CHINA FIND A WAY OUT: Stuck in the People’s Republic of China
I get off the plane in Guangzhou; my first stopover. It’s thirty-five degrees Celsius and I drag my luggage across the tarmac through a thick muggy haze. I’ve just taken a nine hour flight from Perth and I haven’t slept. I’m a quarter, maybe a third of the way to Amsterdam. The airport signs are mostly Cantonese, but I spot some English and find my way to the desk. The terminal is full and the air conditioning either doesn’t work or doesn’t exist.
The layover here is four hours and then I’m off to Beijing. I’ve always found airports have a distinct hum, but this place is different; it’s harsher – first there’s the coughing, then the sheer volume of people, all trying to be heard over the constant PA. I get my 24 hour stay permit and take a few travel photos.
It gets near boarding time, and I head to the gates, only to find out my flight’s been delayed an hour. This is normal, I think. So I wander for a while; watch the businessmen make their phone calls, and the kids play with their toys. I watch the movements of hundreds of people waiting for somewhere else to be.
I head back to the gates and arrive to an odd sight. They’re giving out food at the gates. Oh no. I look up to see the only English word: “Cancelled”. At this point, I panic. I try to pick up bits of the argument between a man and some airline staff, but I get nothing. Am I going to be stuck in a Chinese airport? I ask around for a while, and after about twenty minutes, I find somebody who can help me.
He tells me there’s congestion and the airline will put me up in a hotel and fly me out first thing in the morning. It’s now midnight and I haven’t slept for thirty hours, so I take some solace in a warm shower and a bed. I’m loaded into a bus with maybe sixty other passengers and we drive first past the airline’s own large hotel, then another five hotels, then five more, until after an hour we arrive.
When I get to reception, they tell me that the airline hasn’t booked any single rooms, so I’m to pay 140RMB for a double. I try to contact my family on Facebook and remember that it can’t be accessed in mainland China, so instead I head to bed.
The power sockets don’t work, so I hope to hell my phone doesn’t run out of batteries before the alarm can wake me in the morning. Sure enough, I wake after three hours sleep and haul myself into the shower. Of course… The water’s cold. Not only that, but the shower head falls off and hits me square on the nose.
Feeling wholly defeated, I get on the bus back to Guangzhou Airport. On the bus they serve breakfast: a boiled egg sans utensils. The Cantonese passengers crack them on window frames and eat them whole. I’m still feeling nauseous from lack of sleep so I go without.
I check my bag and board the plane to Beijing. After three hours I arrive and collect my belongings. I’ve missed my connecting flight to Amsterdam due to the cancellation, and so I go to the desk to get a new connection.
The attendant spits on the floor and rubs it in with his shoe. This isn’t impolite, it’s simply a Chinese custom which I am told is due to the build-up of polluted air in the throat. He proceeds to tell me all flights are full for the next THREE days.
At this point, I’m well over half way through my 24 hour stay permit, and I’m fully aware of it. They tell me there’s nothing they can do. I suggest a flight to Paris, or Brussels, both only a short train ride from Amsterdam, but there’s nothing. After another three hours of, uh… discussion, they realise there is ONE solution.
If I’m quick, there’s a flight leaving back to Guangzhou, and from there, after another four hour stopover, a direct flight to Amsterdam International. I beam, “Yes! Perfect!” It’ll do. And so for fourth time in two days, I go through security and customs, and board the plane. I get back to Guangzhou, have a beer, read my book, and finally, board the plane to Holland, ready for whatever’s waiting for me there.