In my experience, the most valuable things I have gained from my travels are the relationships I’ve made while on the road. I have shared many of my best adventures, such as sky diving, cave crawling and walking the Great Wall, with people who I now consider very good friends. Few things build companionship more than sharing the thrill and excitement of adventure. One of those few things is the frustration, uncertainty and sometimes fear that can also come with travel. This is a story about a major about just that.
“Pardon me, but that cannot be correct. Our visas cover our stay in China for thirty days. Our flight is scheduled to leave the day our visas expire, not the day before.” I am in the Happy Dragon Hostel in Beijing three days before I am scheduled to fly home. I have just checked in along with my classmates and travel companions, Sarah, Whitney, and Katie. The receptionist has just told me that our visas will expire the day after tomorrow and we would have to check out the morning of that day. A whole day and a half before our flight takes off. I am beyond befuddled. “When did we arrive? May 1, and thirty days from now should be June 1 right? That is when we are flying home and….wait…there are 31 days in May aren’t there? Oh my god.” We were soon to be criminally situated in China, the place that doesn’t allow its own citizens to use Facebook. Apparently, all hostels and hotels have some sort of policy against housing illegal aliens so there was no place in the city who would put us up once we were kicked out on the street in two days. Things were not looking so happy at the Happy Dragon Hostel.
In a flurry of frustration, fear and fury, my companions and I decided our best course of action would be to get our boarding passes early, check out of the hostel in two days, as requested, and then spend a day and a half in the airport until our flight arrived. We wouldn’t get to see all Beijing had to offer but we also wouldn’t be detained and miss our flights or worse, arrested and thrown in Chinese prison! Unfortunately, our quandary fell on deaf ears. The clerk for Air Canada in the airport was unsympathetic and unmoved by our cute American faces. “You cannot get your boarding passes early! It is against regulations!” We developed some choice adjectives for this lady that I probably shouldn’t say in polite company.
Our plan A had failed so now we needed a contingency. Earlier in our trip we stayed at a university to study fish science with a group of spirited and loveable undergraduate and graduate students. They had babysat us for most of the trip up until that point and made sure we never got into big trouble in not-so-little China. The moment we left their sight, this happened. We called these students and as we explained our predicament to them I could only imagine how infantile they must have thought we were.
One of the students, Ja Luo aka “Jack” said he had a friend who went to school here who could probably help us. He would get in contact with them and keep us updated. Upon hanging up the phone with our Mandarin messiah, I suggested we make a plan C as a backup. We could go to a massage parlor for 8 hours until 2 am then sleep in McDonalds since it was open all night long! The girls were less than thrilled about our last resort. At this point we decided that we needed to go to bed and start over the next day. We wouldn’t let this distressing turn of events ruin what was left of our trip. In those two days and one night before we had to leave the hostel we saw almost every major landmark in Beijing except for the Forbidden City. Of course that didn’t prevent the day of reckoning to fall upon us.
It was at little after 6:00pm. The sky was a solid wall of grey and the air was moist enough to drink. Jack informed us the night before that his friend’s boyfriend’s friend had found us a place to stay. We stood outside our hostel with all of our baggage. The tension in the air snapped and a massive downpour fell on our heads. None of us had umbrellas or valid visas and we had just got done hiking along the Great Wall of China. I know what you’re thinking and yes, this is all happened. I couldn’t make it up if I tried!
We made a mad dash to the nearest subway stop. Along the way, Sarah’s luggage handle snapped off and she had to use a pair of jeans to roll it. We looked at the subway map. The very LAST stop on the line was ours. Yes, this is all still true and yes, it does get much weirder! After three transfers and two hours of subway transit, we arrive in the far outskirts of Beijing. They say every city has a hood and Beijing is definitely not excluded. You haven’t seen the hood until you’ve seen the hood in China. Down the street from the subway exit is a large gray van with four Chinese people standing near it. One of them, a girl, saw us and ran over. “Are you Sarah, Whitney, Katie and Quentin?” she asked. “Um..yes, we are” I replied with more than a little trepidation. “Oh good, come get in the van!” she exclaimed. I told you it got weirder.
To Be Continued…here!
This story was curated by Quentin Turner