Flying to China was an experience.
Not only was I a bit stressed to begin with due to having everything booked beforehand for the tourist visa to china, but also because I was trying to downsize what I had.
I managed to get everything I owned to 27.2 kg. This may seem heavy, and I am not saying it isn’t, but to be fair, basically my whole life is in my check in and carry on plus 2 seasons of clothes as I knew it would be winter in China, but my “Summer” in Hong Kong and the Philippines (my next destinations).
So, I couldn’t get rid of too much stuff as Beijing will be super cold and I need those bulky winter clothes.
So I’ll be able to shed that extra weight when heading to the Philippines.
Anyhow. I flew with S7, a Russian company. Which, I was receiving negative opinions, not on the company itself, but that it was Russian. However, it is part of One World Alliance, which is partners with some major western companies so it should be pretty up to code.
Which it was! But more on this later.
My ticket told me to go to the airport 3 hours ahead, well, knowing Prague (where I was flying out of), the security is quite quick, but due to having a checked bag, my friend and I decided it was better to show up a little over 2 hours ahead.
However, the check in counter didn’t open till 2 hours before my flight, which was funny.
At the check in counter, I was amongst a bunch of Russians due to a layover in Novosibirsk , Russia’s third largest city (it’s pretty middle to the East geographically).
The woman was unsure of my situation.
“Do you have a visa (for China)?”
I showed her. She continued to speak in Czech with her colleague, typing furiously on the computer.
“How long with you be in Russia?”
“Just for the layover, like 2 hours.”
“I don’t think you need a visa….”
“I’m not leaving the airport.” I did start freaking out a little bit, but she kept typing and scratching her head.
Finally, from my understanding without knowing Czech. Her one colleague and boss along with whatever the computer said, decided that I didn’t need a visa as I’ll have a transfer visa (like I’m allowed to stay in the airport due to having another flight).
Then there was still discussions when she gave me back my passport.
“Am I allowed to go, all set?”
The woman and her boss looked at me with a gaze that I interrupted as we hope we are right and sent me off.
Next was passport control as I was leaving Schengen zone/Europe.
I think the woman was training as she had someone looking over her shoulder.
She scanned my passport and had this look that I interrupted as what the hell and pointed at the screen to the guy. He also gave a similar look.
They searched my passport for my Czech visa and shrugged off whatever it said and stamped me through. The woman even gave me a smile, which is a bit rare for Czechs to strangers.
For boarding…..I was a bit confused because my ticket said gate closes at 9.35 and at 9.35 they announced last call.
Well to me, last call means in 2 minutes they are closing, like the majority of people are already on board. I freaked out like I totally missed it.
However, that was just the signal to start boarding.
Finally, my first flight was awesome! It was comfortable and we got plenty of drinks and a hot lunch. The drinks were only water, juices, tea, or coffee, but it was good.
It was also interesting that I left Prague at 10 am and landed in Russia at 10 pm their time. So I got to see all phases of the sun basically in 5-6 hours.
Upon arriving in Russia, I followed the transfer signs and we had to wait there for 20 minutes or so until one guard let us in to check our tickets and passport.
They stamped my transfer visa on my ticket.
There were 2 men from Korea I think ahead of me and the control guy asked them a question in Russian. I think he was saying if they spoke Russian because I heard Rusky, which is Russian in the Slavic language. (This is also funny because my last night in Prague, I was hanging with my Czech friend and her grandmother and I was learning more nationalities and countries in Czech/Slavic).
The Korean man just stood there helpless. Which was annoying to me. Just tell him you don’t understand.
I couldn’t help myself and blurted. Do you speak Russian or English.
“English.” He looked at me with such helplessness, maybe he was tired as well.
I then gestured to the man, the control guy said something to me in Russian as he thought I spoke it.
“Just tell him to speak English.” The Korean guy jolted like he finally realized and then it went smoothly.
However, we had to wait in a hallway to get to our departure gates because the next door was locked.
So the guard had to go through everyone before opening the next door into the waiting hall. I don’t understand why that door was locked especially since we were got checked, but I was on time for my next flight.
I still had some Russians on my second flight, but it was definitely ruled by Chinese. The huge line was a bit chaotic and there was lack of personal space and a bit of an “Chinese-first” attitude, but I didn’t really pay attention to it at that time as it was late at night and I figured everyone just wanted to get going. However, in hindsight, that was my first experience with Chinese culture.
I ended up sitting with an empty seat in the middle with a Russian on the aisle. We got dinner and the drinks again. I asked her questions on the immigration card we had to fill out as she works in China so had to do it many times. It wasn’t that difficult, but because it was China, I wanted to make sure I was doing it right.
I landed at 5:10 am Beijing time. By the time I got through Passport Control and then collected my bag it was 7:30 (my bag was one of the first ones out so it was the Passport Control that took the longest). A friend of mine, F, was meeting me and there is no free Wifi at the Beijing Airport. There is, but I needed to have a Chinese phone number to receive a text message with the code or I needed to go to the information desk in the departure area. So, I was a bit concerned about him waiting so long- I don’t like people waiting for me especially when it takes longer than originally planned.
If I am being honest, I think I went into China with an expectation that I would be alright- in the sense of culture shock. I have been to Asia before, granted when I was younger, and I just spent over a year in Europe, plus all my time in South America. I also didn’t think China would be so modern in its cities than it actually wise. It was this weird balance between modern skyscrapers with chaotic old streets filled with street vendors, etc. However, as much as it was modern on the outside, it was my impression that within society, the culture that usually comes from modern cities such as the ability for different cultures and languages to live together, was lacking and there was no desire to meet the rise in tourism.
However, all this didn’t hit me until much later into my time in China.
Please see my next post on my time in Beijing.