Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Up at 7:20am, showered, packed and at the travel agent's for 8:30am. She's just arrived and has my visa-stamped passport ready on her desk. Given my current time frame for China (March 23rd - April 4th) and the distance I hope to travel, I've decided to fly one-way into Beijing and out again through Shanghai. I ask her for the cheapest ticket options, and she tells me it's significantly more expensive than the return flight I was thinking of before. One-way tickets usually are. So I settle on the cheapest one-way ticket to Beijing leaving this week, and get a seat on Air China Flight 126 leaving at 6:10pm tonight.

Passport and ticket in hand, I realize I have just enough won to get me to the airport, but not enough to eat breakfast or lunch, so I stroll the area in search of a bank. After changing some money, I decide to return home to rest before my flight. I didn't get much sleep last night, and a 6:10pm flight gives me lots of time to research flights out of Shanghai and get to some of those e-mails I haven't had a chance to write.

Scouring the major budget airlines, I find an incredible deal on a Shanghai - Seoul flight on April 4th. I snap it up, and write my cousin outside of Beijing. : "Just booked a one way ticket to Beijing, CA 126 departing tonight (Wednesday, March 23rd) at 18:10pm, arriving at Beijing Capital Airport at 19:20pm. Departing Shanghai the afternoon of April 4th." I send a few more before getting her response at 1:00pm:

"YIKES!!!!! BAD NEWS!!! You are coming in too late to take the last fast train here. Perhaps you should go to a hostel in Beijing." I check the train schedule and she's absolutely right. Last train leaves Beijing South Station at 7:45pm, and it's far too expensive to take a taxi. We exchange a few more emails regarding alternative means of transportation, but it's not looking good. I have to leave my apartment at 3:00pm at the absolute latest to make my flight, and I don't know where I'm staying tonight.

Start looking into hostels and find one that seems alright for a reasonable price. I'm examining a map of central Beijing when I remember an old friend from Ottawa who's an intern at the Canadian Embassy there. I was going to write her when I arrived at my cousin's place, but figure I might as well write her now. She responds at 2:25pm asking if I have a place to stay. "Do you have space for a night?" She sends me her phone number and directions at 2:41pm and I'm out the door at 3pm.

Seoul Incheon International Airport is silent, and I'm the only person at the check-in counter. I ask and the flight is fully booked - gate 102 is packed. I take my seat and sleep through most of the two hour flight. I didn't sleep last night and never had a chance to rest.

Seoul Incheon Int'l Airport, Korea

Land at 7:20pm and Beijing Capital Airport looks and feels like something you'd find on the Moon. It's immense, airy, bright and incredibly modern. I fly through customs, pick up my bag and exchange some yen. It's strong, but speaking with another traveler he tells me it's a bad rate - change only enough for transportation, and change the rest at a bank.

Beijing Capital Airport, China

I switch on my cell and call my friend as I'm heading to the Airport Express. She'll meet me at Dongzhimen Station, the last stop, and she's house-sitting a 5 minute walk from there. She's waiting outside the gate when I arrive and it's so great to see her. I had been trying to recall the last time we met, but couldn't remember - a mix of memories of summers and winters in Chelsea, Ottawa and Montreal. Turns out it was a brief visit in Montreal some 3 years earlier, and years before that.

The apartment is lovely - the home of Embassy personnel on personal leave. We catch up over French Canadian music and jasmine tea, and she's pulling out a stack of books on China and Beijing when it hits me - I made it, I'm finally here.

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