It may sound a little offensive complaining about the difficulties of organising a holiday (I know I should be happy to be lucky enough to be going on one), but as with a lot of things in our semi-nomadic life, things are never as simple as they should be. The boring details are always there getting in the way of a good time.
We’ve already gone through all problems with acquiring visas (and learnt a valuable lesson about how early they need to applied for).
It wasn’t just the visas that proved difficult. Since this vacation isn’t just a simple vacation from to/from a home base, but is more of an emigration via a rather large detour, we have the added challenges of dealing with our luggage. While we’ve done a reasonable job reducing our possessions to the bare minimum, it is still too much to comfortably travel with. So, we had to ship the majority of our clothes to England, where we plan to live in the not-too-distant future, and ship a small amount of essential possesions to Australia, where we plan to live for long enough to get a British visa for Risa – three months. This would be fine, however, Australia has different limits on the size of baggage that can be sent from Japan. It also has different restrictions on what can be shipped (Lithium batteries). So instead of a single large bag to UK and a single large bag to Australia, we’ve had to ship those two bags to UK, and then two small boxes to Australia, followed by a third small parcel with Risa’s laptop and my camera batteries by air. It’s not difficult, not at all, it’s just another complication, expense and added stress, which is not what we want as we are busy planning a ‘vacation’.
Oddly, the eerily robotic-like efficiency of the Japan Post service fell down. It took hours to complete all the paperwork to ship our baggage (we didn’t leave until 11:30PM), only to be called the first thing in the morning (as we were preparing to head to the airport) to find out that we were going to have to return to the post office and change the way we were shipping it. And to collect a ¥150 ($1.50) refund…
But, they were nothing more than a few annoyances – speed bumps even. We arrived at the Chitose airport with plenty of time to spare. Enough time for one last bowl of ramen (Japanese bowl of noodles)! There is an ‘alley’ in the domestic terminal with several ramen shops selling their own special version of this soul food. Risa and her parents love prawn (I’m non-fussed), so we ended up with at one that specialises in a soup infused with prawn flavour (in addition to the normal pork bone base). Verdict – Good! I opted for the weaker prawn flavour, in a miso (soy bean paste) stock, which was perfect for me – just a hint of prawn, but still lots of rich flavour.
The flight to Beijing via Seoul (with Korean Airlines) was un-eventful, which I guess is a compliment. Being stuck in the Incheon airport for two hours (which isn’t a long time for a transfer) made me realise how big a business airports really are. A bored trapped audience with (generally) above average disposable income. I’m no businessman, but it sounds like perfect conditions to me.
We’d been warned by a friend who has spent a lot of time in Beijing about some of the hurdles of arriving in Beijing. He even went as far as making a small document (complete with mud maps) with advice. Using that we were able to avoid the potentially dodgy taxi drivers and instead catch a ride with a bona fide taxi, complete with a running meter. We showed him the address (in Chinese) of our hotel. He seemed to understand, so off we went. The journey felt like something from a videogame (I may have spent too much time recently playing Grand Theft Auto V). He was weaving from one lane to the next, dodging traffic and making his way steadily forward. It would have been more enjoyable if the seatbelts in the rear of the car worked…
This was my first time in China, and the neon skyline was seriously impressive – the buildings were quite dark, but the giant signs on them burned like fluorescent suns. Oh, and when I saw the giant CCTV ‘pants’ building – I lost it.
The driver dropped us off on the side of the road and pointed down a dark and narrow alley. It felt a little uncomfortable at first, but with perseverance we made it to our hotel – The Happy Dragon Guesthouse. It is a nicely renovated old-style building. The enormous bed takes up 30% of the room, but that’s fine – we’re not likely to be spending much time here awake.