Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Hong Kong Situation

SHANGHAI, China - Today (Thursday) I was originally supposed to venture off by myself to Hong Kong for a few hours. Initially, I had planned on visiting the Wall Street Journal Asia office, just for fun. But then I talked to a few people at work, and they all said that there wasn't really anything special to the office---that it was just a regular office. So what the heck was I going to do for the rest of the five hours or so I was going to be in Hong Kong? Certainly that isn't enough time to take in very many cool sights. Besides, no one in my family coming on this China tour with me expressed any interest in accompanying me to Hong Kong. So I would be going to an unfamiliar foreign area all alone---a rather nerve-wracking prospect for me, despite what I've been told about how "ridiculously easy" it is to get around even for foreigners.

Thus, I eventually realized that it was probably a silly idea to wake up earlier than the rest of the group just to visit an office building in Hong Kong. Only one problem, though: by the time I realized the error of my ways, the tickets had already been bought and paid for, and all the flights had been arranged. And our travel agent was telling my mother---who arranged this whole trip for all of us---that the company backing this tour, Grand Holidays, couldn't do anything about it so late in the game.

My aunt, on my mother's side, is a frequent traveler, and she told us that probably the best way to try to rearrange my flight schedule at this point was to do something like wait until the day of my early-morning flight to Hong Kong to see if there were any other seats still available either on the same evening flight the rest of my family was taking from Shanghai to Hong Kong that day (we're all eventually going to Taipei, and we have to catch a connecting flight at the Hong Kong airport at around 9:15 p.m.) or on an earlier flight. A chancy proposition at best---so we asked our tour guide for the second, post-Beijing half of our 8-day tour to see if there was anything she could do.

Things looked pretty bleak for my chances of joining the rest of my folks on that initial Shanghai-to-Hong-Kong flight. First, it seemed as if we had to go through United Airlines, which is apparently notorious for refusing requests to change flights. Then, when our tour guide tried contacting Cathay Pacific Airlines to see what they could do, they told her they couldn't do much either. No one seemed willing to help us at all; everyone was seemingly referring us to someone else. The situation got complicated, but worse, it got fairly heated. It seemed like every time I opened my mouth to saying something about a sticky situation I caused, my mother implied I was being ungrateful for her help when she said "Shut up, I'm doing the best that I can!" Even more unpleasant, however, were some of the hypotheticals. Worst-case scenario: I would have to take that early flight to Hong Kong and essentially wait around for eight or so hours at the airport before the rest of my family arrived for the connecting flight. That's a scenario I couldn't bear to face, and the thought of it made me so glum that, throughout much of yesterday morning---when we visited the Yue Fei Tomb, West Lake and Longjing Tea Plantation in Hangzhou, China---I pretty much wore the same fixed depressed expression on my face. What had I done? What trouble had I caused, and what undue strain had I put my mother---who was basically trying to clean up the mess I had made---under?

Would this be a repeat of the disastrous end of that Maine trip a couple of summers ago---when, for those who don't remember, an emotionally brutal family argument cut our trip to Acadia National Park in Maine unceremoniously short?

But things are looking up! Our tour guide got a phone call while we were in Longjing Tea Plantation (tasting some delicious organic green tea, by the way) that confirmed that I would be joining my family on that 4:30 p.m. flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong today after all (and also that it would require an extra $100 fee to be paid). I don't know what finally did it, but when my aunt told me that the change had been made, relief swarmed over me the same way that aroma from green-tea leaves eventually swarms over you.

Needless to say, I enjoyed myself immensely the rest of the day, especially when we got to Shanghai and I got a chance to bask in its Times Square-like glitz and glamour. I even got a couple of (bootleg) DVDs out of the evening (I'll probably leave it at that and not mention any specific titles here).

So hopefully there will be no more unpleasant surprises today.


I was going to upload a few more pictures from my trip up to this point, but Blogger seems to be having problems uploading my pics, at least from this particular Internet connection here in Shanghai Guangdong Hotel. I hope I'll actually have Internet access at wherever I'm staying in Taiwan (one of my relatives' houses). Let it be said for now that I have seen a lot, felt a lot, and quite possibly learned a lot. More details will come after I return home.

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