Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hurled out of China

We are back in Bishkek. It feels so peaceful. I feel lighter when I walk down the streets. Nobody yells at me in Chinese. People are soft spoken and calm. The traffic seems impossibly mellow (it seemed insane when we arrived here the first time). Even the heat seems bearable compared to the humid horror that was Chengdu.

Yesterday afternoon our flight arrived in Urmuqi, our last stop in China. We had a pleasant experience with China Southern including a meal (yes, really). They even put us up in a hotel because our connection wasn't the next day. A bus drove us to the hotel, and we presented our vouchers and went to the first bed we had slept in for nearly a month.

Our flight was a 9:10 and the airport only 10 minutes away, so we set the alarm for 6:30 with the idea of having some breakfast and getting the airport comfortably early. It's a tiny airport with only a couple of international flights a day.

At 6:00 AM the phone rang. "You wakeup checkout", yelled somebody in Chinese. "Ok, thanks", I said. We hadn't ordered a wakeup call but they must have gotten the information from our tickets. I looked at my watch and we decided to go back to bed for another 30 minutes.

At 6:10 the phone rang again. "You checkout", yelled somebody in Chinese. Chinese people always seem to be yelling. It's just the way the language sounds to us, but at 6:10 in the morning it isn't much fun. "Yeah, yeah. We'll come."

At 6:20 the phone rang again. "You must checkout in 2 minutes" said the voice. I hung up. What the hell? "Let's just get up and get out of here, I suggested to Lara. They said we have two minutes." We were barely up when the phone rang again. We tried ignoring it for a bit and it would stop and then restart. "We're coming for god's sake", I said. Of course I could have said anything. The person at the other end spoke no real English.

At 6:25 the first person showed up at our door. He yelled something at us in Chinese. I opened the door and showed him that we weren't packed yet and that we were getting our stuff in our bags. He seemed upset and vanished. The phone was still ringing. We ignored it.

At 6:30 the door knocked again. This time there were three of them. One of them was particularly upset and gestured down the hallway. We showed her our bags and that we were nearly packed. She was unmoved. We would have to come immediately. We didn't. She yelled. The phone rang. We ignored her, and the phone.

At about 6:35 we were finally packed. We grabbed our hotel key and went to the lobby, where we presented it to the front desk to get our key deposit back. Given how upset everyone was we decided to go straight to the airport and skip breakfast. There was no hotel bus so we took a cab (cheap). We arrived at the airport at 6:50, 20 minutes before the international section even opened, and spent a bunch of time waiting in the nearly empty terminal.

When we were checked in and through customs Lara decided to take a load off her feet and have a cold (and outrageously overpriced) ice tea. She pointed at the bottle in the fridge and they opened it and poured it in a cup that was a bit too small. The woman then accompanied us back to the table. As soon as Lara had taken a sip, the woman grabbed the bottle and tried to fill Lara's cup with it. Lara tried to grab it from her, but the woman won the tussle and ran back to the counter with the remainder of Lara's tea. At this point Lara was fed up and insisted on a refun of the remaining portion of the ice-tea. The woman wouldn't give the bottle back or refund us money, but in the end she poured the last little bit of tea into a second cup.

We had a great experience in China and we loved most of the people we met. But China is also an incredibly intense country. Everything is loud and busy and crowded and hurried. It's nice to get back where life is a little bit more mellow.

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