“Always look on the bright side of life”. To be honest I’m really struggling right now. The sun has questionably risen (its so dark and wet out there) and I’ve been in Auckland airport for 16 hours with another 12 to go before my flight. How did this happen I hear you ask? Well…let’s begin…
I spent the whole of my last day in New Zealand pestering my friends to drop my off at the airport five hours early as I was nervous about the amount of luggage I had and also about the 72 visa-free transit I was about to do through Bejing. Of course, I forgot check-in doesn’t open until three hours before each flight so I sat on the floor of the airport and waited patiently. I was one of the first up to the counter and my luggage passed no problem. Then there was a long pause. I felt a lump in my throat and I started to come over all hot and flustered. I was a little worried about flying to China without a visa but I had read about the 72 hour visa granted to 52 countries for entry and exit into Beijing. After extensive research and even a phone call to the Chinese Embassy it was confirmed that my travel plans met the requirements.
Why then was I refused entry on to the flight by the counter staff at China Eastern Airlines? Because of the Chinese Embassy apparently, never one to take the blame these customer service agents. Unbeknown to me I could not qualify for the visa-free transit because I was passing through Shanghai on my way to Bejing. I was aware of this clause but I was under the impression that because I was not going out of the airport, through passport control and had booked just one ticket from Auckland to Beijing then my aircraft change at Shanghai would not effect my visa-free transit.
I tried to phone the airline to change my flight but my phone contract had expired just 10 minutes earlier. I had already cancelled it due to leaving the country. The pay phone in the airport didn’t work and not one person; the information desk, the airport travel agent or the airline let me use a phone. I tried to book a new flights but my new card wouldn’t work and was then blocked. I tried to book using another card but then my wifi run out just as payment was about to go through. Flight prices went up, I cried some more and after five hours I was still sitting on the floor of the airport beside myself. What had I done to deserve this?
It was now 10pm. I had been at the airport since 4pm and awake since 6am. I was over crying, I was over stressing. I needed a drink. After two glasses of overpriced wine at the airport bar I was no better able to sort things out and it took me until 1:30am to finally book a flight. The damage was done. $1300 plus another 19 hour wait at the airport. Everything I had worked hard to save for ahead of my trip to Europe, gone.
Look on the bright side. It took me just over two weeks to earn that money at the Kiwi packhouse which led me to heaps of lovely friends and a final week in New Zealand to remember. I still have my health, my family, my friends. I no longer have a car, I’d just given the majority of my stuff to charity and now no money but hey, all that’s overrated I’m sure. Onwards and upwards I’m going to China! Even if it’s just for two days I hope to see the Great Wall, eat Peking Duck and find out if the Chinese are really as rude as their stereotype implies.
Before I continue on my journey I’d like to share with you my adventures from my last month in New Zealand. An impromptu decision saw me move into a working hostel in Tauranga with the promise I would be given work at a Kiwi Packhouse. I was one of the lucky ones and sure enough the very next day I started my two week stint of ten hour day shifts watching kiwis fall into a box, closing the lid and repeat. It was back-breaking tedious work but it gave me the opportunity to meet people of all ages from all over the world. I love a good natter, even when working and I soon formed a good group of international friends.
I had taken on work to pay for a warrant of fitness (WOF) for my car (Nina) and have a little spending money on my upcoming trip home. On my way to work on the day she was due to go into the garage Nina died on me. The garage collected her and quoted me $160 for repairs. Not wanting to spend any more money on a $1200 car without a WOF I decided to sell her and contacted the garage to tell them a buyer would be meeting me there at lunch and that he would be getting it repaired, not me. I arrived to find my car fixed without my permission and the mechanic telling the driver it needed $$$ of repairs driving the potential buyer away. This left myself to foot the bill for repairs which by some miraculous miscalculation ended up being $200. It was a huge palava and dominated my life for what felt like weeks. A Maori lady asked if she could buy the car via TradeMe and gave me $700 in cash. It was all very bizarre and she didn’t seem to mind that the vehicle wasn’t legally driveable and what’s more, she didn’t even want to take a look at the car. I took the money and ran. My beloved Nina was gone which meant a year’s worth of house, camping and farm stuff had to be given to charity. I am now back to square one with no stuff and no vehicle.
Amidst all this car drama, hostel life was good. I strangely miss having to wash every bowl I wanted to use, not having a working oven or can opener, the noise of late night TV through the wall next to my head and even the unchanged bedsheets. I had made a heap of friends there too so leaving was hard but it didn’t make sense to be paying for a hostel when I wasn’t working. I also wanted to experience living out of a van which so many travellers and locals enjoy here.
I spent one week with Maria (my new German friend), Nigel (the van), Jane (the ukulele), Tommy (the bike) and a whole host of other junk I managed to move in with me. She called me her little house pig because more so than often I found myself dressed in a pig onesie, mainly when I was either cold or drunk. We parked up outside the kiwi packhouse because she was still doing the cleaning there for a few hours a day and they didn’t seem to mind us useing their facilities. The weather turned to shit so we were stuck inside the van/kiwi packhouse for the majority of the week but we still managed to get up to mischief with a series of (un) memorable parties. The packhouse became our home, the local craft beer bar our second and Nigel our bed.
Maria and I enjoyed reading glossy magazines way past our bed time (8pm), watching Forest Gump with a camp flask of red wine (which I managed to spill all over our clothes and white bedding) and eating countless crap. One night we decided to stay at a freedom camping spot and woke up to a $200 fine. We were unaware Maria had already used up her two nights parking allocation that month and the council had spotted us. Ouch.
We cheered ourselves up by baking bread and banana cake using the packhouse’s oven and the limited ingredients we found in Nigel. In addition to “filling Nigel full of my shit” as Maria liked to keep reminding me, I also broke Nigel’s sliding door by getting the rope on the roof jammed inside. “You are such a Chaotisches Schwein (chaotic pig)” I think were her words. So having nearly got kicked out of Nigel we kissed and made up and had one final night drinking hot chocolate after a visit to the local hot pools.
I was sad to see both Maria and Nigel go and I can now understand the appeal of freedom camping in a van. Luckily my kiwi mum and dad who I’d met on my cycle around the
were there to help me out and offered me a bed for my last few nights. During this time I caught 7 snapper out at sea, went for what I would say is New Zealand’s best pie, enjoyed a selection of decent wines and prepared for my trip to China.
No matter how organised, destressed and decluttered one may be, life always seems to throw shit in my face and remind me that the normadic life I’m chosing to live right now is not always as wonderful at it often sounds. Things happen for a reason says my good friend Maria. And so right is she.