By the time we deplaned in Beijing, I'd seen a lot of airports... and I've got to say, Terminal 3 at Beijing Capital International Airport is impressive. I've seen the amazing mosaics & murals in the old TWA terminal at JFK, gazed at the Andes near Cerillos, marveled at the tight timing of planes in & out of O'Hare, laughed at the Cylon voices of the people movers in Hartsfield, enjoyed the open, airy sweep of the main terminal at Dulles, and admired the tilework & stained glass at National... but my first impression of Bejing's Terminal 3 was that it was just so big, shiny-new, expansive, modern, and just plain immense that it jumped way up high on my list of impressive airports. It wasn't just the sense of, "Wow, we're in China!" that did it -- this place is big. Not "big," freakin' ginormous... and it's all clean, and it's all modern, and it's all doing exactly what it was designed to do: get people off the planes and impress the dickens out of 'em.
Apparently my little sister was feeling the same way, because we began to debate if it was OK to take photos or not. As we wound our way back-and-forth through a rope-defined pathway (which zig-zagged back & forth through a large and completely empty area obviously designed to comfortably handle Olympic-sized crowds), a traveler in front of us whipped out his camera & took a couple of shots. We waited, and there was no gunfire, no shouting, no one getting dragged off to prison... So we figured that we'd take a few photos when we got to a good spot to stop & catch our breath (we'd covered a lot of ground & still hadn't gotten to the customs area... and after a while, 25 pounds of carry-on is heavy even if it rolls).
A few hundred mil- er, feet, further on, we encountered another indication we weren't in Kansas anymore... Before you get to the Customs check-in, you walk through a row of little kiosks with official-looking (military looking!) uniformed inspectors who seem to pay no real attention to you as you pass by. That's because they're looking at their computer screens, which are displaying an infrared image of your body, with your temperature being measured by IR sensors mounted atop the kiosks. I'd read about these, and being the naturally hot & sweaty person I am, feared what they might show; if your body temperature is "too high" (as defined by the Chinese Ministry of Health), the authorities will politely(?) escort you to a special room and give you a cursory(?) medical exam... and if you show signs of suffering from an infectious disease, they'll put you on the very next plane back to wherever you came from. (Kinda makes buffing the floor at Dulles with our stockinged feet seem... silly.)
My normal body temp is usually at least half a degree above the average, so I was really worried... which of course made my temp immediately begin to go higher and I began to get a little sweaty. (Sweatier, actually; we'd been dragging those bags quite a distance!) I didn't know how or if much I should interact with the guards in the kiosks so I tried to pretend we were just walking across an empty floor, talking with A while mentally repeating, "I'm cool. It's cool in here. Refreshing and cool. I'm cool..." It must've worked, because we kept going and no one stopped us.
No one, that is, until we got close to the Customs kiosks and A thought it would be a good place for a couple of photos. She had barely lifted the camera up when a guard came running over, not-quite-shouting, "No peecture! No camera!" while waving his arms like a crazed Olympic gymnast falling off a balance beam. I don't know what our faces looked like (we both had visions of spending the rest of our lives in a Chinese gulag, lamenting unsuccessfully getting that close to completing the adoption), but we must've looked like... well, like a couple of shocked-but-dumb American tourists because the guy slowed down and tried to explain (with some success but very little actual English) that A was pointing her camera in the general direction of a security area, and no photos were allowed there. A made a show of turning off the camera & putting it away, at which point the guard politely dismissed himself and we got on line.
I thought the guy checking my passport was slower than absolutely necessary until I realized he was bringing up all kinds of information about me on his computer screen... then had to hurriedly look away as he noticed me trying to shoulder-surf. After a few seconds (that felt like hours) he stamped an entry visa and waved me on through. Another hike brought us to what seemed to be a subway platform -- and soon we were riding (standing up) a rubber-tired train that wound under, then out of, then (I think) back under the terminal and dropped us within hiking distance of the baggage carousels. We wrestled our suitcases onto the floor, then stopped when we realized neither of us really knew what to do.
There was a currency exchange window nearby, so we walked over and I exchanged a $20 bill for our first samples of Chinese money. (Everybody calls them "Yuan" but the official name is "Renminbi," which translates as "People's Currency." Go figure.) It wasn't a lot, but at least now if we needed to buy some food or something we could. Then we started our next hike, eventually emerging from the various corridors into the Arrivals area... and our first real glimpse of Chinese crowds.
Hey, waitaminit... All these people leaning on the railing with flags and banners and signs... and not a single one of 'em is holding anything with the name or logo of our adoption agency... Where the heck is our guide? I'm proud to say that we both managed to keep our growing sense of panic in check and planned out an attack: we'd both do a quick sweep of the crowd, then take turns every few minutes with one of us standing guard over the luggage and the other re-checking the mob at the rail. (Note: We didn't feel threatened or targeted, we just both know better than to leave a big ol' stack of suitcases unattended in the middle of a large crowd.)
After the first couple of passes through the crowd, we realized what had happened. Remember when I mentioned in my last post that we landed in Beijing 48 minutes early? Well, we realized that we'd beaten our guide to the airport! We sat & rested for a little bit, watching the huuuuge high-def video screens that we would soon learn were almost omnipresent in China. (We both liked the computer-generated images of the water park & shopping mall they're apparently putting into the Water Cube from the Olympics). After that got boring, I did another sweep through the crowd at the rail, and from behind (yes, I was proud of myself!) recognized the name & logo of our agency on a little flag being held up by a young Chinese woman who was anxiously checking out all the new arrivals. Since the papers A had gotten from our agency included all our guides' names, I took a deep breath, tapped this complete stranger on the shoulder, and asked, "Are you Linda?"
Jackpot! The three of us got acquainted and then A and I went back to watching the video screens because there was another family coming in right after us and we were all supposed to go to the hotel in Beijing together. A recognized the family's name -- I'll call them the S Family -- as the couple we had met at the travel seminar over a year earlier, traveling with their (at the moment) only daughter.
Quick aside: A's agency did not want to give us the names of potential travel companions due to privacy concerns. However, we knew our group would consist of only 3 families, and we had already met one of the families (the S Family). A was in touch with Mama S via email... while Mama S was active on the Rumor Queen site, where she was able to put several clues together and identify the 3rd family in our group (I'll call them the B Family) and the three adoptive mommies did an "end run" around the agency and established contact with each other. Before we ever began packing our suitcases, A & I knew both families -- both of whom were returning to China for a 2nd adoption, and both of whom would be traveling with their China-born daughters. (I thought was that it would be interesting to see things from the girls' point of view, and it would likely be very helpful to be traveling with a whole crew of "been there, done that" experienced China adoption travelers.)
Anyway, the S Family made it out the Customs door and explained they had been delayed because a stroller that had been loaded on their plane in the USA didn't seem to ever get off the plane in China. It only took a few minutes' discussion to decide it was time to head to the hotel regardless of missing strollers; I think we were all falling asleep standing up by that point, and the idea of settling down, even if only for a few hours, was too appealing to resist.
Coming up next: a bleary evening of unintentional comedy. Until then... HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE! Here's wishing you all a happy, healthy, and productive 2011!
My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅-- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!