I had thought it would be fun to be on a plane for 15 hours.
How can just sitting be so painful? My knees ache. My feet ache. My lower back aches. We are on a double decker plane with three rows of seats – I had no idea planes could be this big! – and even though I’m pretty much in the back of the plane, I’m too trapped by my seat mates to get out and stretch. Although the one nearest the window has no problem straddling me so she can get out.
(When I’m told later that Chinese people don’t like to get in each other’s personal space, you better believe I’ll think about these mini lap dances!)
The stewardesses hand out little yellow forms. I take one, having zero idea what it’s for, then figure out it’s a paper you fill out listing info about your arrival and departure from the country.
Huh. Ive heard of customs but I had no idea there would be such random paperwork.
We depart from the plane and immediately lose one of our team members. Somehow he hops off fast and gets caught up in a snarl of ‘helpful’ people that whisk him away with his luggage, take his cell phone and passport, and sell him a SIM card he can’t use so he can call us.
We wait around at customs, and at luggage claim, and then with our driver. No sign of S.
(I should introduce the crew. J is the boss, based in Massachusetts. He’s brought C, a mostly unknown young fellow. S is flying in from North Carolina but has worked with J for 20 years.)
We call our contact in China, really not sure what to do. What could have caused Scott to vanish?
(Having something as easy as meeting in a group after departing from the plane become An Issue should have been a huge dang indicator to us as far as how the rest of this trip was going to go.)
(The other warning sign that we didn’t take seriously enough was that we were expected to go from the airport to the hotel, check in, drop off our suitcases, and go right to a meeting.)
There’s another American waiting to go to the same amusement park we are, and he starts to complain to us about how he’s already waited for an hour and a half and has missed his meeting and he needs us to get ourselves together and stop delaying him.
Well. Alrighty then.
J runs off to keep looking for S. S finally gets his phone back from his ‘helpful’ buddies on the other side of the customs wall. Our driver calls our client and the other American talks to him…then the driver hands me the phone. Our client rep, M, speaks very good English and asks me to please try to find J because M has found S and S is on his way to us…and oh, there may be a problem with getting all of our luggage in the driver’s car.
As it turns out, that’s a legit concern. But we do get everyone to the car and everyone’s stuff into the car and we start off to the hotel.
The land is like a weird mix of Pennsylvania and Florida. The buildings are predominantly pink and a mix of what looks like 1970s hotels and Chinatown.
The traffic is….insane. Just insane. Lots of trucks and scooters and cars, some bicycles, all sharing the road. And by ‘share’ I mean lots of honking, fast swerves, and the yellow line in the middle of the road is a suggestion. Every trip in a car here involves several cringes and “oh holy craps” from any of us that have made the poor choice to pay attention to traffic.
I don’t think even a “Masshole” driver would stand a chance on these roads.
By contract, we were to stay in a resort hotel owned by our client, owners of Chimelong Paradise, Night Zoo, and International Circus. A google search state side had only served to confuse me – was this Vegas? a safari park? a circus? The answer is that this is sorta China’s Disney. They have the world’s largest collection of white tigers. They also have three baby pandas and a fancy looking aquarium and two amusement parks side by side. And several hotels, liberally decorated with taxidermied animals.
We were being put up in their oldest hotel. We hadn’t been warned about the animals.
We check into our rooms, which are almost quaint in their dated design. But then there are the beds.
“They don’t have mattresses!” S insists. We all agree that it’s gonna be like sleeping on doors. Before that can really process, though, we’re off to our business meeting.