perjantai 2. tammikuuta 2009

How did I end up in China?

Now, this could be a story about why I am in China overall. But it is not. Or well, what the heck, it is such a short story I tell it anyway: our department had an open position in Asia. I told my boss I could go there, except that I don't know any Chinese. And what do you know, almost one year later I am in China. Have been for eight months now.

But now, why am I back here right after Christmas... That is not a short story, so take a cup of coffee before you start.

I pay my taxes in China, to the Chinese government, so I can only spend so many days in Finland. Or the Finnish tax authorities want me to pay taxes to them, too. And I kind of resist additional taxes. Several thousand euros of them, especially. Because I had several business trips to Finland this year, I needed to leave Finland right after Christmas. January 1st I am OK to be back in Finland, but to spend the end of December in Finland could get very expensive for me...

Due to a family reason, I made a decision to stay in Finland until mid-January. But then, my personal voice of reason reminded me about the tax rule. But hey, there is a way out: have a couple of days vacation anywhere outside Finland.

Because even I live in Shanghai, my flights still are "Finland-Shanghai-Finland" (as opposed to Shanghai-Finland-Shanghai). My return from Shanghai to Finland in the tickets I have now is in April. I did not yet know the exact date of my return and had therefore ordered changeable flights. Well, now I needed to change the departure, not just return date of the flights.

I called Lufthansa customer service to change the tickets. Called several numbers (Christmas holidays, some numbers were not operating, some could not help with my problem) and waited about an hour. Only to find out they cannot change the tickets. Travel agency booked tickets must be changed by the travel agent. So I called them.

Because I had ordered the tickets from Chinese travel agency, I had asked in CAPS that changes to the tickets must be allowed. And of course, checked the e-ticket when I got it: it stated that changes are allowed, first one is free of charge and after that 25 euro per change. After the previous, you probably can guess what happened.

One of the first things you learn about Chinese is, that they are very innovative. But only when it helps them. Most of them are very... non-innovative in all other situations. So, the travel agent tells me the airline office is not open. Because my departure is getting awfully close, I don't want to wait 'til the next day. So I tell him, Jimmy he's called, that the airline has offices in just about every country, try another office. Call directly to Germany, for Pete's sake. And he calls me back to tell me Hong Kong office is closed too. [Sigh]. Please call to this number and change my tickets, I say, and give him the German number.

Jimmy calls me back after half an hour, to tell me my tickets are unchangeable. Cannot be changed, at all. I tell Jimmy, that I have ordered changeable tickets, and I have the e-mail correspondence to prove it. I have the e-ticket which tells me my tickets are changeable. I spend the afternoon in phone with Jimmy, or waiting for Jimmy to call. I send him the evidence that I have been given the impression that my tickets are changeable, and my original order. I tell him to call me when he has solved the problem. "Jimmy", I say. "I know your company made a mistake and you know that too. I am not responsible for that, so I should not suffer from that. Take care of the problem, please, and do not call me back before you have done that. OK, Jimmy?" "OK", Jimmy says, but doesn't quite deliver.

He calls me and tells me the tickets cannot be changed. Only thing he can do, is to issue new tickets. (And that he needs approval from my company to do that. No you don't, this is not a new trip, this is you correcting a mistake, I tell him.) But the team handling our company will handle the issuing of the new tickets on Monday. (Note: my flight is leaving on SUNDAY.) OK, I say, but our company will not pay for the new tickets, yours will. I cannot promise that, Jimmy says. OK Jimmy, please let me talk to your manager. Manager will be back on Monday. Are you telling me there is no one there who can make any decisions. I can book the flights, Jimmy says. [Sigh. Sigh. A very deep sigh.]

After some more pondering that night I finally decide to go back to China with my original flights, and promise never to use that travel agent again when I can avoid it (which I cannot, because they are the agent our company uses. But I can use the Finnish branch instead. Well, not when flying in Asia. But I said WHEN I can avoid it). I don't tell this to them, it would not help.

And I go to the airport on Sunday morning. Only to find out that I DON'T have a flight. The lady in the check-in kindly makes some calls and tells me my flights have been changed for two weeks later. Just as I had requested. "But... but they cannot be changed!" is all I can manage. But changed they have been. "Would you like me to check if we can change them back to today?" the lady asks. "Yes, please do." "They can be changed, but they only have business class seats available now, so you need to pay extra 1500 euros." No way I am going to pay that. So I call J. (my J., not the travel agent punk) and tell him that I am here, and I don't have flights for today.

He starts searching for flights and calls back, telling that flights to Dubai, departing in about 4 hours are 600 euros. Great, I'll take those. I go to the airline ticket counter, and tell that I want those flights. For today. 980 euros, tells the lady. "But I just saw them in the internet and they were much cheaper?" No help, their prices are fixed. So, I go back to the departure hall and get my laptop and start searching the flights from the net. Only to find out, that the flight departure is too close, and I cannot buy the tickets anymore from the internet. [Sigh] 15 minutes earlier they were still there... J. already has tickets to Dubai, so he can't come to any other place with me. So I search tickets from Ebookers, Travellink, airline web pages, and he does the same thing. No, it is two expensive to go to Dubai for couple of days with those prices. So I need to go somewhere else. Today. (Remember the tax rule.) I think about Barcelona. Oslo. Prague. But: I would be going alone (which is not a problem) spending anyway closer to 1000 euros for a couple of days vacation. And because I would be alone, and I would know I have some much work waiting to be done, would I be sitting alone in a hotel room finishing up some tests? Not a good idea. But I got to go somewhere. What do I do?

And couple of hours go by... Let me just go back to home. But I can't. But I can go to Shanghai-home... Hmmm. Other airlines flight to Shanghai leaves in about two hours. How much are those flights... 750 euros. Okay, who cares, I need to go somewhere anyway. So I go to the ticket counter again, and order the tickets. You need a visa to China, the clerk tells me, that takes two days minimum. Yeah, I live there, it's okay.

But then, I have another problem: I have two bags and two cabin bags. I was going to fly Lufthansa, and I have their gold card, which allows me double the bags I can check in with Finnair, which I am now flying. So, 300 euro more, tells the lady when I check in. No thanks, is there anywhere I can leave the other bag? Yes there is, that is another 70 euros. Well, I only pay 10, and beg my friend who kind of happens to visit the airport couple of times a week to pick up my bag.

I feel SO exhausted when I get to my seat in the plane, I cannot even sleep. I am just too tired to sleep.

Because my unchangeable-changed flights now depart from Finland on January 11th, because I lose the return (Shanghai-Finland) of those tickets if I don't use the first flight, because I want to be in Finland for my mothers surgery, and because my Finnair tickets would have been too expensive to return to Finland this weekend, I am going / coming back to Finland next Wednesday. And staying five days and then coming back to China again. Recently, I have started to hate flying. It was only couple of years ago when it was still fun, exciting. Then, in 2005 I started travelling twice every month. Now I still love to see new places. And old places. But flying...

And to top up this ordeal: on Monday, when I was already in China I get an e-mail from the travel agent saying: We managed to change your flights. Your departure now is on January 11th. Oh really, you xxxx muppets! I kind of figured that out already. Instead of that I replied: Ok, I need to change the return too, from April 6th to May 2nd. Guess what they replied? Sorry Ms. Eeva, changes to these tickets are not allowed.

2 kommenttia: kirjoitti...

now I see why people try to Leave China.....

Good Luck , Chineese people in leaving China!

Eeva kirjoitti...

Yeah, I feel bad (on occasion) when I "mock" chinese, or generalize some of their unfavourable traits/ unwestern habbits to all Chinese, but then something like this happens again, and I cannot help myself...