I flew to Bangkok this past week to be with my good friend Jan while her husband was unexpectedly hospitalized while they were on the last leg of their Asian trip. This blog is solely about my travel experiences.
The trip started perfectly as Mr. Zhao had arranged for the school driver to take me to Pudong Airport after work on Tuesday. No problem checking in and even scored lucky number 34 seat, which everyone in Asia knows is two rows behind first class, so very quick to get off at the other end. Aisle seat, one seat empty and a non-talkative person with a large bladder by the window. Perfect. The flight was uneventful.
Arrived in Bangkok Airport (actually a name with about 18 letters but same same), squandered 15 minutes in a line-up for visas that I didn’t need, then passed through customs, found a bank machine and the cab service that Geoff had arranged for me on-line. It’s not quite the same as seeing your name in lights but still, an old guy holding a square of paper with Watt written on it, well, it doesn’t happen every day. Off we went, arriving at the Shangri-La without event…until I attempted to pay the driver. “This is a 100 baht,” he says. I look and sure enough, all I have in my wallet are 100 baht bills. I requested 5000 baht from the ATM but apparently got short-changed. Did I have my receipt? No, of course not. So, I’m down about $150 and I haven’t checked in yet. I give the driver a 1000 baht for a bill that is 910. Never mind, everyone, yes, it is twice what the trip cost back from the hotel–I know it was too much–but Geoff set it up, it’s too late. The driver makes almost the lamest attempt at looking for change I’ve ever seen, so of course he gets the 90 baht as well. I’m too tired to make a scene and 90 baht is about $3. Hey, we got there quickly.
Another day, I may comment about my time in Bangkok but for today, I just want to capture the actual travel. So…the return trip: I talked to the doorman about getting a cab for the airport. “Set price or meter?” Set price includes the two road tolls and is easy, in theory, so okay, set price–400 baht. Sounds good. Quick ride out to the airport which we had worried about as it was the night before Songkran–Thai New Year–and we had been warned to allow 4 hours before flight time to get to the airport. I give the driver a 500 baht bill and then he does the LAMEST excuse for looking for change I’ve ever seen–and of course, makes off with my 100 baht. Remember there’s no tipping in Thailand but rest assured, they get it somehow. Next, in to check in.
I had been worried about the airport. When we flew out last time, the scene was total chaos, insane. In principal, the airport is designed well. The check-in centers are organized by letters, alphabetically, so all one has to do is locate the correct aisle and find the appropriate line-up in front of an airline representative. Having arrived now a good 3.5 hours ahead of time, my flight wasn’t yet on the board so I sat down to wait for China Eastern to appear. Sure enough, by midnight, there it was. (Yes, I said midnight. For the second time, Geoff organized a 2:00am flight leaving Bangkok–hasn’t quite figured out the 24 hour clock). I made my way to the line-up and low and behold, they even had stanchions in place this evening, laying out a course for all of us to snake our way to our turn at the front. Almost all of us. As usual, there were people who butted in front by entering the area for Sky-Flight service, then cutting over to the economy class line. Geoff has rubbed off on my a bit and I thought I would take on his self-imposed role as regulator (aka Line Nazi) and try to dish out a little guilt. I tapped a woman on the back and said, “Do you realize all these people (gesturing behind me) have been waiting in line for a long time and you have simply butted into the front? You should be in the back of the line and wait like the rest of us.” “Oh,” says she, “I didn’t realize,” then turns her back on me and continues to stay right where she and her group of 6 are, next at the counter. Two women, a mom and daughter within the stanchions but behind me, tried to lift the ropes to join their husband/father in the cheating line but I called them on it. They didn’t cross over but the dad stayed where he was, too, but here’s the beautiful thing: the sole baggage handler for the 4 windows walked past these women who told him their sad story. He looked at them, he looked at me and said to me, “Come this way,” and took me to a newly opened window around the group! Exonerated! Next great thing, I get assigned row 33 so once again, I am able to get off quickly, get through customs and begin to make my way home to Jiaxing.
Here’s where the saga begins. I’ve had about 4 hours of interrupted sleep and I haven’t eaten for 14 hours. I come out and check all my options for getting to Hongqiao Train Station. For some reason that’s a mystery to me now, I don’t opt for cab but decide to take the subway instead. On I get. I know that the ride is going to be about an hour 20 but think I can handle it. What I didn’t count on was zoning out, falling asleep, whatever–I don’t really know how it happened but I remember thinking I was two stops away from the train station when the announcement came on about a terminal stop, which means everyone gets off, crosses to the other side and gets on another train. Which I did. Five stops later, it occurs to me that I should be at the station. I pay attention to the recorded voice naming the next station. Sure enough, I’ve been there already and have in fact ridden back 5 stops from the way I came, adding 40 minutes to my ride. I thought of crying and almost did but tried to wake up sufficiently to hear what was said at the stop I thought I got off of–no such message. I was concentrating so hard that when we came into the next stop, I couldn’t remember if we had already passed the airport and this would be the train station. I tapped a lad in front of me and, speaking clearly and slowly, said, “Is this the train station?” Yes, he says. I repeat, “The train station?” Yes, he says. So I disembark and take the escalator up. It’s the Hongqiao Airport. So now, go back down to the subway or walk? It turns out it’s not far so I make it easily by foot and find the two sets of escalators to train level and happily, am able to buy–with the help of a nice young man– a ticket for the next available train to Jiaxing.
To my absolute joy, a Starbuck’s has appeared in the station since my last visit and I know I must have sustenance and caffeine if I am to stay awake, so I make a dash for it, since I have only 20 minutes till the train leaves. Extra hot triple shot non-fat latte and red bean scone in hand, I run to the gate, the platform and on to my car only to realize…it’s a D train. Meaning: my seat is not a seat but a space on a hard but padded platform in a ‘cabin’ shared by 5 other people. It’s a milk run and we’re stopping as often as possible but so rarely do foreigners travel on this train that they don’t bother to speak English when announcing the stops. I keep the door to our cabin open, swill my coffee and attempt to keep alert so I don’t wind up in Hangzhou. When I hear Jiaxing Nan, I know it means Jiaxing South but still I check with my Chinese friends: “Is this Jiaxing South station?” What an impression I must make! Anyway, it is in fact my stop, I disembark, get a cab and get home, roughly 4 hours after I began. Next time, take a cab from Pudong to Hongqiao, or better still, accept Mr. Zhao’s kind offer of sending a driver to bring me back on Saturday.
Question: how do the Chinese sleep on subways, buses and trains and manage to wake up in time for the right stop?