This was it, the big day. The one we were dreading for months. The day we did this insane thing, actually getting on an airplane bound for China, of all places. We knew it was coming for almost a year, and I think it turned out pretty well. Hopefully if you’re like me and not looking forward to this, I can help you get through it in one piece.
The day started with Diplowife, myself and our cat in the hotel near our old apartment building. We had already cleaned the apartment and turned over the keys and signed the paperwork. We gave away a few more things to friends and the local charity drop-off, so all that was left was to get ourselves to China. We had two big suitcases apiece, plus the cat carrier. I also had my laptop backpack, and Diplowife had her small carry-on suitcase. Diplowife had trouble fitting all our stuff into our suitcases and we realized we would need to check her carry-on suitcase and use a tote bag full of stuff as her carry-on. It cost a little extra, but it beat mailing our stuff or leaving it behind.
We hired a car service, well van service I should say to pick us up at the hotel and take us to Reagan National. Amazingly, the driver fit all of our luggage in the van. He also did us a huge favor by encouraging us to get the skycaps to help with the luggage. He recommended a $5 tip each time one of them carted our stuff. We didn’t go far, just from the curb to the check-in desk, and from there to the luggage drop-off area, but it’s money well-spent.
The check-in desk was an ordeal. The lady working there wasn’t very familiar with special provisions for government employees traveling for work like we were. Specifically, she refused to take our cat’s carrier, saying we needed to drive (with what car?) to the cargo area (where?) and drop her off there. Diplowife activated her newly honed diplomatic/bureaucratic superpowers and went toe-to-toe with the ticket lady for well over an hour, but she was successful, and we got to send our kitty on her way. Not without having to take her out of her carrier briefly, but it was OK.
By then, we were running late to reach our first flight, to JFK. We got held up at the security check-in, the TSA were intrigued by my laptop, and gave Diplowife some trouble for her jewelry. After that, we boarded and sat on the runway for nearly an hour. But we got to JFK eventually, and that’s when the serious waiting began. We had a six hour layover there (well, five hour because of the delay in DC), and unfortunately, for reasons I’m not clear on, we had to claim all of our luggage and our cat, and hang onto it all until about 90 minutes before our departure. Then we had to go through the check-in process again, and go through security again.
While we waited, I figured we could take advantage of the “pet relief” areas at the airport, that I had read about. Well, turns out they aren’t so useful. For one thing, all but one of them are beyond the security gate, so unless your pet is flying in-cabin, it’s useless. And the other one is outdoors, basically a wide section of the sidewalk. Uh, it’s 25 degrees out there, and I’m not setting my cat free to scamper away in the dark, and it’s not like she’ll pee without privacy or a litter box anyway. Ugh, good thing she has the absorbent pad in the carrier. Speaking of the cat, make sure when you board your flight, ask a flight attendant to confirm the pet carrier has been brought on board. They can check, and will let you know.
One nice part of this was we were now flying Korean Air, going from JFK to Seoul, and they were far more helpful and capable than the airline that we took from DC. So, again, we said goodbye to our kitty, then headed to the gate. The flight to Seoul was delayed (of course) another 45 minutes or so, but the actual flight was very nice. I got to ride a 747 for the first time, and our seats were towards the back where we found an abundance of legroom. I tried sleeping, but wasn’t very successful. Thankfully, the in-flight entertainment worked great, I had power for my phone and I could watch our progress on the map (we flew around North Korea).
We reached Seoul’s airport around 6am, before almost anything was open for business. I always thought it was strange that airport businesses close down when flights are coming and going 24 hours a day. Anyway, after killing some time, we took advantage of a business lounge’s hospitality, thanks to a new credit card Diplowife signed us up for (did I mention she’s a keeper?). Free breakfast in comfy chairs did us a world of good, but we were worried about our cat the whole time. We knew she was here in Seoul, but couldn’t get anyone to feed or water her.
After a few hour layover there, we took the final flight to Shenyang. Nothing much happened here, we flew around North Korea again, and landed safe and sound. Once I got off the plane, the first thing I noticed was the smell. It was like a coal furnace was burning away inside the airport. The air was hazy and stinky, and I knew this was for real. This was my first time in China, and the pollution is no joke.
We collected our luggage, and oddly enough, our cat’s carrier also came through the luggage conveyor. She was safe and sound, just like us, and was happy to see us. What a relief. Our social sponsor and a couple local workers from the consulate were here to help. They got us through customs (we skipped the big lines, since we have diplomatic passports!) and got the cat’s paperwork squared away. And took us to our new home.
Our apartment is huge, but strange. We’re definitely living in a hotel, with oddly-shaped rooms that connect in… “creative” ways. The furniture is OK, but I can see how picky people would be disappointed. I set the kitty free to explore and use her new litter box and gave her some food. Our bed was fully made with pillows, sheets and all, so it was ready for nap time. I was excited to explore a new city, but that could wait until tomorrow.