LIVE & DIRECT | BEIJING 2008: PART THREE
The Strange World of Chinese Shipping Procedures…
By Grace Callahan
Ladies and Gentlemen, that concludes our programming. The show is officially over. Please make your way to the designated exits, and enjoy your journey home. We thank you for visiting. Make sure and let everyone know what a wonderful place China is — with so many people eager to help at all transit points! Oh, but please hand carry everything that you’ve purchased here, because forget about trying to ship anything. Not so easy for me, as I was dead set on shipping my computer (along with some random clothing that I wasn’t planning on carrying around with me for the next 6 weeks, and a pair of running shoes — doesn’t seem noteworthy, but stay tuned). I had figured that shipping a computer (anywhere) wouldn’t be easy, so I went in expecting to have some hassle. But there were many more surprises to come…
I packed a box with all of my belongings, as well as some souvenirs from the Olympic USA apparel store that I had bought for my boss. I knew from other’s past experience that liquids of any kind (think pens), batteries of any kind (think calculators) would not be allowed. No one told me about logos, or about the 18 customs forms that you have to fill out first. So I get in there, unload everything I have (I had checked out of my hotel, so I was loaded, as they say) — I think I must have scared the poor employees — plus we all know by now that I’m just plain bigger than all of them. So they start going through every single pocket and every single item in the bag. (I had also been warned about this — in fact advised not to pack panties!) They pull out my computer, pull out my jeans, look inside my running shoes, sift through the paperwork that I was taking back to file back at the office, my fake Salvatore Ferregamo purse and Louis Vuitton wallet that I simply couldn’t resist when carousing about Beijing and touring folks through the now infamous Silk Market. No need to carry those to the Mongolian plains, right? Anyway, they seem relatively fine with everything that they see, except no calculator allowed, no magnets allowed, and no fake Omega time- piece pendant allowed. They told me that I’d have to fill out a lot of paperwork in order to ship that back (customs, import, bla, bla, bla: the guy literally said: bla bla bla — I found that cute. His name was Sunny Sun– hee hee!) — I tried to explain that it was fake, but that only confirmed that it was impossible. "You cannot ship it back because it is fake." I thought I wouldn’t remind them that the Louis was also less than authentic. Hopefully that arrives back to the states.
And then come the forms. There were so many and I was spread out so far across the floor of the FedEx Kinko’s (it reminded me of a certain program that I did in New York when I spent an entire work day inside a FedEx shipping artwork to people — took over the floor then too), that I had to take pictures. Don’t have my USB to load them on here and show you, but it was pretty comical. There was the customs form, the declaration that I was a real person with an ID number shipping things (??), the declaration of what’s inside the box form (including what material everything was made out of, where it was manufactured: clothing from Bangladesh, Indoensia, Honduras, and who knows where else), the assertion that no nuclear or whatever testing needed to be done on my two year old computer, the form identifying what my shoes were made out of…(???), and finally the waybill — that was easy! Once all the forms had been filled out, though, they discovered that in fact FedEx isn’t allowed to ship anything back that has an Olympic ring logo on it. Luckily I’m well versed in meditative breathing exercises, or I might have completely lost it.
So, we filled them all out again, only this time having removed the ring logoed items. Thank goodness for me that I know a couple of people who still haven’t left Beijing and who have agreed to hand carry these things home on the plane and to ship them domestically, otherwise I would have had to become a quick Santa Claus! I went to seal the package up, but turn’s out that’s not allowed either! "The courier has to check it." Courier? I thought I was in a FedEx store! Who is the courier? Whatever. Trying to go with the flow here. Sometimes I wonder if I attract these incidents like contraband magnets. Oh! One more thing, they remember — we need to count how many items are in the box. So let’s go back through and count every piece of clothing. (They giggled when the counted the thong underwear. I did too. Don’t really know why I’m shipping them back. Guess I just figured since the box is already going…
Anyway, so then the guy goes, "Ok, finish!" And just like that I walked out of the store — my computer, fake Louis Vuitton wallet, running shoes and thong underwear sitting unsealed in a box that may or may not clear Chinese customs and get back to New Orleans. When I asked how much it would cost to send it, the guy just answered, "uhh…it doesn’t matter." Oh, ok — well if you say so…
But of course this experience came on the heels of an amazingly smoothly executed 2008 Summer Games held in Beijing. I think that all of us foreigners were pleasantly surprised at how well it went, and even the most open-minded of folks (I throw myself into that camp, even though I do steadfastedly refuse to eat dog penis) had their minds further expanded as they experienced China during this month. I originally thought that all the magazine articles leading up to the games celebrating the magnificent architecture were just a way to showcase China without having to deal with the less-attractive realities (I think I’ve talked enough about those in my previous posts), but it turns out that they were writing those articles because the architecture is truly stunning!! I had the exciting opportunity not only to get inside the water cube — very cool — but also to witness Usain Bolt demolish his competitors in the 200m men’s final. AND, I sat in the fourth row for Closing Ceremonies. I could practically touch those guys in light up suits, and it’s a good thing I couldn’t, because I definitely want one to bring home! I can safely say that the stadium is the most impressive I’ve ever been in my life. Haven’t been in a lot of international stadiums, but I have been in a few across the country, and that one is just simply breathtaking. Gorgeous. Electric, and many other superlatives. And though the Closing Ceremonies weren’t as impressive as the Opening, it was still a sight to see — if only to see the 90.000 other people waving orange flags and snapping their cameras, flashing like twinkling stars in the night.
But now the games have passed, the athletes and sponsors have gone home, the signage, although it remains, already feels outdated. I have successfully checked out of my month-long stay at the Crowne Plaza across the street from the Bird’s Nest and have nestled quite comfortably into a small guesthouse located down a windy alleyway in central Beijing. My backpack is the perfect size, for anyone who doubted me — and after I give away all of my Olympic paraphernalia, I will be light as a feather and headed north. I leave for Mongolia on the 30th of August, in two days, and have already mentally moved away from logistics and details and shipments home and dietary needs of our guests. I have started thinking about guesthouses in Ulanbaatar, and renting Land Rovers and do I need to buy a tent in the next few days? I still have a couple of friends on the ground here in Beijing who I will go out with in the next few days, but I’ll be in my jeans and travel shoes.
It’s been a great month with some ups and downs — work and personal — and I am thrilled to have been on the ground for this specific Olympic games. I hope that I don’t sound condescending when I say that I feel pride for the Chinese people in being able to pull an event of this size off, especially under the watchful eye of the prejudiced western world. I still take issue with their __________ and of course the ____________, but I do think that there are certain attitudes that we have of them that could use a refresher course as well. But that’s why we travel, right? To get the real deal, up close and personal.
I wanted to write before leaving to the north, just to conclude the experience and to mark the transition. There is email in UB, which is where we will land, but I’m hoping to get out into the wilderness, and when we do that, I might have find a connection. At least I sure hope I don’t.
So as usual, I hope that all is well back home and in all of the other places that I know people. Your personal Beijing 08 Correspondent is fading away and Grace the nomadic soul is reemerging.
Known to some as Big Healthy, Grace Callahan is an event planner and world traveler based out of New Orleans, LA who writes on the side. To holler at Grace, e-mail her at: email@example.com.