A China Christmas, Part 1: Travel

My sister Meredith works for Concordia Welfare and Education Foundation in Kunming, China. She has been there since September 2011 and we decided to visit her for Christmas. Because when else would we ever go to China?

Our trip. The southern-most marker is Kunming, middle is Xi’an, northern-most is Beijing. You may need to zoom out to see all of them at once.

Stephen and I met up with my parents and Kelsey at LAX on December 20th, where we got on the largest plane I have ever been on for the longest flight I have ever taken. It was over 12 hours to Beijing, and then we would board another plane for the 3 hour flight down to Kunming. (Refer to map above.) The flight to Beijing was not too bad, as each seat had its own personal tv screen and we could pick what we wanted to watch. There were numerous current tv episodes and movies for our viewing pleasure. Because our flight left around noon LA time, it wasn’t really a good flight for sleeping, as we chased the sun across the globe. By the end of the flight we were all getting a little antsy, though. We landed in Beijing late on the 21st, got our luggage, went through immigration (no issues), passed through customs (one security person randomly pointing to people to check their luggage), and checked in for our flight to Kunming (which was done by handing the ticket agent our passports and pointing to the flight number on our itinerary). The Beijing airport is MASSIVE. The international terminal is enclosed under one huge roof structure that just seems to go on and on.

Beijing airport

Beijing airport

It was also in the Beijing airport that we encountered our first squatty-potty. We were waiting for our luggage (which took forever to arrive at baggage claim) so of course, we all decide it is a good time for a potty break. Kelsey and I head to the nearest bathroom, walk into a couple open stalls, and stare at the floor in dismay. Because this is what we saw:

Not the one from the airport, but once you've seen one squatty-potty, you've seen them all.

Not the one from the airport, but once you’ve seen one squatty-potty, you’ve seen them all.

Now, I knew there would be toilets like this, but surely in this huge, fancy airport they could have thrown in a couple Western toilets, too. I managed to do my business without falling over, but Kelsey was unable to figure it out. Mom took her turn in the bathroom and returned informing us she had found a Western toilet. And there was much rejoicing. Clearly, Kelsey and I didn’t look very hard. For most of the rest of the trip we were able to find Western toilets, but in some places they just weren’t available. It took Kelsey some time to master the sqatty-potty. And when she did, after some tips from Meredith, there was much rejoicing. Again.

Our flight from Beijing to Kunming was a red-eye landing at 1:30am on the 22nd. Stephen and I slept most of that flight. It was hard to get back on a plane after a 12 hour flight. But we arrived safely in Kunming, at their brand new, massive airport, and…didn’t see Meredith. Well, maybe she was just running late, so we head outside to wait for her and the van she had hired to pick us up. No Meredith. Mom has her number, but we don’t have a phone. We have no Chinese money. We know zero Mandarin. We waited about an hour, going off in pairs to look for her in other parts of the airport, but no luck. Finally a taxi driver comes over gesturing with his phone, takes Meredith’s number, and leads Kelsey and Stephen to the information desk, where he calls Meredith. By now it is 2:30am.
Kelsey gets on the phone with Mere: Hi Meredith, we’re here! Uh, hi Kelsey, where are you? Here, in Kunming! No you’re not, you don’t get in until tomorrow. No, we’re here now! Oh my gosh, I’ll be there in 45 minutes!
Meredith had misread our flight information every time she looked at it. Our flight was scheduled to arrive at 12:40am, Saturday, the 22nd. She read that thinking Saturday/Sunday night, rather than Friday/Saturday night.

Meredith arrived in a cab at the airport because the van she had hired was scheduled for the next night. Dad, Kelsey and I climbed into the cab Meredith took to the airport, and she told the driver to drop us off where he picked her up, gives dad some money to pay the driver, and off we go. It is about a 45 minute drive to Mere’s place. The driver pulled off to the side of a fairly large intersection, speaking in Chinese and gesturing to the right. We kinda nodded and said ok, and he turned into a neighborhood of apartment buildings. We drove a little bit in, and then he stopped, we got out, paid him, and he drove off, leaving us at 3:45am on a dark corner of an unfamiliar neighborhood. Once again, we had no phone, no money, (well, 40 kuai, which is like, less than $7), and no way to ask anyone for directions, if there had been anyone around to ask. We thought, surely the other taxi with Mom, Stephen, and Meredith is no more than 10 minutes behind us. We waited. Oh! Here comes a taxi! No, that is a man. Oh! Here comes another car! No, that is an empty taxi. Finally Dad said if they don’t come by 4:30, we will go back out to the main road and take a taxi back to the airport. Well, around 4:20am, Mere and Stephen walk around the corner! They had found us! Our taxi driver had tried to be helpful and drop us off further into the neighborhood; only it was the wrong side of the neighborhood. We were on the newer side, where many foreigners live, only Meredith lives in the older part, across the intersection. Luckily Meredith was fairly certain she knew where we would be. We finally were able to get to bed at Meredith’s apartment around 5am. A rough start to our time in China, but it only got better from there!

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