But, boy, did it get off to a rocky start.
Things first went south when we tried to check in on-line for our flight. United’s computer program said we couldn’t check in unless we uploaded a photo of our visa. A visa we didn’t have. A visa that there was no time to get. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I’m just a tad bit anal about some things. And you can rest assured that I had checked, double checked, and triple checked and had confirmed multiple times and in multiple ways that we did not need a visa.
So, I thought, no problem, I will just call the United premiere desk and they will get me checked in. Except they told me I needed a visa because we were transiting through China. I tried to explain to the agent that China no longer required a visa for transit passengers like us. (Be a bit careful about this — the rules are a little bit tricky and the length of time you can be in China apparently varies depending on which airport you fly into/out of). But the agent, after talking to her supervisor, condescendingly told me I should call the Chinese consulate so I could get my facts right.
At this point, the panic attack started. How could I have gotten something so basic so wrong??? We immediately started looking for different flights. They were out there, but would cost more money (which is why we had booked via China and not Tokyo in the first place). So, we wandered over (ok, fine, we sprinted while Robert tried to talk me down off the ledge) to the O’Hare check in desk and tried talking to someone in person. Voila! Problem solved. The woman at the check in desk rolled her eyes when we told her our story and confirmed — as we knew — that no visa was needed. She got us checked in and, at that point, we thought we were home free….
The next day we settled into our seats for the 14 hour — yes 14 hour — flight to Shanghai. When we landed, we immediately started looking for the transfer desk. And there wasn’t one to be found. Nor did we see any signs directing transfer passengers. Turns out, passengers transferring in Shanghai have to actually go through customs and immigration, enter China, and then recheck in for their next flight. So we now have Chinese stamps in our passports, even though we never left the airport. But you know what else transfer passengers have to do? Give China a complete set of their fingerprints (including thumb prints). And you know what else transfer passengers have to do? Pick up their luggage. Even though two United representatives told us our luggage was checked through to Bangkok. Even though we had claim tickets showing that our bags were checked through to Bangkok. Thankfully, an airport employee in Shanghai told us about this quirk, or our bags would probably still be in China…. And I have to wonder just how many bags get left behind by passengers told by their airlines that the bags were checked through to their final destination.
After that, we thought things could only get better. But we were wrong. As we were wandering around the Shanghai airport waiting for our flight to Bangkok, Robert realized he no longer had his boarding pass (or our luggage claim tickets which were attached to his pass). We raced back to the security area (where his boarding pass had been scanned) and started frantically going through luggage bins looking for his pass. No luck. About the time we thought we were well and truly screwed, an airline employee came over to us with the pass. We think what happened is that the security agent put Robert’s pass in someone else’s bin after scanning it. In any event, Robert says he is blameless!
About five hours later, we finally made it to Bangkok. Exhausted and badly in need of showers, but in one piece. And the minute we walked out of the airport, I got a big grin on my face — we were back in Asia and we couldn’t be happier!
And things have been looking up ever since. In our first day we rode the Chao Praya express boat (not the tourist boat, which is pretty much a rip off) in a thunderstorm, visited Wat Arun (and learned that the express boat now stops right in front so a cross-river ferry is no longer needed), successfully fended off a tout that tried to get us to “accidentally” buy tickets for the express boat, checked out the food court at Terminal 21 (color us not so impressed with anything except the price but willing to give it a second try since we managed to get lunch for two for the bargain price of about $4), spent some time at the hotel pool, wandered around our neighborhood, and had some delicious panang curry. (No pizza yet, which must be some kind of record).
Things are definitely looking up!