Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Beijing --> Moscow should be easier than this.

Well the "Adventure" has officially begun and I haven't left Beijing yet. So last night I get back to my hotel from the office around 7:00pm and ask the concierge if my plane tickets have arrived.

No tickets. My flights in 12 hours and I don't have plane tickets. Crap.

This is my fault. I waited until a week before my trip to buy my tickets. (Strike 1) Now normally this in and of itself wouldn't be that big of a deal but things went downhill from there. Anyway I booked through Amex Travel and listed the delivery address as my hotel in Beijing then proceeded to think nothing of it. Two days later I get an email from my Admin in the US mentioning that she's received my new tickets and wondering what she should do with them. (Strike 2) So I got Rob to grab the tickets and head to the local DHL since Amex travel said they were the fastest to ship the tickets to me in Beijing. Rob spends ~$50 but gets the tickets off right away. ETA Monday or Tuesday at the latest.

My flights on Wednesday. I'm a bit worried but DHL said Tuesday at the latest so I figure I'm good. Monday comes and goes without the arrival of my tickets so I hit the tracking site and it tells me they are in Ohio!!! WTF? But one quick call to DHL calms my nerves since the web site is just behind. In fact they inform me that the package is on a truck for delivery and if it doesn't get delivered tonight it'll certainly make the early morning delivery. So I quit worrying and got a good (6 Hours!) nights sleep.

Now back to where we started. I come back to my hotel from work and I'm still sans tickets. (Strike 3)

Apparently the first person at DHL had lied to me because when I called again the new person told me it had left on the 2PM flight yesterday. Which actually translated to the 5AM flight this morning after time zone shifts. So at 7PM when I was freaking out the plane should be landing yet for some reason my package wasn't going to arrive until midnight and then it would have to be sorted. So at 2:30 in the morning we found out (Thank you Sheraton Concierges) that the letter had been put in the customs lockdown for the night. No tickets for me. The earliest it would open was 6:00 AM and since my flight was at 7:30 AM. So if this all worked out perfectly and I was at the Customs warehouse at 6:00 AM I could theoretically pick up my tickets and I would have 1.5 hours to make it to the airport. Clear customs, Check in on my flight, Clear immigration, and then Clear security. Keeping in mind that China is a communist country and things are rarely efficient.

So at 5:15 AM Summer (The night concierge) woke me up and arranged a taxi and directions so that I could try and make my flight.

By this point it was raining really hard so the Taxi's driver is doing Mach 1 through knee high puddles and occasionally turning around and grinning a toothless grin at me to try and catch me freaking out. He seemed mildly disappointed that I was never cringing. Don't get me wrong I'm not saying that I'm particularly brave or any crap like that it really boils down to two things. First I've now been riding in Chinese cabs for 5 months strait and there's not much I haven't seen and Second I constantly rode in my friend Craig's S2000 while he was quitting chewing tobacco. Nothing quite like driving all over the place with someone who likes driving fast and is always pissed off / on edge in a tiny sports car. That made me a fatalist right there. I have to admit now that there were many times in Craig's car where I nearly begged him to start chewing again. Becky would have killed me so I kept my mouth shut.

So we arrive at the customs facility at 6:03 and I walk up and start doing the universal hand gestures for "I need this DHL Package right now or I won't make my flight." I'm still not sure exactly how I communicated this. The only thing I had written down was DHL & the tracking code but eventually the security guard got it and wondered off (Leaving me alone in the bonded customs warehouse) looking for someone who spoke English to deal with me. Finally a guy in a DHL outfit comes out and hands me my tickets. It worked! It's 6:12 and it takes me a few minutes to sign the paperwork to get the package from him directly instead of waiting for it to get to the DHL office. I opened it just outside the building where my taxi was still waiting. He knows my flights at 7:30 so he's tapping his watch and waving at me to run when he see's me open the package and produce my flight tickets. I wish I could have gotten a picture of his face it was priceless. He had no idea what I was getting from the facility but it's obvious he didn't think it was the tickets for my flight.

We then tear out of there and race (I'm not sure who we were racing) off towards the airport which is only a few miles away. I'm talking with Ben (The Aussie) on the phone and he's encouraging me to tell the driver to go faster. As a random side note, taxi drivers in Asia are frankly insane. I consider myself a good driver but I don't have the reflexes or will to do what they do every 20 seconds. On the list of things I will NEVER do is ask a taxi driver in Asia to hurry. There's really nothing on earth that would prompt me to invite certain death. So I sit back and deal with the leisurely 50 MPH speed we are traveling at through the middle of small busy residential roads. I arrive at the airport at 6:35.

55 minutes until my flight. First stop Customs. Oh thank god for the privileges of being a westerner. The customs officials just wave me past the line. They don't even look at my form and they don't X-ray anything like they do for all the Chinese folks. Just pass on by. Thank god 1 down 3 to go. It takes me a minute to find the Domodedovo Airlines counter and about 10 minutes to get through the line. 45 minutes to go. Now I'm not as worried. Most airlines require that you check in 40 minutes before you flight so heck. I've got 5 minutes to spare. I'm greeted by an extremely attractive Russian woman who checks my bags and tells me that I'll make the flight but that I had better hurry. 2 down 2 to go.

Off to immigration where I pick the shortest line. You know the phrase "Fool me once shame on you, Fool me twice shame on me." I really should have learned by now but for some reason the shortest line is ALWAYS the slowest line. It just never works out and like a lemming I get in it every time. So I'm in the shortest line with about 15 people in front of me. Things are looking good when a friend comes and joins the Chinese lady in front of me. Whatever. That's relatively common. So 5 minutes later the one Chinese lady has morphed into a tour group of 20. Grrr. So by this point the line in front of me has effectively doubled in size. Oh well such is life. I get through the line and then repeat the same process for the security checkpoint. I come out the other side with 2 minutes until they close boarding for my flight so I run down the terminal and am one of the last 3 folks onto my flight. Grab my seat, cup of tea, life is good.

We then proceed to sit at the gate for an hour because one of the passengers gets a bloody nose that won't stop. So I didn't have to stress the last 12 hours after all. Flight took off about 45 minutes late but I'm now in the Air on my way to Moscow. I can't communicate how excited I am to be going to Moscow. Pictures will be forthcoming.

P.S. Moscow is amazing. Everyone should plan a vacation here. More on that later.

Great to see the adventure starting! Looking forward to some pictures...
Whew' That's a ralley in itself. The cabbie sounds like he was on your side... Great description of him.. Well, You're off!! Good luck... have fun... Stay Safe...and oh,um you're not taking the route through Iran are you?
"extremely attractive Russian woman," said the suave American as he promptly forgot to ask for her phone #. ;-)

Sounds cool Cy, I look forward to hearing more as you go. Last year Travis and his crew did a crappy job keeping up their website...hopefully y'all are a bit better. Take care!
And I thought *I* had a busy weekend!

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