Lost Luggage

Today I’d like to share with you a story about some of my recent travel adventures. As you might guess, my adventures have something to do with luggage. How many of you have travelled internationally recently?

Men have it easy. You can pack deodorant, a pair of pants, a t-shirt, and 7 pair of underwear into an overnight case for a week-long trip. You know that your hotel will have shampoo and soap and a comb. Not so with we women. Before the heavy duty restrictions on luggage, I used to travel with 3 suitcases: one for clothes, one for shoes, and one for toiletries (make up). Hah! Not any more. Now, I’ve had to learn to cram clothes, shoes, and make up into one small carry-on. I usually write out a list of everything I think I’m going to need on my trip, cut that in half, color coordinate my outfits, and select shoes and cosmetics that do double-duty.

For Chinese New Year, I planned a trip to Sri Lanka (a tiny island close to India). I knew it would be HOT and that I’d be changing hotels often, so I carefully packed summer clothes (shorts, t-shirts, sandals, swimsuit) and managed to fit everything, including my laptop, into a carry-on. Once in Sri Lanka, I started shopping. The gems and batik were easy to fit in my suitcase. The giant carved wooden masks, not so much. So, I purchased a duffle bag at the Kandy market and filled it up with exotic souvenirs. Two weeks later, I once again carefully packed most of my personal items into the carry-on and the masks, the laptop, and a few items of clothing into the duffle bag. Now, if you’ve never been to Sri Lanka, let me tell you, there is a lot of crime there. But, I was at an airport with armed guards everywhere, flying Srilankan airlines so I thought my luggage was safe. Think again. As I checked my one suitcase in, I had a strange feeling. Little did I know, watching my suitcase on the conveyer belt it was the last time I would see it.

My return flight stopped in Singapore where I changed planes to China Air. As I was checking in, something made me ask about my luggage; China Airlines could not find it on their system. It had disappeared. “It can’t really be gone”, I thought, “I just saw it a few hours ago.” China Airlines assured me they would do everything they could to find it. Now, 2 months, many, many phone calls and emails later, my luggage still has not been found. Apparently it grew legs and walked out of the Srilankan airlines cargo hold. The moral of this story? Do not check luggage if you can possibly help it, especially on an outbound flight from Sri Lanka!

Shanghai

If you think that my luggage adventures ended there, you’d be wrong. On a recent trip back to the US on China Eastern airlines, I had a 14-hour layover in Shanghai and the airline was paying for my hotel. Sounds like fun, right? It was, right up until it was time to leave to go back to the airport. My 2 bags (I guess I didn’t learn my lesson) were loaded into the very back of the hotel van. The driver got in and we headed to Pudong Airport. photo I was the only passenger that morning. The driver stopped by the China Eastern departures area and I went to get a cart for my luggage. And then it happened…the driver took off – with my luggage still in the back of the van!! I stood in disbelief and then thought “It can’t really be gone.” So, I was in a foreign country, at the airport with no luggage, and my flight was departing in 1.5 hours. It took me 10 minutes to find the right airline representative to explain my story to. Another 30 minutes for them to figure out the Chinese name and phone number of the OgOd hotel. (I knew the EN name, and the name of the street, but not the Chinese characters.) Finally, the airline representative called the hotel, and was put on hold. In the meantime, the airline was insisting that I check-in and board the plane. I checked-in (it’s easy with no luggage) but insisted I would not be leaving Shanghai without my luggage! Now what? Finally, the hotel talked with the airline rep but said they didn’t know when they could get the luggage back out to the airport. I asked the airline rep, as calmly as I could, to tell the hotel that I would go find a policeman and tell him that my luggage had been stolen. Within 15 minutes, my luggage was delivered to the airport and the airline had me RUN though the entire airport (it’s BIG) to my boarding gate. By some miracle, I made my flight! The moral of this story? Keep an eye on your luggage at all times, and do not check luggage if you can possibly help it.

Arriving in Nanjing on a full moon

My work arranged for me to fly to Nanjing to spend a week working my product development group. Our travel agent is a gem; you tell her your preferences and things magically happen. I was booked on China Eastern Airlines, which I’ve never flow before (apparently it’s a lower-cost option to China Airlines, which I enjoy flying). My driver showed up on time; we made it to Taoyuan Airport in less than an hour. The check-in was uneventful; my one bag (filled with clothes for the week and goodies from Taiwan for my Chinese co-workers) weighed 18.4k – amazing, no? (Guess I’ve learned to pack!) I found out my flight was delayed – oh well. I wasn’t sure who to contact in Nanjing (The travel agent had arranged a driver on that end for me as well); I hoped they would check the flight status.

At TPE airport, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Getting through immigration was a breeze. Then,  at customs (security) they spent a lot of time looking at my purse (I worried that they would take away my tuna sandwich and guava slices, but they didn’t) and then they pawed, literally through my entire purse, paying special attention to my umbrella and my wallet. Not sure why…NOTE: I was the only obvious foreigner in line. on the way to the departure gate, I exchanged NTD for RMB. It’s strange trying to keep up with how much everything costs. I am always trying to convert the foreign currency into USD to figure out if something is a good price or not.

Once in the empty waiting area (where is everyone?), I ate my snack and played a game online. Finally, we got onboard. As usual everyone was very orderly getting on board, and we were off! We flew on a A321 which was comfortable but I have say I could not eat the food we were served. I’m not sure if no vegetarian meal was ordered or available but we were served beef noodles, a white roll in plastic, something that looked like a catsup packet but felt more like bean sprouts, some dessicated fava beans, and a half a canned peach. The crew had no clue what I was asking for when I said wo bu cher rou (I don’t eat meat.). In the food department, CI has it all over China Eastern! In flight, there were no magazines in English.

When I got off the plane at Nanjing’s Lukou airport, I waited in line for customs, and when I finally got to the front,  I was told I needed to fill out an Arrival Card (usually this is done in-flight, but not here). After that, it was smooth sailing. I got my bag, found my driver (he had water waiting for me), and headed to the Jinling hotel.

On the drive, I tried to get some sense of Nanjing but at night, even with a full moon, it was difficult. One thing was for certain: the air quality really is BAD (when you can see the smog at night, you know you’re in for some difficult times breathing).

Welcome to Nanjing!

Nanjing traffic is very orderly, the faster cars honking at the slower ones to get out of the way. Tall trees lined the median and side of the freeway. I could see really tall buildings, all along the freeway, outlined with bright lights (apartment buildings?). Once we got off the freeway, we could have been in downtown LA, except for the signs in Chinese. Everything is modern, clean, brightly lit and I noticed a few familiar signs: Howdy CVS, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, and Cafe 85 (from Taipei).

The Jinling (named after the ancient term for Nanjing/Nanking) is a gorgeous building, the best hotel in town. I was graciously checked in and taken up to my room so that porter could show me how everything worked. The view at  night from my room is pretty amazing. I couldn’t hear the traffic but the lights are gorgeous!

I was able to figure out how to get online (many, many sites are blocked here in China). WordPress being one of them. I checked out the mini-bar – outrageous prices on Coke (3.00) and the  nuts were 6.00! Okay I broke down and had the nuts – they were packaged so cutely and after missing dinner, I was hungry.

Tomorrow I will attempt to make my way into the office (they say to take a taxi but i’m feeling brave….)

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As for me, I will take the road less travelled…