Monday, September 13, 2004

June 20-21, Chicago-Beijing-Chengdu

The flight from Chicago to Beijing was easy and uneventful. We arrived in Beijing around 3 p.m. for a 6 p.m. flight. A very helpful airline employee came with the wheelchair for Rinpoche and guided us to a spot in the Airport where we could wait. The flight had been postponed until 9 p.m. and we had to wait until 6 p.m. to check in with our luggage. So we took turns sitting with the luggage while various members of the group looked around, had tea, and so on.

The airline employee came back at 6 p.m. to tell us that our 9 p.m. flight was now canceled. There was a 7:15 p.m. flight on Sichuan Airlines (as opposed to the China Airlines flight we were supposed to take) but we were informed that two of our group would have to sit in the first-class section. We happily agreed to this only to find out that they expected us to pay the difference between economy and first-class prices. No amount of reasoning could convince them that since they were the ones who were canceling and rescheduling our flights they should also pay the difference in price. One of the China Airlines employees even reprimanded me, saying that it was no wonder we were having difficulty with cancellations and so on since we had been foolish enough to buy our tickets so far in advance (April 14.) As far as he was concerned there was no way that an airline could guarantee that a flight whose tickets had been purchased two months previously would actually fly at the stated time. That was only the first example of the many ways that they do things very differently in China than we do in the West.

If we did not agree to pay the difference we would have to wait for an 11 p.m. flight, and we had people waiting for us in Chengdu, so we bit the bullet and all chipped in for the extra $250 that the upgrades cost. Against my protestations I was one of the ones selected to sit in first-class (Rinpoche being the other.) After such a long journey from Toronto I wasn't feeling very good about enjoying the luxury while others had to suffer through economy. I didn't have to worry about that for very long though. First-class on Sichuan Airlines means you get a slightly wider seat and that's about it. I promptly fell asleep and only woke up when we arrived in Chengdu.

As we stood by the luggage carousel in Chengdu we were trying to strategise about how we might get to our hotel. We had arrived later than our Chengdu contacts were expecting us and we weren't entirely sure that they would still be waiting. We had actually gotten one step ahead of the game, because it turned out that one of Rinpoche's bags had not made it onto the plane. Filling out a luggage claim form and communicating the locationour hotel to airline employees who hardly spoke any English took quite a bit of time. While a couple of us were working on this, a couple others worked on getting taxis that could accommodate us and the enormous amount of luggage that we had with us (Rinpoche had brought as many hockey bags full of clothing for his relatives in Riwoche as he possibly could, so we were quite heavily laden.)

We walked out into the parking area of the Airport and were pleasantly surprised to see Khenpo Yeshe Phuntsok (Rinpoche's contact from Kathok monastery) waiting for us with a van and a car. The night time drive into Chengdu gave us our first view of the city. 13 million people live there, and it was all brightly lit with many stores and restaurants still being open in spite of the late hour.

The National Hotel is a very pleasant seventies vintage, clean place to stay. I ended up in a corner room, and my roommate for the trip was not arriving until the next day, so I had lots of space to spread out and get ready for sleep. I was happy to find that there was lots of water pressure in the shower and plenty of hot water. So I felt clean and relaxed when I got into bed and turned out the light for the night.

2 Comments:

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