My First Traveling Companions

by Andrew Stein

The Passport Ice-breaker Game:

Fast forward about 10 hours and I’m sitting on the plane with 3 hours left of this marathon flight to Beijing from LAX. I’ve been able to sleep a descent amount partly because I was so sleep deprived that I was passed out before the plane even left the gate. With lighter eyelids, I now receive the immigration form from the flight attendant. I think she could tell that I wasn’t from China. I’m not sure what the biggest give-away was, but my appearance and my language barrier are both high on the list.

Now that I was relatively rested and feeling more sociable, I thought it was a good time to meet my non-English speaking row mates, and what better ice breaker than comparing passports and visas. I receive the yellow immigration form and pull out my passport, and immediately, I notice how interested the couple sitting next to me was. The wife spoke a small bit of English, which was helpful while we tried to make friends. It was also helpful when I was filling out my immigration form. When I was trying to find a couple details that I was supposed to transfer from the visa in my passport to the immigration form, a few of them were only written in Chinese. I wasn’t sure I had it in me to start busting out some Chinese characters, but luckily, my new friend was able to translate it into English and I was spared the embarrassment of what my Chinese characters would’ve looked like.

As the couple sitting next to me stares more and more intently at my passport, I hand it to them with a gesture that says, “go on, take a closer look”. I would’ve said it too, but most verbal cues were lost in our conversation. The first thing they do is settle a disagreement they had when they immediately looked at the year I was born. They show twenty-five by holding up their fingers, first 2 and then 5. I tried to ask them how old they thought I was, but that conversation path ended up being rather unsuccessful, so I moved back to passport examination. At this point, they take out their passports and we compare some of the differences. The most obvious difference was that they had Chinese passports with US visas, and I had a US passport with a Chinese visa. Another very noticeable difference was the amount of artwork that is placed throughout the US Passport. I recently renewed my passport, so I am not sure if the artwork was there to this extent before, but when comparing it to the plain pages of the Chinese Passport, the graphics and images became quite noticeable. All in all, the pictures received praise from my neighbors, and then they proceeded to show me that there were hidden images that you can see when holding up a page to the light. This hidden-image feature was also present on their passports, which showed a graphic of the Great Wall.

Now that the ice was broken, we championed the small talk that is available to people who have trouble understanding each other. I find out they went to New York and LA, they learn that I am going to Beijing and Shanghai, and they give me a recommendation of where to stay and what to eat while in Beijing.

Finding the Hostel:

In one word, the Beijing Airport is impressive!  They remodeled the airport for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and that was very obvious.  High ceilings, elaborate displays, clean and shiny, and streamlined.  Going through customs was quick and easy, the bags were already coming out when we got to baggage claim, and I was done within about 30 minutes of landing, and that includes having to take a tram from the terminal I landed in to the baggage claim.

After going through baggage claim, I bumped into Eric from Cleveland who looked similarly lost.  He was in Beijing on business, but also didn’t know a lick of Chinese and was trying to figure out how to get into the heart of the city.  Since I had an address from my hostel and knew that I was heading in a similar direction, I asked if he’d be willing to share a cab.  The first buses into the city wouldn’t be leaving for at least another hour or two.  Eric said yes and we shared a cab to his hotel, which was about 2/3 of the way to my hostel, and then I continued on.  Overall, I’m where I wanted to get to, I’m here in one piece, and I’m starting to think about how I want to start the day since it is not even 8am yet.

Although I might not get to all of them, some spots I’d love to see while here include the Forbidden City, Tianenmen Square, the Great Wall, and the Temple of Heaven to name a few.  I’ll wait for some others in the hostel to stir and then I’ll see if I can meet some buddies to adventure with for the day.