Beijing. Barely.

If you’re reading this post that means I’ve landed in Beijing, made it to my hotel and figured out how to connect to the Internet and was actually able to publish to my blog.  As if that was the hardest part about traveling to Beijing.

Actually, it’s a miracle that I even made it Beijing.  All signs were pointing to "no" until I actually got on the plane.

Tuesday (Beijing take off, minus 3 days)

Things started to unfold on Tuesday when I received an email from CIBT (the place that was issuing my visa) saying they were not able to process my credit card to pay for the visa and that they would not be able to issue the visa without charging my card.  Despite my relentless attempts to contact the dude that sent me the email to take care of business I could not get a hold of him. 

Wednesday (Beijing take off, minus 2 days)

I tried again to get a hold of "CIBT dude" in the morning before I got to the office.

When it became Wednesday afternoon I was getting really concerned: my passport was in San Francisco, I’m in Seattle and supposed to be on a plane by 7 AM on Friday.  I realize that there is a thing call "same day" delivery – but that only works when someone actually puts something in the mail. I was finally able to call around and find someone other than "non-responsive CBIT dude" to help me out.  It turned out that my corporate AMEX was rejecting charges.  So I got them new card information and prayed that my passport would somehow make it to Seattle before I left.

Then I got on the phone with the people at AMEX to figure out what was going on with my card.  They claimed there was some charge (though they couldn’t be specific about the charge) that apparently was "4 months past due" and the account had been "canceled".  They said if I paid the disputed amount ($16.14) that all would be fine.  Of course, I paid it.  Then they said I would have to talk with the AMEX program manager at my company to open my account again (Wait!  That wasn’t part of the deal!).  They said they would be "happy to transfer me".  After waiting 10 minutes they informed me that due to high call volume (surprise) they were not able to connect me and that I should try contacting them directly myself.

I can’t get anyone on the phone, and end up trying to go through a service request through my company’s web site.  Then I get receive an email address to ME that says:

Hello AMEX,

I’m not sure why Becky’s card was canceled, she was not 90 days past due and has been using her card. Can you please reactivate her card?

Hmmm…..

Thursday (Beijing take off, minus 1 day)

My plan for today was to (a) pick up traveler checks (they were recommended for better exchange rate) and (b) pack.  That would have been nice if those were the only two things I had to do (on top of a full day of work).  But my passport has still not arrived and my credit card ordeal was not resolved.

Made some calls to check on progress.  My passport was in Seattle and arrived at my desk around 1 PM, phew!  Thought, heard nothing from AMEX.  I send another email to them:

This mail is very confusing.  This mail is addressed to AMEX, but I’m on the To: line (and I’m not AMEX <wink>).

Can someone please explain what is going on with my AMEX card and the status of getting it activated?

PLEASE NOTE: I leave for a business trip in Beijing tomorrow and need to be able to use my card. I have spoken with AMEX and my account is now up to date (please see attached confirmation).

I leave work at 6 PM.  All banks are closed…that’s going to make travelers checks hard.  I manage to figure out that the Bank of America inside QFE is open much later (great thing to know for the future) and is a fully functioning branch and issues travelers checks (why they keep standalone branches open anymore is a mystery to me).

I get home and make dinner with whatever food is in the fridge.  That meant cheese + egg pannini’s with potatoes and asparagus (more like breakfast – which I’m totally down with).  Then packed.

Now…a little know fact about me is that when I was little, I used to cry when my parents got suitcases out for a trip (even if I knew I was going on the trip).  This is a little paradoxical given that I love to travel and feel as though I was born on this earth to do very few things and one of them is travel and experience other people and the world.  This is all relevant because while I love to travel, packing is…well…a long process for me.  I started laying out clothes on Tuesday and it still took me 2.5 hours to pack.  Don’t ask, don’t judge.  Just laugh at me, because I can only laugh at myself for being such a dork-nut.

Friday (Beijing take off)

I wake up at 4 AM and take a long shower (I hate feeling dirty on planes) and pack up the last few items.  I called my dad.  Made some oatmeal.  Rob and I got in the car around 5:30 AM.  Got to the airport with no trouble.  I get in the line to do self-checkin.  When my turn comes up, a United attendant ushers me up the desk and beings to check me in herself.  This turned out to be a blessing: before printing my ticket she realizes that the ticket has been issued with my unmarried name (Rebecca Levine) while my visa and passport are issued under my married name (Rebecca Levine Pezely).  She expresses concern that I may have trouble getting out of China with this discrepancy and asks for me to wait while she goes through a security door behind the desk to check on the matter.

Sidebar: you might be wondering at this point, "um, didn’t you realize which name the ticket was booked under when you made the reservation?"  And the answer is: yes, I knew.  And, (a) I had never considered this detail when I booked the ticket plus (b) I’ve traveled a bunch of times domestically with this discrepancy before without a problem so I’ve become desensitized to the whole thing.  I realize now that international travel, especially to China, is a whole different story, but I don’t travel internationally frequently enough to make these sorts of considerations.  I guess my re-branding saga hasn’t really ended.

So Paul Benson (the United agent) comes back out and says that she can’t change my name on the ticket, that I might have problems but the only thing she can do is issue my ticket and risk it.  I throw in that I can call AMEX corporate travel to see if they can change the reservation.  And Paula says that I have enough time.  So I call emergency assistance and get Patrice on the phone.  I explain the situation and she asks me to hold.  I hold for 20 minutes.  She finally comes back and says that I won’t be allowed out of China with the name discrepancy and that she has an agent on the line and they’re trying to change my ticket.  That I should wait on hold.  I wait another 20 minutes.  She then comes back to verify a few bits of information (like how to spell my married last name) and then puts me on hold again, another 10 minutes.  Then she comes back and says they’re trying to reissue a new ticket for me but my corporate AMEX is denying charges.  F*$%!!!  I have to give her another card. 

After that ordeal, I got personally ushered to the front of the security line (and they didn’t catch the Nalgene bottle full of water in my bag) and was the last person to board my flight from Seattle to San Francisco.

Once on the plane, I feel like things are going much smoother and try to start to be present and enjoy myself.  Honestly, as much as I’ve been excited to get to Beijing I’ve been really anxious about traveling so far alone, being away from Rob, not knowing the language and all that stuff that these other hiccups have been really distracting.

So, now the plane has taxied onto the runway and we’re waiting for takeoff. And we’re waiting….and we’re waiting….and we’re waiting…and then the flight attendant makes an announcement that if our cell phones are accessible we may use them…and we’re waiting…the the pilot comes on and says they’re conferencing with traffic control at SFO trying to work around delays…and we’re waiting.

My plane that was supposed to take off from Seattle at 7:20 takes off almost 1 hour late.  Meanwhile, I’m supposed to land by 9:30 and be able to make a connection through the SFO International Terminal to make a flight at 11:20 AM.  Sweet!

I make it to SFO by 10:20.  And figure out that I have to get a shuttle to the International terminal.  There is a long line and the people "managing" (hardly) the line tell me that not everyone will fit on the first trip.  Luckily there were a bunch of other folks like me on the same flight and they bumped us all to the front of the line.  However, this pissed one dude off so much that I fight nearly ensued.  Once I was on the shuttle it felt like I was already closer to Beijing.  Not because I was on the shuttle, but more because everyone around me was Chinese and not speaking English.

We all make it to our gate as it’s boarding and get on the plane.  So this was now really happening (although in the back of my mind I’m wondering if my luggage made it on the plane too).

As I type this I’m cruising at 34,000 ft at about 470 mph.  It’s been 7.5 hours on the plane and I’ve: read 1/2 my book (The Secret Life of Bees), napped, had lunch, watched August Rush (the movie sucked, but it was Keri Russell so I didn’t care), has a snack (Ramen noodles!  Even came with chopsticks), then tried to watch National Treasure (though the sound was all f’ed up).

Our route went over Alaska and I got some cool shots from the plane during that part:

China 061 China 069 China 070

Now I’m going to do some work.

How much longer do I have of this flight?  Actually, I don’t want to know.

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1 Comment »

  1. Becky said

    Yay!  Amex working!

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