Several weeks ago, when I started planning this Asia trip, I faced only one real logistical decision -- how to get home from Guangzhou.  Sure, I had to choose several other flights and hotels, but in most cases they were a given based on the launch event dates and locations.  For the return, though, several options existed:

  • Fly from Guangzhou to another city (such as Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo) to catch a non-stop back to Chicago.
  • Fly nonstop from Guangzhou to Los Angeles on China Southern, the only airline flying to the US from there; connect to AA/UA to Chicago.
  • Take the Kowloon-Canton Railway (KCR) to Hong Kong and fly from there.
So I seriously thought about the train.  But the train had two major downsides -- 1) I would have to schlep all my stuff onboard the train, and 2) there's no direct connection between the KCR and the Airport Express train in Hong Kong.  That would mean a train to a taxi to another train (a taxi to Chek Lap Kok airport from KCR would be way too expensive).  So, in the end, I decided I could handle a 40 minute flight on China Southern that would take me direct into HKG airside, rather than deal with the train logistics (and Hong Kong immigration).  It seems to have worked out fine -- pretty-time consuming, but the train would have been, too.  The flight itself was fine -- it was kind of uncomfortable that all the white people on the flight were in the (small) business class upfront, especially since being in business class meant cutting to the front of the queue to board etc.  I didn't choose to be in business class -- just that it was only US$30 for that segment, so the travel agent booked it.  And now I can say I've flown China Southern.
What I nearly didn't survive was Guangzhou's Bai Yun airport.  Remember when I first arrived in China, and I mentioned that I had US$75 worth of Malaysian Ringgit that I couldn't get anyone to change?  Well, thankfully I also had US$20, which I changed no problem.  I didn't spend much -- the museum visit, a Diet Coke from the 7-11 -- so I had most of it left this morning.  The taxi to Bai Yun cost only RMB18 (US$2.25 or so), so I figured I had dodged a bullet on the currency issue without too much hassle.  I even generously (ha!) let the taxi driver keep the change.
Bai Yun is an old, run-down airport on its last legs -- literally.  In about three weeks, they will open a new Bai Yun airport outside of town.  It looks to me to be none too soon -- the city is built up all around the old one, with multi-storey apartment flats being spitting distance from the taxiway (literally! I've never seen anything like it; I have one photo I'll post soon).  
I was a bit disoriented upon entering the international terminal this morning.  The check-in desks are not visible from the main hall; you have to go through a small doorway to reach them.  While looking around to find that entry point, someone gestured me over to the "baggage security" station, where plastic sealing strips were fastened around my suitcase.  Only after this was done did I realize there was a fee -- RMB15, no big deal; only later yet did I realize it was optional and I had just been swindled.  Grrr.  I have been in airports where it's not optional -- a couple of times in India -- so I had considered the same here, and I was wrong.  Oh well.
Then panic set in.  Next to the entry to the check-in area was a desk labelled "Airport departure fee."  It's so rare to encounter an airport departure tax anymore -- in most cases now, it gets built right into the flight's ticket fee.  Not here.  RMB90 to get outta dodge.  Uh oh.  I slowly opened my wallet to see what was left. RMB1, RMB2,... RMB100.  Phew!  Just enough.  That could have been a very ugly situation, especially since I had noticed that the one ATM at the airport still said "Out of service", as it did on Thursday when I arrived (even if it accepted a US card network).  I don't really know what I would have done.  I sure was thankful that I decided not to try to go out anywhere last night; taxis to and from shopping or a restaurant or whatever would have stranded me.
On my stopover in Hong Kong, I tried again to change out that Malaysian Ringgit.  No dice there, either.  I hope that the currency exchange at O'Hare accepts it; otherwise, I'm not real sure what to do with it...
For the three of you still reading this far, one other interesting observation from my HKG stopover.  In the Monday edition of Newsweek (International Edition), there is an article called Innocents Abroad, about how more Americans than ever are travelling to Europe this summer -- and what the current stereotypes are for the "ugly American" traveller.  It certainly proves out my political observation from earlier this week.  
I've travelled internationally with a lot of Americans, and thankfully nobody I've travelled with has exhibited any of the stereotypical behavior -- loud, inappropriately dressed, selfishly-entitled boors.  But I witnessed it today.  All of us in foreigner class on the CAN-HKG flight were transferring flights at HKG.  HKG is a huge airport -- not always the most efficient, and the transfer desk for UA and other North American-bound flights was far from where we arrived.  The signage was plenty clear in my eyes, and never once did I feel lost.  Unfortunately, this other guy coming off the Guangzhou flight decided to bumble around like an idiot.  I heard him ask (loudly, of course) six or eight different airport staffers if he was going the right way, "W1 this way?  This way for US flight?"  Then he pushed the alarm button on one of the elevators.  Then he said something genuinely stupid to the staffer at the only check-in desk for his airline, like "is this business class check-in?"  This man was in his 50s or above -- and I heard him say he'd been working in China for six years.  You'd think the man had never transferred flights before from the ignorant and self-centered way he was conducting himself!  Please, people, stop!
I'm starting to think I should write a book on travel adventures and misadventures.  Or at least teach a class -- "How not to be offensive when travelling internationally".

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