evening China. I checked with my security assistent to make sure I could actually leave the hotel and was told I could do whatever I wanted as long as I was on the plane out the next morning. Then she put me on a bus for the hotel. 
As we headed farther and farther from the airport past the China Southern hotel and into less manicured areas I had a few moments concern that this might all be some kind of elaborate prank on the dumb American. After all I'd never even heard of an airline or airport providing free hotels for people with planned layovers before.  But we eventually got to the hotel and it looked a really nice. I checked in, they gave me a key and I headed for my room. I arrived on my floor to discover it under construction. Then I found my room to discover the door open and construction material on the floor. The beds were made and looked nicer than an airport floor so I wasn't going to complain. I tried my key in the door. It didn't work. I went back to the fornt desk. The clerk said "Oh, sorry, I'll get you a new room", grabed a key card from the pile at random, and hands its to me... 

Not quite the airport floor I was expecting.
Not exactly washing in the bathroom sink here either.
Much more interesting than the bed.
Knowing I probably wouldn't look back and regret the night I didn't get enough sleep in China I dropped my pack in my room and headed out. I had 50 yuan and figured I'd do a little exploring and find myself something for supper.

I need to get back in practice on self portraits. This the best picture I took of me in China...
I gave some serious thought to the street vendor food but I figured I might a well enjoy a meal in a restaurant since I had the time. I found a promising looking place and managed get a table without the use of spoken language. That was a new first for me. I decided to try my luck ordering food by pointing without being able to read the menu. I ordered tea and something that looked like a nice stir fry with chicken and vegetables. When the food arrived I discovered three important things. First, the Chinese stir fry the parts of the chicken I would normally throw away. The pieces of "chicken" were mostly bones with a little meet and included things like the feet. I could have lived with that, but second thing I discovered was that they make up for the questionable chicken by using nothing but onions, whole garlic cloves, an some of the hotest peppers I have ever had for the vegetables part. Finally I discovered that hot tea isn't much help at all when your mouth feels like it's burning. I ate less than a quarter of the bowl before I gave up and just ate the rice trying to settle my stomach. It kind of helped. I paid the bill and headed for the grocery store I'd seen earlier to buy milk and water... Hopefully my next attempt at ordering random food goes better, but at least I can always eat rice.
I think I'll have Chinese tonight.
Not the food I was expecting.
I found the milk and water without trouble and was feeling much better as I headed back to the hotel. Turns out the hotel had a masseur. What the heck. I signed up for half an hour for 18 bucks, it had to be better than dinner. It was, it turned out the guy did chiropractic adjustments and pressure point muscle relaxation too and he knew what he was doing. He even got my back to finally release between the shoulder blades which has been bothering me on and off since Alaska. After he was done I started talking to the owner about other medical stuff. He gave me some medicine he was "80% sure could cure my nasal polyps" for free. My western science brain is still pretty skeptical, but it's a 20,000 dollar surgery in the US. Besides, I figured if the Chinese have been doing this for 5000 years and there are more than a billion of them now it probably wasn't going to kill me. The jury is still out on the long term effects but the runny nose I'd had since Seoul stopped. With a happy nose and a happy back I figured I'd head to bed. The owner invited me for a free beer at his bar on the other side of the hall. I told him I didn't drink beer. He got me a Sprite. 
The owner wandered off to do something and I realized the only other people in the bar were speaking English. I invited myself to their table and they welcomed me over. So, an Aussie, a Kiwi, and an American were sitting in a Chinese bar... I'd normally expect that to be followed with a joke, but all that followed was talking and drinking. They drank beer and I drank water. A few hours passed, the owner closed down the bar and joined us. He started giving them free beer and I kept drinking water. I think I had five bottles. Sometime after midnight they started adding vodka to the beer... We kept talking. At 1:30, I went to bed. Don't ever get into a drinking contest with an Australian... (I did have a 5 am wake up call to get back to the airport and theirs were not until around noon.)
I probably would have gotten more sleep on the floor of the airport. But I managed to get up for my flight and made it to Sydney without a problem. It certainly wasn't the evening I was expecting. However, I was right, I don't have any regrets about not getting enough sleep the night I was in China. I'll probably never remember the nights I got plenty of sleep. 

Now this is a useful outlet to have in a hotel. Even the super fancy hotel in Korea didn't have these. 


  1. First! :-)

    What a great experience. I love that the Chinese official just decided to take care of you, and make sure your experience was a good one! Sorry the food wasn't such a great experience, but it does sound like a memorable one! Reminds me of eating spicy peppers in Indonesia--I was quickly humbled by those little guys...

    What were the Aussie & Kiwi there for? Business or pleasure? Glad you were able to just join in on the conversation.

    Loving the pics, and especially the stories! Looking forward to hearing more...

  2. Great post. Thanks for sharing that experience. I think that I would have cracked up if my dinner came with chicken feet!

  3. Nathan, There were just there for a layover like me, but headed in opposite directions.

  4. Ahhhhh, chicken feet. Such memories. I'm so glad you got to enjoy a bit of China. And I love reading your posts. Thanks for sharing with those of us still in our offices lol.

  5. Hi Nick!

    So happy to hear you are having fun in China!!!

    Glen and I had a similar experience outside Hong Kong once, trying to order a meal from a menu written 120 % in chinese. There were pictures of noddles on the wall that we had to point at, and thinking that chicken would be the easiest choice to mimic, we started flapping our wings. I don't remember much about that meal to be honest, but I do have a picture in my head of Glen doing the chicken dance and also the memory of a simple man and his two daughters who came to share our table (the restaurant was very small and I guess that was a common practice). The man spoke some English and his first question to me was if I was in my 7th month of pregnancy. It took me by surprise, for the question and for the accuracy of his prediction... "yes" - I said and ask him: "how would you know that? ". He was a doctor (and I would have never guess that).

    In our trips, the most memorable (and funny) stories where always about situations we were not expecting. We rarely remember days when everything were just as we tought they would be (ok, that almost never happened). After a few experiences that found us worrying a little bit much, we learned to lower our expectations as much as we could and see the world with the eyes of the child within us. We have never felt dissapointed again, we just laugh and make sure we take enough pictures "to document" the story that otherwise none will believe.

    By the time you come back home, you are gonna love chicken feet!!!

    Hugs, and keep letting life surprise you!

    Ale Holmen