Tuesday, August 5, 2008
The Journey to Changchun China
I'm keeping this blog as a journal format, and I'm a bit behind but will catch up soon with the postings...as you will see, I've been pretty busy.
Leaving Saipan to anywhere for an international flight means that you are up in the early morning hours, what a great way to begin my seven week journey. I must say that the anticipation of the trip had pumped me up and I was really quite awake. Although I was going to miss my family terribly I knew that this is a very big deal fro any artist fortunate to be invited to attend and participate. One small thing was weighing on my mind, I had a ticket that had the Seoul Korea to Changchun China part missing, and I had been assured by Aimee, my China coordinator that the ticket would be at the China Southern ticket counter in Seoul. Other than that one small thing I was going to China and create a monumental Stainless Steel sculpture, which up until now was just too expensive for me to afford.
After landing in Seoul at around six in the morning, my immediate goal is to find a hotel and the Chinese embassy. My plan was to get a hotel close to the embassy to minimize the taxi travel to and from, with some wrangling at the Information counter and hotel counter I was sent to a hotel very close to the embassy and began the hour and twenty minute bus ride in to downtown soul. The Sejong is nice and I managed to talk down the price of the room from 149,000 to 111,000 Won, I felt pretty good about that and the room was comfortable. I had the morning to get the Visa, so I got directions and even though it was in walking distance I took a taxi just to make sure, five minutes later I’m there and can see the hotel just two to three blocks away in the skyline. Now here is where I made some good choices and avoided a whole lot of problems that got one of the African artists stuck in Seoul for three days with not enough money. First I checked the guard at the gate and he said “Visa go to travel agent” red flag goes up in my mind they are expecting me, I’m a guest of the Chinese government, so I try again, same thing happened. Down what seemed like an ally, lined up to help me get a Visa were the “Travel Agents”, this can’t be right but I’ll try it. It became clear this was not the route to take when the agent could only deliver a Visa in three days and no sooner, I gathered my papers and headed back to the Chinese embassy guard, to give it another shot. This time I pulled out the U.S. Passport and he nodded and waved me through, wow I thought, cool it does have its privileges. At the window inside, I presented all my documents (including my passport) and recalled that Aimee said she would contact the embassy notifying them of my arrival, and I also had in my hands some documents that had been sent DHL that looked pretty official, I hoped they would speed the process along. The woman behind the glass stood up and in very clear English said “ Please wait a moment, I’ll be right back”, taking the passport and all. At that moment I felt very vulnerable, in the foreign country without that passport on my person, well the feeling gets worse when she comes back and with just a receipt and asks me to return at 2:30 and bring 155,000 Won. I feel very uncomfortable at the notion of walking around Korea without that passport, but what to do? You have to just go with the flow and trust all will go well. Making the most of my lunch break, I recalled seeing an Outback Steak House on a corner street while riding in the taxi; if I’m going to be stranded I figured I was going to be well fed.
I returned to the embassy and presented the receipt, paid the money, and was given the blue little passport with the Chinese Visa inside and sent on my merry way. Like I said sometimes you have to trust that all will workout, and I slept very well.
Left Seoul Korea in the afternoon 1:30 with Chinese Visa (Visa story soon to come) in hand and everything went smoothly with the Hotel transport to the airport. Check-in at the airline (China Southern) was smooth. I had been a bit worried because I didn’t have but a printout of something that may or may not have been an E-ticket. After meeting with the ticket agent and checking in, I knew it would be smooth sailing from here, and that true to their word, this organization was taking care of everything.
Two hours later, I was landing in Changchun China. As we made the approach I could see oceans of farmland and a lush green of varying patterns.
As I waited to pick up my baggage I could see off in the distance outside the gate many people waiting and some signs held up above the crowd, one having my name printed out boldly held by a man obviously the driver and next to him, bouncing and darting back and forth between the breaks in the crowd, was a petite and very excited young Chinese girl, waving and bouncing up and down as if she were standing on hot pavement. I waved back assuming that she had a picture of me. I received a very warm welcome and was given a bouquet of flowers. I learned that her name was Chun Hua, and that she was to be my interpreter.
There was some down time at the hotel in China because all the artists were arriving at different times and days from all over the world, many island nations and some sister cities arrangements with Changchun. A fellow artist, Michael Warrick (he’s from Little Rock, AK) and I, along with our trusted interpreters decided we would travel into the city for some shopping and site seeing. We took a taxi ride into the city for shopping. The taxi ride was hair raising to say the least, even though I had be in a lot of countries that were the same sort of ride, darting, weaving and horn popping off as if to be a warning and not a caution. My foot hit the floor a few time as if I had a break peddle, not that I had been quick enough. We stopped into a large shopping mall, the sort of which you would see anywhere in the U.S., Michael and I were quite novel and attracted a lot of attention. We scored some goodies and at a great price and off we went in our urban roller coaster to the hotel.
More to come.