Will we ever get home???

posted Aug 27, 2010, 8:52 AM by Charles Boling

Friday 2010-08-27

“Will we ever get home???” should be the title of the day. (ed. note: Done!) Today has been a nightmare as far as trying to navigate through the red tape between China and Taiwan. Those two countries (and the US embassy) can't agree on what things are required and what aren't.

So, today started out really early at 5:30 when Jonathan woke up with a coughing attack. Michele is convinced it's asthma and is really looking forward to getting him home to some clean air. Charles isn't totally convinced – he still thinks it might be a bronchial problem (but neither of us have gotten sick here at all).

We lounged around the hotel room, and called all three families that have our kids. They were all happy to hear from us. When we were on the phone with Michele's parents, Charles, kind of off-hand (because he really didn't think it was necessary) asked Michele's dad to call Eva airlines and just double check that it was OK for us to take Jonathan through Taiwan without any special, extra, paperwork. While he was working on that, we went out to the China Mobile store close to the hotel (less than half a mile away) to recharge Charles' sim card. But we got there and found that they didn't open for another 10 minutes. So, rather than stand in the heat, we walked back to the island, and over to the White Swan hotel to take pictures inside. It was really neat – it had a 2 ½ story waterfall and a huge pond with probably 50 or more koi in it, in the lobby. There were beautiful carvings and paintings all around too. The whole lobby was like stepping into another ecosystem.

Charles got a call from Michele's dad that told him something he didn't expect to hear. Apparently, it wasn't Taiwan's problem – it was China's (even though the American consulate assured us it was Taiwan's problem). China wouldn't let Jonathan leave the country, if he was going to Taiwan (any other country would be fine...). Eva airlines said that we should go to the airport to talk to them in person. Well, since the taxi ride to and from the airport would cost us almost $40 USD we really didn't like that option. So Charles called Helen to see what she could find out. She called back, (while we were on the way back to China Mobile) and confirmed the problem. Ugh.

So, after spending a long time at China Mobile to add more minutes to his phone, Charles went back up to the room to do some Internet (and phone) research while Michele took Jonathan down to the playroom. Jonathan got tired of the playroom after awhile so they wandered back up. Charles had Michele's dad researching changing plane tickets (to instead of flying out of Guangzhou to flying out of Hong Kong). If we just dropped the current tickets and bought new ones (though even that wasn't possible because it was a multi-legged journey and electronically connected) it would cost us dearly to change – between lost money from the first flight and having to buy new tickets and having to buy train tickets to Hong Kong and then riding from Hong Kong to the airport. Ugh.

But, as was mentioned before, Charles couldn't even do that over the phone or online – he had to do it in PERSON at the airport. So, he finally bit the bullet and paid the taxi fare to the airport to get it all straightened out. When he got there he found that China air (the airline going from Guangzhou to Taipei didn't open for another hour. So he had to bum around the airport for an hour...

In short, here is the jist of the redtape we've battled:

China says it's Taiwan's restrictions – the American Consulate agrees. Taiwan says it's China's restrictions – Eva airlines agrees.

China air, called from the US, says “can't do anything about it” and says to call Eva.

Eva (Taiwan to San Francisco) says “can't do anything about it” and says to call China.

China air's local number has been disconnected...

Eva says to change tickets requires them (China air) to physically SEE the tickets.

China air isn't there (airport) yet.

Eva doesn't have a counter at the airport.

Besides the money, the effort to get to the Hong Kong airport, with all our luggage and Jonathan is about 10 times greater (or more).

The train from Guangzhou doesn't drop you off anywhere near the airport. It drops you off in the middle of the city. After the 2 hour train ride from Guangzhou, then we have to ride the MTR (Hong Kong's rail lines) for another 45 minutes – including three interchanges where we change trains – one of which is really ugly. We also have to get some Hong Kong currency to buy tickets for the MTR. And all of that needs to drop us off at the airport at least 2, if not 3 hours before our flight (which is tomorrow and we haven't even booked it yet...)

This is ugly.

While Jonathan and Michele were waiting for Charles, Jonathan took a nap and Michele worked on the computer. Then after Jonathan woke up she tried to entertain him in the hotel room – boy is that hard! She finally resorted to watching Chinese cartoons :-/. After a mind-numbing hour of that she drifted off for a little while, got up and did some exercises and finally the phone rang! Charles was calling to let her know he wasn't going to be done at the airport any time soon.

So she packed Jonathan up and headed down to visit Judy some more. They spent the better part of an hour there – Michele even bought a few more things. Then they went back to the room to see if Charles had either come home or left a message on the computer. Neither were the case, so she walked to the White Swan to use a cash machine- Charles had taken all of it) and then headed back to Judy's to pay her for the toys. On the way she was stopped and then accompanied by a young Chinese man, who was a student at the university. He asked her lots of questions – she really got the impression he was practicing his English. After Judy's she went back to the hotel, checked again to see if there was any word from Charles. When there wasn't, she left him a note on the computer and headed into town.

She and Jonathan went toward the plaza that has become a familiar place here. It's a nice 3-mile round trip with lots to look at on the way, so she figured they would get home about bed time – perfect. She actually found quite a bit to buy there. She spent a lot of time at another 30 cent store and a women's pajama store. They made it to the plaza and were back to the room by 8:30. Evening is just the best time to be out here. There was a thunderstorm with impressive lightening bolts earlier, and when they were out at Judy's shop is was quite hot and sticky. But by evening it was still really warm, but much more bearable.

When they got home they discovered Charles had finally made it home from the airport. His tale would take many pages to tell, so we'll cover some of the “high” points. He had to order a taxi and he tried to get the driver to tell him how much it was beforehand, but he wouldn't. So when he finally got to the airport and the driver told him 117 yuan, all he had was 101 and one US dollar. So the cab driver finally accepted that combination (the exchange rate is 6.7 yuan to the dollar). Then Charles found that the ticket counter wasn't even open for that airline for another hour! Then he couldn't find the counter – five different people told him five different places – all far apart. China air ended up being, once he got to talk to them, very nice to work with. The first problem was to determine if taking Jonathan out of the country to Taiwan was really a problem or not. They kept saying “I'm sure they'd let you”. But we didn't want opinions – we wanted to know for SURE. They made lots of calls to Eva (who never returned their calls either). They were appalled at Eva's poor customer service. They eventually had to call government officials who said “yes” Jonathan would need a proper exit visa to leave for Taiwan. Ugh.

So, then Charles spent quite a lot of time and effort trying to find a way of switching our tickets so that we could depart from Guangzhou. He even tracked down, in a hotel outside of the airport, Eva airline's corporate office. They were rather surprised to see him – it is quite a “secret” location apparently. But they still wouldn't work with him. He finally gave up, utterly frustrated and annoyed at the whole situation. Adding to his frustration was that his cell phone ran out of minutes – and he was “stranded” trying to do all this with no phone.

He came back to the motel around 7:00 and had to end up booking, fresh, the tickets to Hong Kong and hopes that once we get home we can argue to get at least some of our original money back from the first set of tickets. The set of three tickets from Hong Kong to Taiwan cost over $700! If he hadn't gone to the airport and just booked them this morning, they would have been $500. Ugh.

Then he had to book the train tickets to get us to Hong Kong. He had all sorts of problems there as well. Finally he talked to Helen who told him you don't book them ahead of time – you just show up. So, cross your fingers that we actually get on the train we need! Then, with all our heavy luggage we get to transfer the MTR all over Hong Kong, then to the airport. Then we get to transfer it ourselves from the Hong Kong flight to the Taiwan flight (since they aren't connected flights any more).

So, we leave here at 9:00 a.m. Tomorrow morning for about 32 hours of travel (and thats only if everything is on time) and an extra $1000 to get home. Fun fun. Oh are we so looking forward to getting home!

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