My three month spell in one of the maddest countries on Earth happened by pure chance. I was hurtling towards the end of my final year at university with not an inkling as to what I wanted to do career wise, when I got chatting to a friend who had successfully applied to work as an intern through a company that partners up students and graduates with employees in China. Even better, funding was available to cover the costs of the flights, internship program and visa! I had to give it a shot. With the help of my friend, I completed the application form, and seven long months later I was boarding a flight.
I wish I could say the journey was smooth-sailing but it wasn’t. Let me explain. I had initially been allocated Shenzhen as the location of my internship, so had my flights booked and paid for from Newcastle to Hong Kong. However, when the partnering company couldn’t find me an internship employer in the sector I wanted (healthcare and pharmaceuticals) in Shenzhen, I switched to Shanghai, meaning I had to fly there from Hong Kong. Easy enough, if you discount the fact that the flight to Shanghai was cancelled, but not after being delayed 10 hours, three of which were spent on the plane. And despite being January and late in the evening, that plane doubled as a sauna and the cabin crew even ran out of water to give us at one point so were handing out miniature tubs of melted Häagen Dazs for people to drink.
Disheartened and bordering on dehydrated, I did a Rachel from Friends and got off the plane. After waiting around for another few hours, I was finally told that the airline were providing us with a hotel in Hong Kong that night and that a bus would take us there and then return us to the airport the next morning for a rescheduled flight. This wasn’t enough to curb the frustrations of some of the other passengers, who were so pissed off at this point that they went on a verbal Mandarin rampage against a poor member of the airport staff. I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or snapchat it.
The flight the next day was delayed – seriously, don’t fly China Eastern – but I was off. Shanghai was in sight, and a heady mixture of excitement and nerves were keeping my sleep deprivation at bay. It wasn’t long until the next edition to my personal series of unfortunate events occurred, however, when I was royally scammed by a taxi driver at the airport. In my pre-departure brief by the internship company, I was specifically told to not accept offers of a taxi from anyone in the airport and head straight to the rank, which I did, and to expect to pay around 150-200 RMB (~£15-£20), which I did not. It was the airport exit leading to the taxi rank where the scammer pounced.
“Yes please,” I said, with a sigh of relief that this nightmare commute was about to be over.
Grateful that he spoke English, I happily obliged. Instead of being led to the taxis outside however, I was taken to a desk back inside the arrivals lounge from where I’d just escaped. I handed over a piece of paper with the address of my hotel in Chinese and watched as the man tapped away at a calculator and filled out a receipt.
“Here is the price you pay now,” he said, pointing down. 550 RMB. Alarm bells started ringing in my head; this was ridiculously higher than the 150-200 RMB I was advised. With what little energy I had left, I attempted to protest that this was too much, and even showed them the email from the company detailing the amount a taxi should cost. Unsurprisingly, this fell on deaf ears.
“Your hotel is in Pudong, which is 1 hour away so it costs a lot.”
It had been over 48 hours since I left home to go to the airport in Newcastle at this point, so feeling fed up and defeated, I surrendered my hard-earned cash over and followed the man to a taxi, which had a new guy driving. My guess is that the one who had lured me in must fish for unsuspecting tourists, and that day he caught himself a massive mug.
The scammers weren’t done with me yet. Oh no. When arriving at my hotel, the driver flashed a laminated piece of paper at me that read, ‘Customers must provide a tip for 25% of the fare.’ After working out how many hours I’d stacked shelves at Waitrose to pay for the taxi, about 8 and a half, there was no way I was going to part with an additional 137.5 RMB (ANOTHER 2 hours at Waitrose!)
I firmly told the driver that I’d already paid way more than I should have and that I wasn’t going to tip him, but he was having none of this and demanded I gave him something. Paranoid that without being gratuitous I would either be driven away to my death, or have my bags in the boot stolen as soon as I stepped out of the car, I devised a plan to save myself and my belongings.
“I don’t have any money in here,” I lied, pointing to my wallet, “but I have some in my bags.”
We got out of the car, walked to the boot and I liberated my things. I knew I had an envelope in my carry-on case with some Hong Kong Dollars in that I’d accumulated during my airport saga, so I took it out and hastily slapped a 10 HKD note into the driver’s hands.
“I don’t have any Chinese currency and that’s the only note I have,” I said, lugging my backpack onto my shoulders and breaking away from the driver. I headed to the reception, picking up my pace as I heard the calls of the opportunist demanding more money as I fled. God loves a trier, but he was taking the piss. Needless to say, I made it, and what was to follow was one of the best three months of my life.