Three and a half years ago, we decided to do something completely outside our comfort zone. Friends Sharon and Wen asked us if we would like to accompany them on a seven week trip to China, Vietnam and Cambodia. Uncharacteristically, we gave it much thought before deciding. We weighed things carefully, such as our bank account, our health and our ability to adapt to a completely different culture. It soon became apparent that we would probably never be given a chance again to take such a trip.
Our friends were well traveled and had family connections in Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton) which would be our jumping off place.
Once the decision was made, we began reading up on Asia, got shots for diseases we might be exposed to and bought drugs for malaria prevention plus the usual “stoppers and starters” for digestive upsets. Sharon put together a complicated itinerary which had us leaving Guangzhou and visiting Wuhan, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, not in that order. Let me tell you, for two people who had never left the North American continent this was an overwhelming trip to take.
At three a.m. April 1, 2010, we buckled up our seat belts on Air Canada Flight 017 out of YVR to Hong Kong. I was very excited and wondered what it would feel like to lose a day while we went so far west that it became east and became the day after. At what point in that arc over the Pacific Ocean, up over Russia and down the Asian coast did it become tomorrow? And what exactly was the meal they were serving us several hours into the flight – breakfast or lunch? As you may gather, sleep disturbance does create havoc in an over-stimulated mind!
Thirteen hours later, we were landing at the Hong Kong Airport. I knew that Hong Kong is exceptionally densely populated. I didn’t realize though that you simply cannot see the landing strips until the wheels of the plane make that “foop” sound when they touch the tarmac. It was momentarily unnerving. No matter. There we were on the other side of the world and I was thrilled to my toes! As we watched folks exit the plane ahead of us I realized that we were part of a very small minority of non-Asians. The transition had begun.
To my delight, we found many staff in the Hong Kong Airport were English speaking. Smiling attendants greeted us and helped us fill out the necessary papers. Changing some of our American money to the Yuan was done in our native tongue. Later, we became experts at these chores as our complicated travel arrangements involved eleven flights, two entries into Mainland China, one into Vietnam and one into the Kingdom of Cambodia. Leaving involved the same procedure only in reverse. It wasn’t until the second last entry and exit that we stumbled upon the fact that if we put Paul in the front of our line of four people, we would be waved over to the Express Line because Paul had silvery hair and walked with a slight limp. Elders are respected in Asia and if they have a limp, that was enough to tip the scales and give us VIP treatment!
Once we were given approval to enter Hong Kong, we immediately left the airport and boarded a bus for entry into Mainland China. Several kilometers into the trip, the driver switched from driving on the left side of the Hong Kong highways to the right side and we were well on our way. Next week, I will tell you how Sharon shepherded us through the process of getting through our first really complicated border crossing during a holiday.