I landed in Shanghai, China at the local time of around 3 pm, well rested. I had been able to sleep on the plane for a solid 8 hours. My secret to good sleep on a plane?
- Step: Have a heck of a tough day before flying, ideally travel through the country to a city 2 hours away, spontaneously (!) , with immense time pressure and pressure of trying to not f*** up your future..literally!
- Then have a hard time getting to the airport on time (because the German train is such a reliable partner in convenient travel…not!)
- Finally, call your boyfriend and talk for an emotional hour at the gate, because you are not going to see each other for a whole three weeks, which is like an eternity…
Trust me, you will be so exhausted you can sleep for 8 hours straight on a plane in a tiny crammed seat in economy class. You’re welcome ;-P
Now, upon arrival, things started to get complicated. I went into the whole thing feeling at ease, because I had attained a VISA for China months before and the last time I traveled that had been enough. Therefore, I anticipated it to be pretty easy to get from my gate to the pick-up point, where it always gets so emotional in the movies.
Now, for my VISA I had to apply beforehand, turn a lot of paperwork in, wait and hope it would pass. When it did, I was literally convinced, that with that, I would just cross the boarder and be in China.
But it turns out I was so so wrong with that assumption.
First things first, the nice german lady on the plane, had so politely announced that one-time-only visitors (aka me!) would not need to have their fingerprints taken. Yes!
The thing was, when I walked along the lanes always following the ‘foreigners arrival’ sign, thinking about whether I was smelly after that long flight or whether I looked presentable enough, I was stopped by chinese officers saying something that sounded to me like jibberish. They mentioned me to a lot of booths that looked like those automatic playstation things that you find everywhere in Las Vegas. The only difference was that these machines weren’t colorful.
I looked at them with a puzzeled look and then just walked on. Wow. Wrong move. They went with me, just to stand in my way, talk some more jibberish and frantically mention toward the playstation things. I told them in english that I was only a one-time visitor and therefore didn’t need my fingerprints to be taken, but they seemed not to understand and continued to try to get me to those automated thingys. After a few more times explaining to them that I didn’t need to give them my fingerprints, because the lady on the plane said so, I gave up.
They didn’t seem particularly happy, or annoyed, they kept their straight faces while mentioning to me that I needed to scan in my passport. I was astounded to find out that I had to scan in all of my fingers, not just one or two!
My particularly ecstatic mood before had gone as swiftly as it had arrived after landing in China. I was now feeling slightly annoyed, when I finally reached a big hall where a lot of people were waiting in line. In front of the long line, there was a large pillar, surrounded by a kind of round table, where all the people stood who looked like they were obvioulsy not Chinese Citizens. They were skribbeling away on some tiny pieces of paper. Curious, as to what those pieces of paper were for, I came closer.
Turns out they were immigration forms, mandatory to fill out upon arrival and depature with all the details as to why you’re in China, where exactly you’re staying, how long you are staying and all the information to you as a person, like your passport number, birthdate, nationality etc.etc.
Literally every information I had to hand in already with my VISA. I started to panic a little bit on the inside, because I didn’t have certain information at hand. All I had with me was my phone, useless without internet and a bag with my Kindl and sleeping mask. Because I thought that it was more than enough to have a VISA and because I had already turned in all of the information as to why I am visiting China, where and with whom I am staying and so on…. I, as a first time solo traveler, didn’t have all that information saved and ready to access on my phone. Big mistake.
So in my panic and because the line for immigration was getting longer and longer, I quickly filled out the information I did have, took a pen from my backpack and also queued up.
Now my James-Bond-run-against-time started as I tried to log into the airport wifi and write my brother back home, asking him to open my email and send me the address of my chinese friend, where I would be staying the week. Of course, the wifi didn’t work and I had to try numerous times, my blood pressure and heart rate accelerating, until I finally managed to go online. I then realized I could write WhatsApp messages and recieve them, but I could not open photos.
My brother had been so quick to send me the information after my cry for help (thanks for that, if you’re reading!), but I couldn’t download the image, hence I couldn’t access the information. Chinese people later told me, that that was because of the chinese “firewall”. Quick thinking was key here and as I progressed in the queue of strangers and got scaringly close to the immigration officers, I let people pass me in line, because I still didn’t have all the required information.
But then suddenly, when the wifi system stopped working again, I realized that if I could get back into the wifi, I could go into my own email account and look for the information myself. I hoped and prayed that that would work and that the “firewall” wasn’t active on my email account.
It wasn’t! I cheered internally and sure enough, a few minutes later I could copy down the information on that stupid little piece of paper and now was ready to face the immigration officer.
My confidence sunk yet again, when I realized the time that had passed since I landed and thought about my friend waiting in vain at the pick-up gate. I didn’t have much time to think about that, because it was my turn to officially..hopefully, enter chinese territory.
The officer also had such an expressionless face and the ones I had encountered before at the fingerprint machines. I was asked to scan in my fingerprints again and see if they matched with the ones I had had to scan in earlier. Of course they did. Then I had to look into a camera which visibly scanned me from head to toe, not necessarily relaxing to my heartrate and certainly not helping with controlling my sweat and covering up the anxiety within me.
When the procediure was finally over and the guy mentioned me to walk on, I was beyond relieved.
Now all there was left to do was find the rest of my luggage, exchange 50 € and finally go see my friend, whom I’ve been waiting to see for the past eight years.
The part with finding my luggage wasn’t as easy as I thought either, because the signs on the luggage return didn’t show my flight. I ran up and down the big hallway with the numerous bands looking for my flight and scanned the bags circling on those bands for my backpack. Just when I started wondering if the immigration process took to long and my bag got taken away, I recongized a french couple from my flight who also looked lost. I crammed out the little french that I knew and asked them if they knew anything about our luggage. Turns out they didn’t either, but we agreed that we’d just continue to search together and if we still hadn’t found our luggage in 15min we’d stop by the ‘lost luggage’ place.
Thank god, our search ended quite quickly, when the french gentleman cought sight of his suitcase and sure enough my backpack followed suit right after theirs. What a coincidence! But boy, was I happy and relieved to find this airport adventure coming to a close. Before I stepped out to greet my long lost friend, I quickly crammed for my perfume and reapplied some to try and cover all of the smelly airport scents and sweat that the last two hours had caused. Then after a long deep breath of relief, I hieved my 15kg backpack onto my shoulders and stepped out into the arrival gate, just like in the movies. I immediately recognized my friend of now nine years and seeing that she looked just as relieved and happy as I did, I couldn’t help but smile as all of the pressure and stress fell off of me like a ton of bricks.
to be continued…