It's amazing how jet lag knocks you out. One minute we're all ready to go for a swim and the next we all just collapse. Hopefully we'll all be over that soon. Back to the trip out here...
As I said, once we got into Beijing on our scheduled layover, things were looking good. Beijing airport is nice and shiny new with everything well laid out and easy to find. Almost everyone you see speaks English really well. These are obviously due to the Olympics being there last summer and the whole atmosphere made everyone feel better going into the last leg of the journey. Then it came time to board.
As were were just about to board the plane, what we had been dreading happened: my wife was asked to check in the biggest of our carry-on luggage. I was very proud of how quickly she lied: "We didn't have any problems taking this from Dalian to here. They said we could take it (they didn't) because there is a laptop computer in here (there wasn't)." That last hurdle in getting over our allotment of carry-on luggage on the plane, we could all settle in and relax.
About 10 minutes before the plane was scheduled to take off, there was an argument going on with the main cabin attendant and a guy that didn't seem to understand English or Chinese. From what I could tell, the guy was in the right row and seat, but he had a boarding pass from the day before. There was a pretty heated exchange in Chinese between the head and the cabin attendant who let him on the plane, obviously berating him for being so careless. The main guy asked another passenger to interpret in Arabic but from what I could get from the exchange in English, the passenger seemed confused when asked about his carry-on luggage and couldn't answer if he had any checked luggage. He was asked to leave the plane with his carry-on luggage and grabbed something from the overhead bin and said he had another piece of carry-on but couldn't seem to find it.
It was at this point that I leaned over to my wife and said that if they cared anything about security, they would have to have everyone get off the plane with their check-in luggage and re-load the plane. Sure enough, an announcement came over the plane in English and Chinese that everyone would have to get off the plane due to a security issue and that we would be boarding a new plane. Instantly, everyone jumped up, grabbed their luggage and were pushing to get off the plane so they could hurry up and wait at the boarding gate. My wife and I, knowing we'd have to wait at the gate anyway, just sat comfortably in our seats while our daughter Tia slept. Ten minutes...20 minutes...30 minutes passed and no more movement was made. Little by little people started slinking back to their seats. Finally a few announcements were made in Chinese only and everyone loaded up their luggage again and sat down. Because these announcements were in Chinese only, I can only guess at what was said but I'm sure it was something like this:
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are having difficulty getting another plane so there is now no longer a security issue. Please take your seats. The plane will be taking off shortly."
I was torn between relief at not having to spend a few more hours in Beijing and discomfort at the shoddy security. I looked at it this way, if I had to carry six pieces of luggage AND a sleeping three-year-old off the plane and sit in the departure lounge a few more hours while they found a plane, I'd be wishing I was blown up by the end of it.
Once the plane was in the air, the flight was pretty nice and I didn't get yelled at by the attendants like a friend suggested I would be. The kids slept through most of it which was what made things easy.
When we arrived there was a woman at the gate with a sign with our names on it, which was nice. She seemed nice enough but irritated that the plane was an hour late, like that was our fault. She gave me my visa and led us down to a place where I had to get my eyeball scanned. There was a long line that I got in but she told me to go in the place where there was no one waiting. When I got to the attendant, I got yelled at for trying to skip everyone and was told to get to the end of the line where I had just been. I didn't mind waiting so much because it gave me the opportunity to watch everyone else get yelled at and observe what they were getting yelled at for and avoid those mistakes.
When it came time to pick up the luggage, I got another irritated look when I told our immigration agent that in addition to all our carry-on, I had three fairly large suitcases and a bicycle. Having to wait an additional 20 minutes for the bicycle didn't endear me to her and got a few eye rolls from my wife. We had two porters take our luggage to the guy who was driving us from Dubai airport to our hotel in Abu Dhabi. After a few phone calls it was revealed to me that my bike wouldn't fit in his sedan in the box. We managed to fit the three large suitcases, two medium suitcases, my bicycle sans box, the four of us and the driver into the car fairly well I thought.
Overall the hour and a half drive was pretty good as we all slept most of the way. Traffic was light because it was 2:00 in the morning. When we got to the hotel, the driver gave me an envelope with some money and told me it was our food allowance for the week. I did some calculations and thought that it was OK if we were frugal about things. Then I realized that I was off by a factor of 10. (i.e. he had given us ten times more than I thought). It turns out that he works for the school I'll be teaching at (Abu Dhabi Men's College) and is assigned to help me get settled in. I'll be writing more about him later.
The hotel is a five star hotel and pretty nice. After taking into account our generous meal allowance, I signed up for a few amenities like wireless internet, daily breakfasts for the four of us and access to the club lounge. This was an all inclusive price and seemed to be a pretty good deal. I don't know if it was because I signed up for the amenities, but the manager upgraded our room to a two-room suite. I don't know what's more foreign: being in a completely different country or being pampered like this.