Olivia’s Adoption Diary

Saturday March 11, 2006

Yawns from a very wet Hangzhou.

  • Hangzhou at night.
  • Mark is very pleased to be off the plane.
  • The Chinese lead the world in toilet technology.

After a pleasantly unpainful remainder of our flight to Beijing (Continental: you are one more reasonably comfortable 12 hour flight away from climbing out of the basement of my personal airline rankings!) we transferred planes for the last leg of our journey for the day(s?) to Hangzhou. On the way, Dorothy decided to tell me that Hangzhou was a very popular tourist destination inside of China and was one of the more expensive cities one could visit inside the PRC replete with plenty of high end shopping. Needless to say my wallet just involuntarily constricted. I have already started hiding yuan in my shoes and underwear. Please don’t tell my wife.

Also, apparently, the United States Department of Homeland Security is not the only governmental institution on earth that finds Dorothy to fit the profile of possible terrorist mastermind. The good folks here in China also decided to rifle through her bag at the security checkpoint in Beijing as we tried to get to our Hangzhou flight. I never though in a million years that Dorothy would be the one in our marriage to draw the uninvited scrutiny of the authorities. Apparently, my long hair, three day old beard stubble and backpack full of electronic equipment does not throw up any red flags during screening but my beautiful wife’s 6 oz. bottle of water is cause for an international incident.

One thing I noticed in Beijing is that we did not meet a single Chinese person who did not speak English. Not a one. From waitresses to currency exchangers to security personnel, there was no language barrier to speak of (no pun intended). My guess? In preparation for the 2008 Olympics, Beijing is in full internationalization mode. Granted, the segment of the population we were dealing with (airport employees) is not indicative of the public at large but I know that China has a lot invested in putting their best foot forward in 2008 and they are working hard to make sure they are seen as a thoroughly modern country.

Don’t worry. I’ve got a million of these harebrained theories about China. All of which I will try to share with you over the course of the next two weeks. For example, the Chinese have a perfectly charming habit of handing you everything with 2 hands. It is considered unrefined to pass something to — or accept something from — another person using only one hand. On our first trip over I noticed this and thought it was a really cool way to interact with other people. I’m nor really sure why but you really seem to be engaged with someone when all four of your hands are involved in the same transaction. I make every effort to perform this ritual when I am in China but so far I have noticed that the prevalence of this practice seems to have dropped off. I would say about 50% of the transactions I have had thus far have been, sadly, one handed. Is this because China is becoming more open to outside influences and some old traditions are falling by the wayside? Is it simply because I am a westerner and as they become more familiar with foreigners, the Chinese realize we are not privy to the Chinese way and do not expect us to act as they do? Whatever the answer is, I have neither the brain power not the resources to find out the answer. But at least you see what I mean about my idiotic theories.

Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad airport.

Our flight to Hangzhou was delayed a few hours in Beijing. The weather at our destination was not cooperating apparently. Judging by what happened after they announced this over the loudspeaker, this was not what our fellow travelers wanted to hear.

There was a young lady manning the gate who pleasantly informed Dorothy that we would be stuck here in Beijing for a little while as the flight was experiencing a weather delay when Dorothy went over to ask her if the flight was on time. A few minutes later, the woman made the fateful announcement to the rest of the passengers and complete pandemonium ensued. Before she could even finish her explanation, a large contingent of passengers, led by a seriously irate woman, rushed the check-in desk and started screaming at this woman. Seriously, you would have though she just told us we were going to have to walk to Hangzhou. The screaming went on for quite some time with a few men joining in the verbal assault. They even went behind the desk to get right up in this poor girl’s face to more effectively communicate their displeasure. Security soon arrived on the scene and — I am not making this up — stood there and watched this woman continue to be harangued by these incensed passengers. In fact the only difference between before security arrived on the scene and after, was that now there ware uniformed security men in the crowd surrounding the lone airline employee.

Now, I know that the conventional wisdom says that the Chinese people are supposed to be spiritless, crushed under the oppressive weight of a totalitarian society, but these folks must have been absent from class on the day they told everyone that because they were not in the least bit impressed by authority figures of any kind.

The whole affair finally ended a few minutes later after the girl managed to scream out the new gate number for our flight and everyone just stopped what they were doing, picked up their bags and walked to the new gate. At least I’m guessing that’s what happened because all of this was conducted in Chinese (obviously) and one minute Dorothy and I were standing in a crowd of very unhappy people and the next we were totally alone. I meekly approached the desk to ask the woman what she just said and she smiled sweetly and gave me the new gate number. She looked fine, not in the least bit upset, as if she hadn’t just spent the last 10 minutes being screamed at by a whole crowd of people.

Its gonna take me a looooong time before I can start to understand the Chinese people.

Anyway, we eventually made it to our gate where soon enough everyone was herded onto a shuttle bus that would take us out on the runway to our flight. Do you know what route the bus took to the runway? Why the most direct of course; the runway itself! We were literally a few feet from planes flying down the runway. I could have reached out our window and touched them. If a team of personal liability lawyers from the U.S. ever came here and managed to crack the Chinese tort system they could make billions.

Finally Dorothy and I had a stroke of luck (at least I thought it was good luck at the time) to be first off the bus, directly at the foot of the stairs of the plane. Once the doors opened, Dorothy and I stepped off the plane and found ourselves in Complete Pandemonium, Part II. If the city of Beijing was about to explode and we were boarding the last flight out of the city that could fly us to safety, it could not have been any less frantic than the mad rush our fellow passengers made for the plane. Dorothy, at one point — as we were caught up in the rushing tide of humanity, tried to step aside to let an elderly woman up the stairs in front of her and received a ton of angry and perplexed looks from the people around us. “You can’t help her now” I told Dorothy “its everybody for themselves,” as we forced our way up the remaining stairs and into our seats.

I think we were sitting for about 10 seconds before I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until we were making our final decent into Hangzhou. The stewardesses were really nice to us during the flight however (from what I was conscious enough to remember) repeating all of the announcements in English, which had to be for our benefit since we were the only non-Chinese on the flight. I also woke up at one point as one of the stewardesses was gently placing a blanket over me. The Chinese confuse the hell out of me sometimes. They go from hell-on-wheels to nice-as-pie in well under 6 seconds. I’m sure we are no easier for them to understand so it probably all evens out in the end.

We got off the plane (“I’m just going to grab the bags and go” I told Dorothy. “I’ll meet you on the other side. Good luck.”), claimed our bags and had the absolute most sensible car ride either of us has ever had in China. Reasonable speed was maintained at all times, we only cut off 2 other cars and I can count on 2 hands and a foot the number of times the driver used the horn. Practically a drive in the park.

We got to the tastefully appointed Lakeview hotel and checked into our “lake view” room, which, I guess if you consider the puddle on the roof of the neighboring building, did in fact have a view of the lake. Unfortunately, our room has no internet access which both explains why these first few entries were a little late in being posted and why we will be changing rooms tomorrow.

We are both exhausted after our 26 straight hours of travel and are eager to hit the sack, which we will try not to do too hard as the level of firmness on our mattress is “concrete slab” I believe.

Tomorrow is a day with nothing to do, other than trying to reach some type of economic equilibrium with my darling wife as we tour and shop in the city of Hangzhou. As we get closer to Monday and our first meeting with Olivia I am sure we will start to get more and more nervous and excited.

Well that’s it for now. I hear a rock hard bed calling my name…

Holla from Hangzhou…