It's been a hard week. Don't misunderstand, the week has had its highlights. And we will certainly want to blog about the amazing qualities of Singapore as an example. But it has been a couple of low points that have really colored our perception of recent days.
We had planned a short excursion into China. China offers a transit visa exemption. Basically the rules are these: If you are landing in certain airports (Beijing is one of them) and you are staying less than 72 hours in China before flying out to another international destination, then U.S. citizens (and many other nations) can come in without a visa. You cannot leave the Beijing province, but that Beijing province is large. We had reserved a hotel and were planning to fly from Sydney, Australia, land in Beijing, and see the Forbidden City, Tiananman Square, and the Great Wall. Then we would leave just over 48 hours later and fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
But the airline wouldn't let us do it. Of course, we didn't know this until we were checking into the flight. The airline clerks check some database that tells them visa requirements. And their database says nothing about this visa exemption. So they refused to let us check in to the flight. If we had a letter from a Chinese consulate, they would have considered that. But even bringing up the Chinese Embassy's website that lists the rules, it was a no go.
So we were stuck in Sydney. I'm not dissing Australia. It's a lovely country. But we had plans to be back in Asia. We had to get to Malaysia at some point, right?
So it wasn't our best day. We (and by we, I naturally mean Alrica) found a flight for the next day to Singapore, found a place to stay that night in Sydney, and arranged a place to stay for two nights in Singapore.
Good news: The hotel in Beijing, a Hilton, gave us a refund for everything. They were most understanding. The unknown news: We are still in process of asking for a refund from the airline that wouldn't let us go to Beijing. (We had also scheduled our flight out of China on that same airline, so we are hoping to get refunds on both.) The bad news: It all costs money. A new flight. A place to stay in Sydney. A place to stay in Singapore. It is all money we hadn't expected to spend.
Singapore is a lovely city. Actually an amazing city. And I or another member of my family really needs to blog about it. But this blog post is a rant, so we need to ignore the wonders of Singapore.
Now if the whole transit to (or not to) China was frustrating, heading from Singapore to KL was infuriating.
We decided to take the bus. Now the bus itself was very nice. Huge seats, like sitting in your own personal recliner. The ride is about 5 hours, maybe a bit more. Though the time at immigration leaving Singapore and entering Malaysia adds another hour at least.
The bus would be fine, even great, if only someone were willing to be helpful. By this I mean the driver.
See, we were the only Westerners on the bus. Everyone else must be used to this trip. They all knew what to do at immigration in Singapore. We did not. But we followed the crowd, got in huge lines, presented our passports, and returned to the bus.
Everyone but us knew what to do at immigration and customs in Malaysia (which you arrive at only minutes after leaving immigration in Singapore.) We did not. Our following the crowd didn't go quite as well. See we discovered that the luggage under the bus must be brought out to be scanned. If someone would have just told us what was expected, it would have gone more smoothly. Instead it didn't. We had left some things on the bus, not knowing we needed our belongings until after we left the bus. Syarra, without telling any of the rest of us, ran back onto the bus to get them. But the driver was not paying any attention to that. So he drove the bus forward toward where he would pick us up, before realizing halfway there that he still had a stowaway.
Even that wasn't a huge problem. We got through immigration and customs with no other incidents. The big frustration was our arrival in KL.
When we left Singapore, a man from the bus company came on-board the bus and announced that there would be two stops in KL. The second stop would be ours. But when we arrived at KL, apparently the driver hit the stop we wanted first. Though he didn't bother to announce that we had switched the order. He didn't bother to announce where we were. And then he was annoyed with us later when we asked why we were driving out of the center of the city. Like we had messed up. How were we to know?
So we ended up (after about another 45 minutes on the bus) at some big bus terminal with madhouse craziness. Okay, no problem. We took a taxi from there. But the taxi driver must have decided to make a few extra ringgits on us. So he took us on a "shortcut" to avoid bad traffic. But said "shortcut" must have doubled the distance. And since the meter is based on the distance, I ended up having to pay more for the trip than I should have. (This was still only about eight U.S. dollars, so it didn't break me.) But it also added time.
So we ended up at the hotel a good two hours later than intended. And we were all in foul moods. It was all I could do to keep from snapping at the kids for most anything they did, even breathing badly. (Don't ask me how one assesses the quality of breathing, I was just in that sort of frame of mind.)
Now, we were staying in a Doubletree Suites and they gave us each a chocolate chip cookie as we checked in. The check in took longer than we would have liked, and we weren't really hungry for our cookies. So when we were finally checked in, we wanted to go to our rooms and go to sleep.
But they were going to have the bellboy bring up our luggage. Oh no! We weren't waiting for a bellboy. We were taking our luggage with us.
Then we couldn't find the elevators (or the lifts as they would say.) But we did. And on the way there, Carver dropped his chocolate chip cookie. (In his defense, he was carrying a big stack of stuff.) And it shattered like glass, spewing all over the floor. And Carver felt that this was a perfect metaphor for our recent travel experiences.
Even then, before sleep could be had, venting was required. Both Syarra and I were regaled by our respective counterparts with their fury at the events of the evening before we could settle in for some much needed slumber. (Maybe I should ask to share a bed with Syarra instead, you know, when you're really frustrated but actually want to sleep.)
Today, having slept, we are all in a much better state. We are taking a more philosophical view of the whole situation. After all, that's the way the cookie shatters.