Friday, September 05, 2008

Doing the Day in Dalian

We had a very long layover in Seoul – about 6 hours – and spent it mostly sitting around waiting for it to end. Since we had no boarding pass for our flight to China, we had to find the Transfer Desk and did so near Gate 114 in the International Terminal. I decided to go and check about getting the tickets, knowing full well that we would have to come back as they always have specific check-in periods, generally about 2 hours before departure. This varies from the standard US approach of being able to check in whenever you happen to show up at the airport.

I asked the young woman who happened to have a big pink puffy thing on the back of her head, sort of like a bedroom slipper, what time we could get our pass. She asked our names and when I gave them she smiled and said, “Oh, you must be from New Mexico.” I was so stunned by that response that I made her show me the piece of paper she was holding and sure enough there were our names and our original departure gates. I’m not often rendered speechless, but I was at that moment. She told us to come back at 7:30 so we went off and got a cup of coffee to wait it out.

The gate area was pretty much empty when we arrived and they boarded us about 30 minutes before departure. I was figuring on a half-empty flight, but people kept showing up in dribs and drabs and while it was far from full, there were far more people than I would have predicted. Like the last time I did this run, it looked to me like the bulk of these travelers were Chinese from Dalian who fly over just for the Duty Free shopping. I wonder how many of them ever leave the airport.

I was getting anxious to leave when one of the gate agents came on board and asked me my name. She did the same of My Lovely Wife and seemed satisfied with our answers. She thanked us and went back out the door. Ten minutes later she came back and asked us for our passports and our boarding passes. We wondered if this had anything to do with the two gentlemen who had the other seats in My Lovely Wife’s row, a confusion that was punctuated by the guy who was not supposed to be sitting there who told them to go sit somewhere else. Even wanting to avoid a confrontation, the flight attendant took them off to other seats.

The gate agent who asked for our passports looked them over and finally came to the conclusion that everything was okay. The confusion was caused by the fact that the girl at the Transfer Desk had printed both of the boarding passes with the name of My Lovely Wife. Interesting that they even caught that at all, and I guess due to the fact that the Transfer Desk girl had been more interested in the fact that my visa was expiring in two days than bothering to print out the correct names. Ah well, no consequences and another mini-adventure.

The plane left on time and we were surprised to get a meal on such a late and short flight. Sushi and a fruit plate were not terribly attractive to either of us at that late hour, but it must have been good as the people in my row ate everything but the box. I drank my warm Coke and read The New Yorker.

The plane landed, we rode the bus to the terminal, made it through immigration (the agent there caring far less about my expiring visa) retrieved the luggage and met our handlers from the relocation company. A quick drive into town followed by check-in and then off to bed, the weight of 29 hours of traveling finally took its toll.

We got out of bed, had a nice breakfast in the penthouse and met our relocation contact in the lobby. The goal for today was a drive around town to show us the wonders of living in Dalian. I don’t have a lot to offer since I have covered most of these places at one time or another in previous blogs. This being My Lovely Wife’s first trip though, it was fun to discuss all the regular stuff with someone having fresh eyes.

A few little things of note like the Chinese woman who about spit out her coffee in Starbucks when I greeted the barista in her native tongue and the Spicy Shrimp flavored Pringles at the Metro store where I attempted to get a membership card but failed since they had none to give - the impending Moon Festival had caused a rush on memberships. Those and the nice lunch we had in Kai Fa Qu where we were greeted by Sabrina, the new manager of the restaurant who told us that we looked like we belonged together. The tape loop in Sabrina's restaurant was a riot - The Carpenters, The Eagles, Elvis, Puff the Magic Dragon, Blowing in the Wind and Save the Last Waltz for Me (an old favorite of my Mom's) made the lunchtime atmosphere a bit on the nostalgic-odd side. A trip to the bank to open a local account for me was very entertaining between the requirement that I sign the forms with a signature that could actually be read to the interesting discussion we had about the proper order of western names (given-middle-surname vs. the Chinese method of surname-given) to the other requirement that I use my middle name as it appeared on my passport. How I will use this account is still confusing to me, and the offer of the bank to call me when transfers are posted was very perplexing.


We covered all the sights and made it back to the hotel after a nice long commute in rush hour traffic. The GPS I mentioned in my last blog about shopping in Shanghai provided some in-car entertainment to me. While I've been here many times it was interesting to see our progress on an actual map. Dinner was skipped due to the giant lunch Sabrina had sold us and we closed the day with a walk down to the market for a short visit to the underground shopping city and a little friendly haggling (in my perfect Chinese) with a street vendor over some souvenirs. On the walk home we stopped to look in the window of a local restaurant where four women in Red Army uniforms were doing a cabaret act composed of what appeared to be patriotic military songs. They were waving flags and marching in place and singing quite loudly. Given the location, I don't think it was genuinely military, instead more like dinner theater. What was funnier though was the attention we drew from the diners who turned their attention away from the show to point and giggle at us, standing out in the street. I waved at them and they laughed and waved back. A second time for me in this spot, the last being in April when a family at Sunday dinner also laughed at me when I went by in the pouring rain. Westerners are not uncommon, but they're still worth looking at and worth a chuckle apparently. And judging from the number of gawking women I saw tonight, a 6 foot blonde western woman is doubly interesting.

For me, just another day in the Middle Kingdom, for My Lovely Wife, an actual exposure to how I spend my time on this side of the world.

No comments: