Getting From Shenzhen to Beijing on 3 Words of Chinese

 In Asia

Back in 2010 we took what for us was a pretty monumental trip. We headed to China with Dek when he was 14 months old. Insanity, I know. It gets better. I did it again 6 months later by myself when Dek was 20 months old, but that is a whole other series of posts from the archive that you can read. Because our travel schedule picked up quite a bit after Dek was born I wasn’t able to share all of the little moments that popped up on that first trip abroad with our first-born. Hanging out on the couch with Ty while Dek naps has me reminiscing about all the fun we have had traveling with our son. It makes it so easy to dream about bigger and longer trips in our future.

Having fun with Dek between projects at Window of the World in Shenzhen, China (Nov. 2010)

Flying has always been easy for me. Sure the first few times I flew I was a little nervous and this was way before Dek and Ty were born. I am putting myself into a flying contraption that is being piloted by someone I don’t know. Any number of things could happen. Who wouldn’t be a little nervous? When Dek came along the nerves came along with it. What kind of baby would he be on a plane? Could I handle it if he screamed for 6 hours (his first flight) or would I go bonkers? Happily Dek proved a better flier than I was and still is to this day.

Never before had I been nervous about getting through an airport and onto the right plane though. That is until we flew from Shenzhen, China up to Beijing. I had finished up some work in the south and we wisely tacked on an extra week to explore some more of the country before heading home.

Now I had been working with Chinese printers for a few years by this point. So of course I knew only 3 words of Chinese (hello, please and thank you). Sad, but true. I’m not proud of it. All of my reps spoke English and I used that as a poor excuse. Up to that point on our trip our lack of language was not an issue. And then we got to the Shenzhen airport. Shenzhen may be right across the border from Hong Kong, but the language barrier proved to be much greater for us.

Dek helps the airport cleaning personnel sweep up

We checked in just fine. We even made it through security. We managed to find our gate with no trouble. And then the boarding process started.

Thank goodness for sign language. With a shy smile, shrug of apology and quiet pointing at our stroller I managed to get the stroller gate checked. That was the easy part.

We knew when they called our flight to start boarding because people started lining up. But when were we supposed to board? I knew some numbers in Chinese but they were speaking so fast that I couldn’t figure out if our section had been called. I started to feel a little hopeless. I knew we would get on board eventually but I didn’t like not knowing what was going on. I’ve always been a rule follower when it comes to queuing up. I didn’t know when my turn was. What was I to do?

Finally half way through boarding I marched myself up to the counter and started pointing at our ticket with a questioning expression and looking down the jet way. The counter clerk looked at me, said a few words that she quickly figured out I didn’t understand, and then just waved us through with a bit of an eye roll.

We made it safely and with our sanity intact to Beijing (Dec 2010)

Well I was not the picture of a smooth traveling mom in that moment, but we did get to our final destination. Thank goodness my printing rep had the Beijing office send a driver to get us to our hotel. I have no doubt that we could have made it there, but boy, oh boy was it so much easier to have someone take care of me for a moment. It’d already been a long trip.

Have you ever had to bumble your way through travel because of a language barrier? 

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Showing 5 comments
  • Taryn

    Oh man, I studied Chinese for two years before moving to Beijing, and I’m still a mess in Chinese airports!
    I love the photo of Dek with the cleaner- same as Charlotte, anyone with a broom is cool with her 🙂

  • Becca@R We There Yet Mom?

    What a funny story!! (Well, probably not at the time….) Thanks for sharing it with us this week!!

  • Lisa

    The language issue is one of the primary concerns that I have about traveling to China (which Emma desperately wants to do) but we would probably end up booking a tour which would at least partially solve the problem. Love the pics of Dek with no hair!! 🙂

  • Sonja

    All I can say is you’re VERY brave.

  • Tracy

    I did a four hour flight solo with my son when he was 14 months old … in my own country. That was nerve wracking enough. So wow! I’m impressed. Unfortunately I think it’s all to easy to be lazy as a native English speaker. It’s so widely spoken, particularly in Asia that it’s far to easy to get by without ever learning anything more than thank you, please and perhaps a few numbers. I usually enter a country with all these grand ambitions to learn more language ‘this time’ and rarely do.

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