Home at last

I’ve been home for a while now, and I have to say it is nice to be back. The weather in Beijing has been extremely hot recently (high 30s or even in the 40s). Leaving Beijing was a bit of a nightmare, however. My flight was due to depart in the early hours of Sunday morning. The week preceding it was busy, with several meals planned with various friends before I left. I also had to finish packing.

On Saturday (the day before I left), I intended to finish off packing and then I was meeting a friend for lunch. In the afternoon I went to cancel my sim card. Walking into the phone shop, it was deserted. I walked to the counter and showed them what I wanted via my translation app on my phone. They said something in Chinese. I told them (in Chinese) I didn’t understand, so they also typed what they said in their phone on a translation app. They asked if I was leaving for good, or coming back. I told them I was leaving for good, and then they said something else. Again, I told them I didn’t understand and again, they wrote the response in their phone app. They said something else, and I said I didn’t understand for a third time, but a colleague of theirs then approached the counter and told me in (good) English that it didn’t matter, and I didn’t need to cancel it, it would just stop working if I didn’t use it for three months. I was grateful, but also wondered why this person had not come forward before, if they heard me speak English (they had stood behind the two people at the counter) and it was clear that the other staff did not speak English.

Heading back to my room, I finished packing my last few items (e.g. my laptop) and then departed, at about 6pm. I was pondering how to get to the airport, but in the end I thought I’d take the subway. Living on the fourth floor in a hotel with no lift, however, and with a very heavy case, it wasn’t ideal. Getting to the reception desk, I was told that they didn’t know I was checking out, and then they called someone in the international office (who I’d spoken to the previous day about something else, and who had a copy of my ticket since May). They expressed their surprise I was leaving as I hadn’t told them when I would be going (I didn’t know I had to, and had they looked at my ticket it shouldn’t have been an issue). Following this, there was a quick check of my room by the cleaners and then I left.

Getting to the station was fine; it was about a 15-minute walk, and they have an escalator which helped with my big heavy case. But getting to the transfer station, however (I had to change twice, the second time to take the airport express train), I discovered the lift was not working, and there was no escalator (and many stairs)! I managed – with some difficulty – to get my case down the stairs and eventually to the platform. By this time, my t-shirt was pretty wet with sweat. Nevertheless, I took the train to the airport transfer station and then took the airport express without too much difficulty. At the airport, I had a meal, and relaxed, and then went through to check-in. Being in the old terminal, there was not a lot of space to wait, so most people sat on the floor. After about half an hour, the check-in desk opened, but just as I was queuing up, I got a text to say that the flight had been delayed for two hours. Instead of leaving at 01:50, we were going to leave at 03:50. I found somewhere to sit, and read my book, and listened to music. We were given some free crackers and water by the airline, and two hours later than scheduled, we departed.

Landing two hours later than originally intended, the immigration queue in Manchester was quite long (even for UK citizens), though, I admit, not as long as those for foreign travellers who cannot use the e-ticket gates. It was still relatively early (about 08:30) when I finally got out of the airport, and headed home.

Before I left, I had a few final meals with friends. One was at a vegan restaurant which was surprisingly near to my university (though at the time I didn’t know it). I hadn’t been there before and the food was all interesting and pretty delicious too! It’s a shame that I didn’t discover it sooner, but it was nice to meet and chat with friends before I left.

In China, most meals are communal, by which I mean you usually share dishes. If there is any food left, you can ask for dă bāo (打包) (which means basically you want the food to be packed up so you can take it away), and the staff will put it in tubs for you to take. This meal was no exception. My friend speaks very good Chinese and told the waitress we would like three dishes to take away. She nodded and disappeared, and we waited. And waited. After a while, the waitress reappeared but there was still no food. We eventually queried this. It turns out she had got rid of the food, instead of packing it up for us (actually, it was my friend who wanted it).

We weren’t best pleased. There is a concept in China called ‘face’. Losing face is a big no no. Elsewhere, perhaps, the staff would have apologised and left it at that. That is what we were expecting. But in that restaurant, no. There was no apology. Instead, they made a completely new batch of food. Whilst my friend was pleased she could take it away, we were all a little bemused that they would go to the effort of making some new dishes, instead of just apologising, which would have been the easiest and simplest thing to do. But then they would have lost face. Still, overall the meal was pretty good!


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