A Travellerspoint blog

USA

PDX to MSP to CDG

Part 1: Portland to Cairo via MSP and CDG.

I felt very sad leaving my boys today. I talk so much about wanting to live the life of travel. Then when the time comes to turn my words into action, I get all sad and homesick. Hopefully, as I make some distance in the air, my unease at leaving my loved ones fades a little.

Little Henry was, I'm sure, convinced he was coming with me since he rode to the airport with us. He's been sleeping with his head on my backpack for a couple of days thinking he'd catch me slipping out the door. As Chris drove away his little head poked over the top of the rolled down window willing me with his eyes to stop the car and get him! My hope is that he realizes he needs to get back in the car to pick me up at the airport and doesn't sleep by the garage door for a month.

I feel so fortunate to have such a sweet and supportive husband. He knew I was a little on edge, so he let me behave like a spoiled rotten nincompoop. He didn't yell at me once as I was giving him instructions on how he can take care of Henry as I do. Truthfully, though, aside from Kristin Haagensen, Chris is the only one I feel like is the next best thing to me. Chris will be okay and so will Henry and Stewart.

And, so, off I go for a summer adventure.

Arriving at the airport this morning and printing my boarding passes, I was surprised (should I have been?) to see that Air France changed my seat from MSP to CDG and CDG to CAI to middle seats in the back of the planes yet again. WHAT? Luckily I got a solid 5K run in this morning, so I was feeling calm, cool, and collected. A nice Delta agent got me moved to aisle seats in the backs of both planes and printed the boarding passes for me. I'll check in MSP again to see what Air France has done.

I typed my first "real" travel blog entry on the plane to MSP. My mind is finally starting to shift to vacation mode.

All my possessions for the summer are in two bags--one that weighs 11.9 Kilograms and one that weighs 8 Kilograms. So often I find myself a slave to material possessions. I need a better laptop bag, new pants, a particular hair product. It's easy to become enamored with all the things one could possess. When I left for my first backpacking trip to South America in 1995, I had the biggest bags. I asked my dad to help me carry them out of the house and into the car. He said, "No. If you can't carry them on your own, you have too much stuff." Thanks, Dad, for that valuable lesson. This trip will be a great reminder of what I need in life to exist.

Posted by venisha 17:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Last Minute Preparations

Typhoid, RID, Rain Gear, Middle Seat

My last minute preparations began last Thursday when I made a frantic appointment at Passport Health in Portland to get a Typhoid vaccine. Who would work in an orphanage in India without complying with the CDC's advice on vaccines for India? Not I! Friday, during my lunch, I drove to an apartment office where a Nurse Practioner took a Typhoid Vaccine out of a cooler under her desk and charged me $175. Thank you very much. No more rookie travel mistakes for this veteran traveler.

Yesterday I finally read my volunteer handbook to prepare for my trip. I should have read it sooner--perhaps before I committed to two weeks. On the packing list, I noticed RID lice shampoo. What? To my dismay, it seems the kids at the orphanage have lice. Should I be surprised about that? No. Was I? Yep. After speaking with Peter at Global Volunteers, he reassured me that it was a preventive measure. No volunteer has reported a confirmed case of lice; however, Global Volunteers wants their volunteers to feel prepared and ready for anything since the kids have confirmed and reported cases of lice. I felt like I met my bug quota growing up in rural Minnesota. I had no idea. After the Peace Corps, I felt I had really, truly met my bug quota. Guess I was wrong about that, too. Please, please, please, don't let me get lice! The pharmacist at Walgreens assured me that if I were to get lice, it would be quite easy to leave those pesky bugs in India with a lice comb, a laundromat, and RID shampoo. She felt that if I had to get lice, it would be way easier while traveling rather than having to delouse our entire house. Words of wisdom, I suppose. So, now my overpacked quart size bag of liquids has two ounces of RID.

Packing for 38 days of travel to mostly Muslim countries has been a challenge for me. I have a few travel clothes I always bring on trips. This time, I had to shop a lot and try out clothing on our few hot days in Oregon. Thanks, Eva, for evaluating my Cairo, Egypt apparel. Additionally, I will board over seven flights. Two of the flights have a 15 Kilogram weight limit. That's not a lot of weight for 38 days of travel. I think I've finally got it at 15! Good job! Oops! Forgot the rain gear! It seems that rain gear is a must when traveling to Nepal during the monsoon season. I live in Portland, Oregon. Shouldn't I have a light rain jacket to pack? Nope. It seems I only have cold weather rain jackets. Chris and I made a trip to REI and made two very sensible purchases. Now I just need to get it in my already overweight suitcase!

Delta and Air France are not my friends right now. Delta, operated by Air France, from Paris to Cairo keeps changing a "paid for" and coveted aisle seat to a middle seat. I've spoken with them five times over the course of a couple of weeks. I finally received an email from a Delta agent with a confirmed seat assignment. Nope! They were only kidding. Putting something in writing and adding the word "confirmed" means nothing to an airline that operates under the idea that people will fly with them no matter what. Today, Air France has not only moved me to a middle seat, but I'm in the back of the plane. What? I booked my tickets months ago! I paid for and reserved the seat I wanted. I called Delta for the 5th time at 3:00 pm today. I chose to have a callback rather than wait on hold. Good thing because it was a 4.5-hour wait. What the heck? And, get this? The Delta agent transferred me to Air France where I've been on hold for 25 minutes. And, get this, I was told that the money I paid "extra" for a seat was really just to know I had a seat on the plane. Really? What is the purpose of the $1800 dollars I paid? Standing in the aisle? The airline can change me to any seat on the plane, including a middle seat, even though I paid for a seat. The extra money was for what then? I paid money for a seat they could switch, and if I hadn't paid money they could have just put me in any seat? UGH! What a racket! Why are there no checks and balances on airlines? I no longer wonder why people are so angry on flights. I think I need to take a break from Delta and try a different airline. Maybe one that isn't an American carrier. I feel furious right now at the greed of airlines and the absolute lack of customer service.

I know these are all 1st world problems. I know I probably need a reality check on need versus want. Two weeks in an orphanage might be what I need to become more grounded. Crap.

Posted by venisha 17:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

2.5 days and counting

Will I get a visa?

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My new visa application has been submitted. Most of the people travelling to China as part of this program sent their visas to Chicago on Monday. My flight itinerary has been changed. The plan as of today is to arrive in Shanghai on June 29, start orientation on June 30, start teaching the following Monday for 2 weeks. On July 20 a group of us from the camp will travel to Beijing to see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and Tiananmen Square. Then off to X'ian to see the Terracotta Soldiers. Kristin is flying to Thailand a week early. For the first week we'll travel to northeast Thailand up to the Mekong River to the border of Laos. Hopefully we'll be able to cross over so I can get a Laotian stamp in my passport. The second week we're off to southern Thailand to Phuket and the Islands. The third week we'll travel up the the northwest region where I think I have Kristin convinced to do a 3-day bike trip with a tour group. I'll have that visa in my hands on Friday. (Cross your fingers!) I can't wait to see what the visa looks like. Since it's for China, I'm sure it will have a beautiful picture with lots of red it it.

So, that's the latest plan.

I've started to pack. I had a final dentist appointment stateside and I had a bon voyage gathering with work friends. Lupe, Mary, Barb, Isis, and Kris met for a happy hour on Lake Minnetonka. IMG_0541.jpg

On Friday my two best buddies, Puck and Friday, are off to my sister Laurie's house. She's not too happy about getting their hacienda, but I know that not having the cats on her couch will be worth the hassle of transporting it.
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Posted by venisha 11:39 Archived in USA Tagged preparation Comments (1)

Challenges, Challenges, and Challenges

all seasons in one day

My request for a visa has been rejected...yet again. None of the staff members in the Twin Cities have been issued a visa. I need to resubmit a new itinerary with my new visa application to the Chicago Consulate on Monday that shows only a maximum stay of 30 days. Hopefully by proving we'll only be in China for 30 days or less, we'll be granted a visa. Since my $2447.49 plane tickets to China, Thailand, and around Thailand are non-refundable, I'm really hoping the powers that be expedite the process of getting a visa...and my passport...back in my hands by a week from today.

Now, if you remember the headache I had trying to get a flight out of Guangzhou, China to Phuket, Thailand when Cheaptickets and China Southern changed my ticket, you'd know how stressful it is to change my ticket again. Every time I call Cheaptickets, it seems I've been connected with an overseas office. The connection is not the best and the English is often challenging to decipher. As I type this blog entry, I'm on hold with Cheaptickets. If all goes well I'll be able to change my ticket to leave Shanghai, China on July 27 instead of leaving Guangzhou, China on August 3.

Given the denial of visas to the majority of staff, the program Hometown China, USA has been shortened. We will have an orientation in Shanghai for the first week and will have a 2-week day camp in Shanghai. We are finished working on July 20. Since I'll have about 7 days before my 30 day maximum stay is over, I'm planning on trekking up to Beijing to see the Great Wall, The Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and the Terra Cotta soldiers. From there I'll fly to Bangkok and either hang out there until Kristin arrives on August 3 or I'll go to Cambodia, Mayalasia, Laos, or Vietnam. The possibilities are endless as none of these countries have visa requirements. Kristin has mentioned the possibility of changing her ticket to meet me earlier in Thailand to travel to another country or around Thailand. She is, however, fearful of spending more than 2 weeks away from home. She's learned from previous trips that she is always ready to come home after 2 weeks. When I was younger and "less worldly" :) I seemed to always be game to travel alone. Now...I prefer to have a travel companion. Traveling alone just doesn't have the allure it used to.

Ok, I was told by Cheaptickets that I can't change any tickets with them because I...yes, they said, "I" changed my ticket already. Ugh! They gave me a new confirmation number and passed me along to American Airlines. I've been on and off hold with them for about 22 minutes. They typed in my new travel needs and now, I'm on hold waiting for the fee for the ticket changes. I'm a bit frightened by the long wait time. I'm hoping it is under 150 dollars as that is what a representative at Concordia Language Village has informed us that IBM might reimburse for ticket changes. I just spoke with the "nice" native-English speaking lady on the phone. She informed me that they have to figure out my change fees by hand because China Southern, Thai Airways, American, and the airlines that I was on prior to my first change all have different rules and regulations about cancellation and change fees. It doesn't seem as though I have much of a choice at this point to choose to pay the price or not. I would love to tell them..."No, that is too expensive. I'll pass." I am not, however, too willing to find out what the Chinese government does to someone who overstays her visa. Well, I'm going on 42 minutes of hold and "conversation" time with American Airlines. The last conversation I had with Christine at American Airlines was about how Cheaptickets really screwed up my itinerary and I was booked on a standby flight out of China from Guangzhou. The numbers and codes for my flights were a bit messed up, too. Go figure... I still haven't been given a price. I'm anticipating between $500 and $900 dollars. I'm still keeping my fingers crossed that it is $150 or lower. Ok, so the grand total is $557...AND $20.00 for having American Airlines take over for Cheaptickets. WOW! Lesson learned...I'm now flying out of Shanghai into Bangkok on July 27 and down to Phuket on Aug. 3, where I'll pick up the rest of my itinerary.

Now, I just hope I get a visa.:)

Posted by venisha 13:38 Archived in USA Tagged preparation Comments (1)

Planning, planning, and more planning

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Today the "fabulous four" met at Caribou Coffee to work on curriculum. We've been meeting for several months to plan the daily events and activities. Dave and Jamie (left side) are married. Dave is the assistant dean and has been the "Mac.King" typing and organizing the sometimes "all too random" thoughts about language, various holidays, and cultural activities. Jessica (front right) and I took Mandarin classes through community education for our language prep. We got to see first hand how different the Chinese approach to education can be.
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I found out today that my visa application has been rejected...AGAIN. Everyone from the midwest has been rejected for a visa. Now what? This seems to be the big question of the day.

Posted by venisha 10:37 Archived in USA Tagged preparation Comments (0)

The preparation begins

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View New Itinerary & China and Thailand 2008 on venisha's travel map.

I leave in less than 2 weeks for Asia...China and Thailand. I will be teaching English to Chinese kids of IBM employees. The job is through Concordia Language Villages and IBM. The program is called Hometown China, USA and is an immersion English program for Chinese youngsters. My trip to Thailand is strictly vacation. My friend Kristin is meeting me in Thailand for 2 weeks of R&R.

I always knew I'd travel to Thailand one day, but I never thought I'd travel to China--let alone live there. I've started making the list of all my "to-dos". It gets longer and longer instead of shorter and shorter each day. This will be the first extended trip I take as a homeowner. There's a lot more prep involved than just ending a lease or saying goodbye to gracious hosts like sisters and parents.

My biggest stress today is not having a visa. Counting the business days until departure, I have exactly 11 days. I'm hoping that the powers that be intervene in the red tape and the delays of the US Postal service and get the federal documents into my possession ASAP.

My next biggest stress is trying to get a flight into Phuket, Thailand on August 3. China Southern Airlines decided it was best if I leave Guangzhou, China a day later than intended and that my destination should not be Phuket, but Bangkok. Cheap Tickets has graciously tried to contact this airline while I've been on hold several times. My longest wait was 55 minutes and 43 seconds. My blood pressure went up every time I did the math for my monthly cell phone allowance. As I work on this first blog entry, I'm on hold. It's been 32 minutes. Fun times in Minnetonka. My friend Kristin is planning on meeting me in Phuket on August 3. Hopefully she will not be waiting too long for me.

Ok, so the update on the trip. I have a flight from Guangzhou, China to Bangkok on August 3 in the AM. From Bangkok, I'll be on Thai Airways to Phuket. The airlines is not able to send me any documentation of the flight. I was told that I need to check in and get confirmation when I arrive in Guangzhou. I guess I just have to have faith. Could be an adventure!

I've mapped my route for you to see the plan.

Posted by venisha 10:52 Archived in USA Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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