Have you ever been so confused while travelling that you really wish you knew a hundred different languages? I was on a layover in China and I had never felt so clueless. I couldn’t understand why I ended up in the airport immigration office of Guangzhou.
The Immigration Office
I’m at the Guangzhou airport in China; I had just travelled for over 14 hours. I’m sitting in the immigration office and I think the guy next to me speaks French. He’s on the phone. I understand every bit of the conversation; it’s nice to hear a familiar language when you are in another country like China. We are all waiting in one room and everyone is just silent, no one communicates, no one really knows what is going on.
Here’s my Passport
I had a 9 hour layover at the airport and quite frankly I don’t know why I chose this flight itinerary to get to Australia. I was looking at the cheapest options available and I thought a layover in China wouldn’t be that bad. Vancouver to Guangzhou for 14 hours and then Guangzhou to Sydney, Australia for 9 hours. Needless to say that the journey was the biggest part of this adventure.
There’s no wifi at the airport, I feel so disconnected, I can’t research anything. I hand over my passport to the immigration agent and he hands me back a piece of paper. I get a stamp in my passport and then I sit and wait again.
I had just been given a visitor’s visa for China.
Ok, this is going to be fun I tell myself. I think I am aloud to leave the airport and go explore, what an unexpected adventure!
But after another long wait, we are told to line up for the shuttle. The shuttle to?
From what I understand from the loud French guy, we are being driven to a hotel. I would’ve never guessed that a hotel stay was included in the longest flight to Australia ever!
The driver keeps spitting out the window and I feel lucky to be sitting on the opposite side of him. The shuttle is full of people that all look as startled as me to be there. The streets are dirty and crowded, and there are cyclists everywhere. They criss cross the street at weird angles and they make it seem so normal and easy. We all get dropped off at the same hotel.
We check in one by one and I get a key to a hotel room.
If You’re on Time You’re Late
The hotel receptionist advises us to be back in the lobby in two hours in order to get on the shuttle that will bring us back to the airport. Now it all seems to make sense; they don’t allow you to hang around the airport for more than four hours so they arrange for a visitor visa and a hotel room for you. Good to know! I unlock the room that they so kindly gave me for free. I have a whole suite to myself.
Joy! I hit the bed, literally. It’s hard as rock, I actually don’t even know if it’s a mattress or not? I fall asleep quick.
It’s time to go he says. The front desk agent that just knocked on my door is 45 minutes early? Wait, what? It had only been 30 minutes since I had checked in to the room. I was confused, did had I overslept?
I make my way down the elevator feeling even more tired than I was before I arrived. The drive to the airport is foggy and uneventful. Why was I given a hotel room for less than one hour stay? At this point the only thing that mattered is that we were on the way to the airport and I was going to be ok catching my next flight.
The Middle Seat
As I enter the plane I think about the next time I would fly this far away. Long layovers might not always be worth it. I sit down and get comfortable in my middle seat. As I am about to shut my eyes to try and sleep a little more before Australia, the French guy from the airport immigration office sits next to me. He starts putting his things away in the other middle seat.
Through this unexpected layover in China, I had seen this same person along most of my journey. Little did I know that he was on the same journey as me, with the only difference being our departure city.
If only we lifted our eyes away from our phones long enough to just take a look at what’s around us. You might get a chance to meet a travelling friend or see a familiar face, because we travellers ride similar waves.