It feels weird to be writing this when we’ve been home for nearly two weeks, but the memories MUST be documented. So alas, here I go.
Coming home turned out to be a bit of a complicated affair, thanks to cheaptickets.com. I highly do not recommend buying anything from them after what happened to us!
Leaving Hong Kong
It all started at 5:30 a.m. on June 4, when we tried to board the MRT to get to Central Station to catch the Aiport Express shuttle. Well, the MRT was all locked up and closed…which seemed very bizarre for a city as big as Hong Kong! Even Edmonton’s wimpy LRT starts at 5:30 am. So, we totally did not have a contingency plan, and needed to make the first Airport Express train at 5:50 or we’d risk missing our flight. Panicked, we popped into a cab and experienced our first “reverse-culture shock” moment of the trip. We first asked how much it would cost to go to central station, since we were running low on HK dollars. The cab driver asked us how much we had. Oh no, mister, I am not that stupid! So then we proceeded to ensure that he was going to use his meter (this is a problem in most of SE Asia, but NOT Hong Kong) and he said of course. He then asked us “airport?” and we said “no” because we didn’t want to pay a $150 cab ride to get to the airport. We finally got in, and as we were approaching central station, we saw a sign for the airport express, so Scott said “airport!” and, annoyed, the guy made a WTF gesture with his hand. At that moment, it dawned on us that we could have gone to a much closer station on the Kowloon side to take the airport train, but had totally forgotten. The cab driver wasn’t trying to rip us off – he was just trying to be helpful! The only reason we thought of central is because that was the only place you could get to easily from the MRT. Stupid us.
We got to the train just in time to board it and were off to the airport. Upon arrival, there was a giant line to wait in for China Eastern Airlines (I missed self check-in so much while gone). When it was our turn, there seemed to be a problem. The lady kept making calls in Chinese and seemed quite flustered. Finally, she turns to us and says “your travel agent did not confirm your ticket on this flight, so you aren’t technically on it.” I started to freak out a bit and politely replied “oh my goodness, we had no idea. We have a flight from Shanghai to Vancouver and then another one from Vancouver to Edmonton and we NEED to be on this flight.” She simply nodded. (This wasn’t our first problem with cheaptickets.com. Our first time around, they had simply forgotten to book us on the HK to Shanghai flight, and we spent hours on the phone clearing it up with a lady who had claimed to book us on the WHOLE flight – HK, Shanghai, Vancouver).
Forty-five minutes and help from five counter ladies later, we were told to put on a Business-class sticker to rush us through security – our flight was already boarding. They had managed to get us on the flight, but hadn’t been able to check us through to Vancouver. They told us we’d have gather our luggage in Shanghai, and go through customs, then re-check-in for our flight to Vancouver. Wasn’t clearning Chinese customs going to be a problem because we didn’t have a Chinese visas, we asked? She replied, “Ah, no problem at all” and shooed us along.
A Less-than-smooth transfer in Shanghai
Well, a few hours later in Shanghai, we got off the plane to a man holding a “transfers” sign. I thought maybe he had been sent there to help us, by bringing us boarding and luggage tickets (this has happened to us before, and this was how it was handled). Oh no, when he found out we didn’t have a boarding pass, he sent us off down the hall all by ourselves. We made it to another “transfer” desk and asked the China Eastern Airlines lady if she could print us a boarding pass before passing through customs. She replied no, that we just had to go through customs and get our boarding pass on the other side. I asked “is it not a problem to pass through Chinese customs without a visa?” “Oh no,” she replies, “no problem at all.” So off we go to stand in the customs line.
When we got to the customs desk, we got in trouble for trying to go to the same booth together, and the scary Chinese guard made us go in opposite directions. I walked up to my customs lady, and handed her my passport. She proceeded to rifle through it, in search of my Chinese visa. I politely said “I am not staying in China. I am going to Vancouver today, but the airline could not print me a boarding pass.” She gave me a scowl and asked for my ticket number. I replied that Scott had it, and he was standing way over there. She motioned for me to go get it (keep in mind there is a giant line of people waiting to go through customs). Meanwhile, Scott’s going through a similar process, and trying to show his itinerary on his iPhone. I rushed over to his desk, and finally produce the iPhone to my lady. She looks at it, makes some calls in Chinese and then tells me to go stand back in line. I can see that Scott is having as much success with his customs agent. Finally, someone comes to escort Scott to the police desk and I wave at him, and they motion me to follow. We go to the police desk and explain our story. They don’t seem impressed. Some lady comes and takes us and our passports to a small room. We’re wondering – are we in for bright lights and rubber gloves?! She told us to wait outside on a bench. We waited for a good 20 minutes. Finally, we were told it was ok, but no one gave us our passports back. So we went back to the police desk, who sent us to another man standing around, who for some reason had our passports (how this exchange happened, I have no idea). They told us all was well and we could go. Phew.
The Maglev Experience
Relieved, we ran to the check-in desk, got our boarding tickets and checked our luggage. We still had 1.5 hours to spare until our boarding time, and since we were now allowed into China, we thought we should try to check things out. Well, some research on Scott’s iPhone had the disappointing news that the airport was 40 km outside of Shanghai, and that it would take over an hour in a cab to get anywhere. Furthermore, we had no Yuan. So, we went to take some pictures outside the airport. Scott kept researching on his iPhone, and discovered that Shanghai has a Maglev train that could get us into the city in 8 minutes – it goes 430 km/hour! Thinking about it, we could totally make it to Shanghai - 8 minutes there, 15 minutes to walk around, 8 back – lots of time! So we ran over to the Maglev. It was tight – by this time we only had forty-five minutes until our flight boarded… and it would take about 46 minutes to ride the train and back (with a 15 minute wait on either side for the next train). But we thought, what the heck? This is the very last instalment of the Excellent Adventure and we’ve gotta do something crazy to cap it off. So onto the train we went, complete with a bit of stomach acid. If ANYTHING happened, and we had to wait longer than 15 minutes, we’d totally miss our flight!
Riding the train was awesome. Unfortunately, because we weren’t at a peak time, the train only went 300 km/hour, but it was still amazing. We whizzed by all the cars on the highway and it felt like an amusement park ride. Eight little minutes later, we were in Shanghai. It really sucked to be in Shanghai during Expo and not get to see anything, but we saw all the advertising and statues and hype. The city seemed electric. We bopped around the train station a bit, then went back to board the next train.
We made it back to the airport right on schedule, and RAN to catch our flight. We made it to the boarding gate just in time, and actually thought we were late because no one was there – turns out the gate had changed at the very last moment, and we had beat the crowd in finding the new gate. We proceeded to wait about an hour to board – our flight ended up being quite behind schedule!
The flight was fairly uneventful… the only funny part was that they put on a chair-stretching-exercise video about two hours out of Vancouver. It was under the guise of “you have been sitting still for quite some time, you must be sore!” So Scott and I followed along with the video (along with about half the plane) in rejuvenating our muscles. It was cute.
Arriving in Canada was a bit anti-climactic – the custom’s man was pretty mean to us. We got up to him, smiled and he glared back at us. He said “What were you doing in China?” We replied, “we weren’t in China. We just had a layover from Hong Kong.” He said “well, what were you doing in Hong Kong?” And we replied “we were just there for a few days. We have been travelling for over six months and we’re just returning home!” He got really rude and said, aghast: “six months! What for! Did you work? Where did you go?” So we replied. He then noticed we had shipped a box home and asked us to provide detailed receipts. We told him we didn’t have any, because people don’t give receipts in Asia. He told us we needed to provide a detailed list of cost and items. So we started to, when he told us to “hurry up, I have a big line now. What are you doing, I don’t need costs.” And then told us to go away. It was certainly a not very warm welcome.
We were pretty sure that after that treatment, we’d undergo a full search. We were wrong, though, and made it through customs unscathed. When we got into the main part of the airport, we found our first beacon: Tim Horton’s. Scott suffered through most of our trip (except for Vietnam) trying to find a decent cup of java for cheap. He really missed good ol’ Tim’s. The commercials really don’t lie – he ordered a double double and was happy as a clam.
We finally made it back to Edmonton to the Montgomeries picking us up, and a delicious Alberta Beef steak dinner at my mom’s. The red wine (we missed that too) flowed, and it was an excellent time. We finally crawled into bed around midnight.
The next morning, without much of a hint of jetlag, we went to our condo to assess the damage of our tentants. We walked in, and it was filthy. Our socks were black from walking on the floor for five minutes, and washing with soap and water didn’t seem to fix it. We had to literally get down on our hands and knees and scrub the tiles with a toothbrush, bleach and baking soda to take the grime off. The place hadn’t been vacuumed in ages, so we had to steam clean the carpets…but the worst part was that the things that the renters HAD cleaned, had been cleaned with ARMORALL. Yes, you know, the stuff you use on your car’s wheels, grills and vinyl. It was everywhere – mirrors, my glass tables, my wood buffet, the granite, the cupboards. We spent hours washing everything to get it off, and it had even started to eat into some of the surfaces. It was seriously not a fun way to come home. On top of that, our leather couches were covered in sticky marks and spills, the kitchen was covered in splatters of food and grease (I kept finding tomato dribbles down cupboards and in drawers) and it was just bad. The sad thing is that the girls had cleaned…but clearly their standards were pretty low. They totally thought they had left it in pristine condition for us, as evidenced by this email from one of them:
“She has been a great roommate, the only thing is that she’s been working so hard (sometimes 20hours a day) she hasn’t had time to clean her bedroom. However, I hope the rest of the apartment was perfect (as we had such a great time I enjoyed cleaning it for you guys.)”
And that’s it, my friends. Not 24 hours after we came back from the most amazing journey and experiences of our lives were we cleaning a floor with a toothbrush and scrubbing armorall off of surfaces. Yes, this is real life. Scott and I looked at each other, and said “did the adventure ever really happen, or did we just imagine it?!” Thank god we have this blog and our pictures, or we might truly believe we dreamt it all up in an insane asylum.