The fourth day of our trip was mostly spent traveling. We had an afternoon flight out of Shanghai to New Delhi which meant we could have a leisurely morning at the Disneyland Hotel before heading out. First thing we did was talk to the front desk about ordering a car to take us to the airport. I got the impression that this was an unusual request. They had a handy reference sheet showing sizes of cars and the expense, but after I picked one it took four people to figure out how to call and order the car. They were all extremely helpful and spoke excellent English, but I was a little surprised that this wasn’t a common occurrence.
After we got the car arranged we headed over to Downtown Disney via the ferry across the lake that we hadn’t been able to ride the day before. It was a slow mode of transportation, but we got to sit the whole time so no real complaints. The boat dropped us off next to a X-wing Fighter model that we’d missed the day before which was a point in its favor. Kira had purposefully waited until this morning to do the serious Disney shopping, but first we made a stop at the Shanghai Disneyland Starbucks. The Starbucks was designed specifically for Shanghai Disney and it was a pretty nice space. And to continue our experience from the day before, there were no lines – at least not until our family of five came through and tried to figure out what we each wanted for our quick breakfast.
Fully caffeinated we moved on to the stores of Downtown Disney. We barely made a dent into the dozens of shops and restaurants, but that didn’t keep the experience from lasting more than an hour. We collected a god pile of Disney branded items for ourselves and for a select few back in the US and then made our way to the cash register. Things got very interesting at this point because one of our credit cards decided it didn’t like us traveling to China even though we’d used it twice already. We tried a second card – also no luck. It was a pretty stressful situation because we needed to start heading back to catch our ride to the airport. The clerk asked at one point if we had Apple Pay, which I thought was interesting because my Apple Pay account is backed by the credit card they had just rejected. In the end our Visa debit card worked, but only after waiting some time while the clerk keyed his register and swiped the card multiple times. Now we just had to figure out how to fit everything on our suitcases.
On our boat ride over we could see how close the hotel and Disneyland Park were so we decided to walk back across a pedestrian bridge. It was quicker than the boat or the bus we’d taken the night before. We got back to the hotel and before we could ask for our bags the front desk informed us that they had loaded our car and it was waiting to take us to the airport.
Even with the extra scrutiny my temporary passport received we made it through all of the various airport lines with plenty of time to sit down for a late lunch. Our food choices were limited, but we found something to eat if not to drink (water was not on the menu). Unfortunately we finished our lunch only to find out that our flight had been delayed. Reason: unknown. New flight time:we’ll let you know. We waited for several hours listening the same announcement about China Eastern Airlines Flight Number 563 to Delhi being delayed, but with no new time given. Except it wasn’t just flight #563. For some reason our flight had four different flight numbers and when they made the announcement they gave each one the full name,”China Eastern Airline Flight 563, China Eastern Airline Flight 5009, China Eastern Airline Flight 569….” It took them five minutes just to list off the flight numbers and we waited each time hoping they would update us after they read off all of the numbers. They never did. About the time Melanie had figured out how to count to ten in Chinese just by converting the flight numbers from the Chinese announcement and the English announcement they changed the status of our flight from Delayed to Final Boarding without making any announcement at all. The information floated through the crowd in various languages until we all got up and got in line. We boarded the plane about two hours after it was originally scheduled to take off.
The flight itself was uneventful. It lasted about seven hours and all of us managed to get some amount of sleep. I did note that at one point our row was the only one with reading lights on, which I assume means we were the only ones in our section reading books. When we landed it was around ten o’clock local time and our best case scenario put us at our AirBnB by midnight. The host of the AirBnb had arranged for a ride from the airport and we hoped they waited the extra three hours from our original flight time. Because of my Analog Visa I went through a separate line at Indian immigration and it was actually faster by a few minutes. I met Sarah and Michel to collect our bags while Kira and Melanie went in search of a place to convert our Yen to rupees. They managed to convert some, but we knew we needed more cash so we also hit up the ATM before venturing outside to find our ride.
We exited the airport and began looking for our driver who we knew would be holding a sign with our name on it. This was a first for me. I’ve hired cars before, but never had one meet me at the airport with a sign. It’s one of those moments I only know about from movies and it will have to stay that way for now because as we scanned the crowd there was no sign saying “Donnelly”. Just as I was beginning to think we might need to start making alternate plans I saw our driver. He was holding a sign that I knew was for us, it read “Miss Kira.”
The driver took us over to our van and we soon exited the airport for our first real look at Delhi. It was approaching midnight and dark so maybe not the best first view, but right away I could tell the city was different from anywhere I had ever been. Melanie likes to say that Delhi defies description and that you have to visit to truly experience the city, but I’ll try anyway. The ride from the airport to our AirBnB was under an hour and in that time I saw a good chunk of the city that exists near the freeway. Even in the dark a dichotomy of sorts started to take shape. We passed posh jewelry stores and banks at the same time we passed piles of rubble and garbage. There were noisy streets filled with food carts and a few calm sidewalks with people walking somewhere at the late hour. From my perspective the garbage, rubble, and desolate buildings stood out more than the other side of the city. Internally I kept thinking we would come to a clean part of the city before we reached the apartment we had rented out for three days. This was not the case.
Eventually we pulled into a walled neighborhood. I guess the crumbling wall patched with chainlink fence was mostly there to mark the neighborhood we would be staying in. The buildings just inside the wall were decaying and several stray dogs roamed the streets. The apartments started to feel a little more residential as we drove a couple blocks further, but then the driver turned around and went down a very sketchy side road.
Then back out to the main street.
Then back to the side road.
Each change in direction punctuated with a brief phone call (to get directions I assume). Finally we just kept going down the side street, which had cars parked on both sides so close that the driver had to tuck in his mirros and go very slowly to avoid scraping the sides of the van. As we continued down the street we saw a man standing in the middle of the road holding a large staff. I was pretty sure he was going to stop us ad demand a toll, but the driver continued on and we soon reached the man our driver had called standing outside to wave us down.
The young man who had waited until after midnight for us to show up helped us get our suitcases up four flights of stairs. After we paid our driver and sent him away the AirBnB guy showed us around the apartment, gave us some bottled water, and most importantly gave us the WiFi password. After a long day of travel it was nice to have a place where we could just collapse. The apartment was as large or larger than our apartment in Tokyo, with three bedrooms, two balconies and a spacious living room.
I liked the space. It was the clean piece of India I had been looking for since we landed. I made some comment about the apartment being nice, but I thought it was going to be in a good neighborhood.
Melanie, “This is a good neighborhood.”