OMG... today... What a hellish adventure.
From now on, when I decide to do something like this, please just talk me out of it and make sure I stay home. This is way too stressful on me. Beijing was an experience.
It was one of the biggest airport I've ever seen. I was actually going to say that I've been to Heathrow Airport, but then I decided to look the airports up in regards to size and Beijing comes in 2nd for the amount of people passing through, with Heathrow a close third. Anyway- back to Beijing. Huge city / Huge airport. When we got there, there was Free Wifi advertised all over the place, which made me happy - but for some reason, I could NOT access any of my apps on either my phone or computer. Believe me, I tried everything, Finally I just had to accept that nothing works for me, and put all my devices aside and concentrate on the delicious Chicken Quesadilla that I'd ordered. Don't judge. There were Thai, Chinese, Japanese... etc etc... restaurants all over the airport - but I decided that I would be inundated with foreign food soon enough and decided to just keep North American real for a smidge bit longer. Plus, the memory of airplane shrimp was still playing with both my mind and my stomach. I have to admit that the entire time I was in Beijing Airport, I was exhausted. I decided to find my departure gate, lie down and sleep until boarding was called. First though - I stopped at the small 'lost & found' booth to see if the girl working there could possibly assist with my connection problem. All she could say was "China no Facebook." Then suddenly I clued in... and that meant...
China no Pinterest.China no Snapchat.China no WhatsApp.China no Gmail.China no Google.China no Blogger.
Welcome to a Communist country, Joanna...
Beijing blocks access to thousands of websites at any given time. Censor also prohibit Internet users from visiting many sites that criticize the Communist Party or address sensitive issues such as human rights.
It's really fascinating and it doesn't stop there. I know a lot of people that would be completely lost in China... and I turned out to be one of them. Don't be too disillusioned though, China does have Yahoo... but ONLY if you don't want to visit a controversial site. I managed to get a message through on Skype, but only one. It was 5:30pm when I decided to have my little nap before the flight to HCMC (scheduled for 20:20.). That's almost 3 hours. I had to be WOKEN up by a sweet little Vietnamese girl or I would have missed my flight!!! That is how tired I was. AND I was sleeping on a bench, with my head on my small backpack, while clutching my purse... not exactly cozy and comfortable! Imagine if I'd missed my flight?
Note to self... alarm. The worst was yet to come though... I was saddled with yet another window seat... and ended up dozing in and out of consciousness most of the time, but that didn't stop my leg nerves from acting up and causing quite a lot of pain. FINALLY arrival in HCMC. We landed about 12:45, which made me happy because I had told my hotel that I would be landing closer to 1. Airport shuttle was on its way.
"Time to spare"... famous last thought...
After we disembarked, we all made our way down the usual long corridors and in to a large room with a million lineups, all of which said All Passports above them. Of course, I chose the longest and the slowest moving line, so as not break with tradition. When I finally mad my way up to the customs officer and he indicated that I needed to go 'over there'...
Now please believe me when I say that there is a lot of 'over there' to be had right at that moment and that the slight sway of the hand could be in reference to just about anywhere. Lots of different lineups... lots more counters... So from here, I decided to stand in another equally long & slow moving line up, in what I might consider the 'over there' section and this time, the sign hanging above the desk says Aseans... which maybe means me? I don't know.
Turns out... it doesn't mean me.
I get shooed away again... but this time I actually see that I need to go to the area for Landing Visas.
Nightmare. Hardly anyone is working. The place is filled with foreigners, just sitting there and waiting to be called forward to be told they can enter the country. I approached a group of people and pleaded my ignorance as to what was going on and they kindly directed me to a bunch of paperwork that I had to fill out... and then I waited...
Finally the customs officials approached me and wanted a passport photo of me. This was something I didn't have... but I had already applied for, received and paid for the VISA to get in to the country and I thought that was enough. Nope.
One of the officers came out from behind the desk and took a quick picture of me against a stark white wall and said "$5 you pay now." Well... I didn't have $5... 4 million dong yes... but $5 no. He then proceeded to lead me out of the Landing Visa area and point downstairs, outside of the airport doors at the Currency Exchange booths. "
I had to exit????
I asked for my passport back and he said "No. I keep. You go."
So go I did... down the stairs, out of the airport, on to the street, right to the currency exchange... and then turned around and came right back in with the Vietnamese equivalency of $5. Stressed to the max. No luggage... no passport... tired... confused... on the verge of tears...
Before heading up to the Landing Visa area again though, I decided to first put myself out of a little bit of misery and grab my luggage, which was left sitting on the floor all alone due to the amount of time I had already spent trying to get in to the country. I could just imagine the Hotel Taxi guys frustration waiting for me outside... if he was even still there. Now, don't get me wrong. I completely understand how different countries have their own unique way of doing things... and often demonstrate slow, difficult, incomprehensible and drawn out procedures that seem to serve no purpose except to confuse and irritate us all greatly. But this was nerve racking. My attempt at patience was faltering and the more I saw people come and go, while I sat there waiting, the more crazy I got. I was finally convinced that they had lost my passport or given it away to someone else. Then the one officer caught my eye and came out to talk to me.
"Give me passport you."
"You have my passport!"
"No I give."
"No! You keep!"
He went back in to the office and obviously found it lying on the desk somewhere, because it brought on a whole round of laughter from everyone in the office! Oh ha ha ha ha ha... except that I wasn't laughing at all. I was pissed. They knew it too. Way to impress the Vietnamese customs patrol on the first day or way to impress me??? Then I had to pay even more money. 70,000 dong to get it back, along with the money I had originally paid to get my entrance visa and the 10,000 I paid him for the photo. By the time I had my passport stamped, poked, prodded and probably fiddled with, it was 2:48am and I was walking out of HCMC Airport... and there he was.... my life saver... patiently waiting to take me to my hotel. I've never been so happy to see my full name on a sign before. Welcome to Vietnam!