I travel with a backpack.
It’s covered in flags of the countries I’ve visited. Yes, it’s a little pretentious but It starts so many conversations with people I’d otherwise never talk to, and in this story, it leads to a case of mistaken identity.
Walking off the plane in Beijing I began looking for somebody to give me a visa for my short stay in Beijing. An 18 hour layover was just enough to see the Great Wall of China and grab some good food.
As I stumbled around the airport half asleep with bloodshot eyes from a long plane ride, a woman comes up to me, circles me once and looks very excited. Quickly she runs away with both arms to her sides to grab a large man who looked to be in a bad mood. She brings him to me, speaks for about 30 seconds in Chinese to him and he nods and points saying “Follow this little girl.”
She waves for me to follow her and I do. This would be the beginning of the strangest layover of my life.
We turned a corner to a sea of travelers trying to get through immigration, passports and arrival forms in hand. I let out a groan knowing I’ll be spending the next hour in this massive line. She says “No, Come.” when I walk towards the back of the line and waives at me to come to the “Special” line with nobody in it.
She very aggressively talks to the immigration officer pointing at me, and waives for me to come to him. I lay my passport on the table and without even looking at it, he stamps the passport and sends me through.
Directly after, there is a woman with a metal detector and a wand, the “little girl” yells at the lady and signals to go around it instead of through it. I was amazed at how she talked to the security and even more amazed at their responses to her.
After walking around the metal detector with my new determined friend, we get to customs where there is another huge line of people putting their bags through an other x-ray scanner and metal detector. She once again waves to me, signaling to not go into the line and to go around. Two guards quickly come up to me and once again she tells them to back off. I go through the final metal detector and even though it starts beeping and turning red, she waves for me to continue on without stopping.
I feel like an absolute boss as everyone in line is thinking “WTF?” as I walk right buy them with my private security guard yelling at people. At this point I am thoroughly confused as to what is happening but I don’t really care. I really didn’t know if I was going to be abducted by the Chinese Government or what the hell was happening but I made a decision to go with the flow. Besides, I really hate waiting in immigration lines and I wasn’t going to start asking questions, yet.
She turns to me and asks me “Where you stay tonight?”
I respond “Just a hostel near here called (insert cheap hostel name) “.
“Oh no, that won’t work for you. I know that place, you need a much better place.”
At this point my guard started to go up. Was she trying to get me to pay for a nice hotel? Was I literally being abducted? (The question about being abducted came up a lot that night)
“My hostel is fine, it’s only for one night.”
“No, we have a very nice place for you, don’t worry”
“So wait, you pay for the nice hotel or I pay?
“We pay everything for you, don’t worry.”
Mass confusion set in at that point and the untrusting side of myself started to get louder. It was illogical what was happening. Why would I get a free hotel? Why would I get pushed past all security? Why would they be treating me like a damn celebrity?…….Unless they actually thought I was a celebrity.
I told her, “Ok, so how do I get to this hotel?”
“We have private car and driver for you. Follow me outside.”
I had to just relax and go with the flow. Yes, this seemed too good to be true, yes there is a 10 percent chance that I will be abducted somehow. But I’m going to keep going with the flow, maybe it will make a good story one day.
A shiny black mercedes was out front and she introduced me to the driver. She talked to him for a while and he kept nodding then looking at me, then nodding and saying “Ahhh, ok ok”
She said she has to go back now and he will take me to the hotel. She was giving me really flirtatious vibes all of the sudden and acting shy. 100 percent confused how to say goodbye I just smiled, threw my backpack in the back seat and shut the door. I felt pretty damn cool for about 5 seconds till we left and the sinking feeling of that 10 percent chance I’m being taken to somewhere other than a “Really nice hotel” sinks in again.
That was a long and silent trip. It was dark outside, so I just kept trying to figure out what just happened and why they would act like that.
About 15 minutes after we left the airport he pointed to a huge white hotel with big marble columns that were lit up with upward facing lights and said “Hotel you go”
“That’s the hotel?”
Hell yes. I probably wasn’t being abducted!
We park and walk in. He talks to the front desk and she does the same “ahh” with a head nod before looking at my backpack and typing into her computer.
She said “You want buffet?”
I was starving and a buffet sounded like a kick ass way to end the night even if it was expensive.
“oh no charge for you sir, buffet now and for breakfast”
YEAAAAAAA. Life as a faux Chinese celebrity is awesome!
“Perfect, I’d love to see The Great Wall in the morning, can you have a taxi here in the early morning?”
“I will have my friend drive you, he would love to.”
“How much do you think he would charge?”
“Oh no charge for you sir.”
What the fuck. What is happening? Of course I’m not going to ask anyone what is happening out loud though. I’m just going to smile, nod and keep riding this wave of Chinese good luck.
The rest of the trip went off perfectly. I stayed in a big room with a king bed and had my free buffets. My trip to the Great Wall was perfect and my driver waited for me all day. When i asked to pay he refused the cash. I was given a free ride back to the airport as well. I never asked why. I never asked who they thought I was. I never said “no” to an offer out of distrust or fear and to this day it is an absolute mystery.
I will likely never have answers to those questions but I really don’t need them. I’m sticking with the story that I was mistaken for a celebrity and spent a very luxurious 18 hours in Beijing on a confusing but splendid expedition.
Go with the flow and trust, you never know what will happen.