My final few hours in China could not have been more hectic. It began when I was checking out of the hotel, and realized I was missing my ATM card. Immediately I realized I had left it in an ATM the day before – in China, the machines take your card completely inside, and only return them when your transaction is finished. In my rush the day before, I had not clicked “finish,” and so my card was completely safe… inside the ATM. Since I would not be able to withdraw money in Korea, I began to panic, only I didn’t have time to sort it out, because I was running to a meeting on the other side of town. Here is how the rest of my day transpired.
Take subway to meeting… I was so proud of myself for navigating the Beijing subway so well. I I treated myself to a Starbucks black tea latte to calm my nerves from the ATM incident.
Arrive late to my meeting after getting turned around after coming above ground. A very nice woman took pity on my and drew me a map. I think I have had more maps drawn for me in the past 2 weeks be helpful Chinese people than I have in all my years leading up to now.
A colleague from my meeting hopped in a cab with me to the offending ATM machine, called the bank, and tried to track down my card. Then I realized my card was in my maiden name, but my passport is in my married name, so even if I could get it out, I would have to fight to prove it was me (but really, how many Rachels with Chase ATM cards could have lost their card in the machine in the last 24 hours?) The bank said they could send someone sometime between 1 and 2. I said forget it, because…
I had another meeting with a different set of colleagues at another school! As soon as the cab deposited me at the school, my colleagues whisked me away in a rented van, gave me a stuffed panda and other gifts, and proceeded to treat me to ANOTHER meal of Peking Duck (I politely did not mention that I had already tasted it.) They pulled out all the stops; it seems Michelle Obama herself had just dined at this restaurant, so they demanded the FLOTUS meal, complete with goose liver-stuffed dates and a delicious black sesame seed soup dessert.
My colleagues gave their driver to me for the afternoon, so he zoomed me back to my hotel, where I quickly Skyped Chase to have them cancel the card, grabbed my stuff, and hopped back in the van to go to the airport.
Arrive at the airport; discover that my baggage is woefully overweight with all the work stuff I have in it. Had to purchase a ridiculously expensive cheaply-made duffel and repack, and then pay an exorbitant fee to get everything through.
Go to security
Still waiting at Security
Finally get through security and take the air train to the gate.
At this point, my whole day had been such a hassle, I was ready to say “Forget Seoul, put me on a flight back home.” But instead of looking at my day as series of frustrations and failures, I will try to frame it in terms of lessons learned.
- Remove your bankcard from the ATM machine – simple but deceptively easy to forget
- Do not trust the Chinese postal service with anything you hope to see again – the other frustration I haven’t yet mentioned is that I had shipped myself 2 boxes of work stuff from Shanghai, and only 1 of them arrived. So someone, somewhere in China has a whole box of nice, college-branded gifts and brochures. I hope they like them. It’s just as well – I could not have fit them in my luggage anyway.
- One-way Beijing subway cards only work on the day they are bought – Alyssa and I had 2 extra subway cards left over from Tuesday, so I thought to use them on Wednesday for my meetings. Silly me, thinking that perfectly good cards would work the following day. Ah well – I can live with the loss of RMB2 (about 35 cents)
- Always travel with an extra fold-up duffel bag , in case a suitcase is over-weight. I normally do – I don’t know why I didn’t this time.
- TRAVEL. LIGHT! I normally do when I’m traveling for fun, but I schlepped so much work stuff around China, not to mention these 2 enormous folding fans I thought it would be a good idea to buy in Yangshuo. I know I looked ridiculous in the airport, the worst kind of tourist. Never. Again. (Of course I say that to myself every trip. But I really mean it now)
Still, no matter how philosophical I tried to be about all this, I would definitely say this day was a low point in my trip. My luck began to turn though, as soon as I got on my Asiana flight to Seoul. Friends, let me advise you: fly Asiana whenever you can. It was one of the nicest planes I’ve ever been on – even for a 2-hour flight, we had individual screens and a nice movie selection. They served us dinner (on a 2-hour flight!) and free beer, and the flight attendants were gracious and impeccable.
Then I landed in Seoul, and my phone went ping-ping-ping-ping-ping-ping – 3G service again! The internet was lightening fast; emails and texts came whooshing to my phone. The customs and luggage at the airport were a breeze, and before I knew it I was zipping along in a cab to Seoul with a brilliant cab driver who spoke great English. I told him my sob story from the day, in particular my worries about not having cash. He offered to charge me $200 for the $65 cab ride, and give me the $135 in change. No service fees, no foreign transaction fees, and I would have cash! I really hit the jackpot with Driver Lee. It was good I hadn’t thrown in the towel back in Beijing… Korea was looking up.