On December 16th we left Malaysia to head back to the US for a two and a half week vacation. We always break up the flights back by staying overnight somewhere in Asia because it’s just too far to travel continuously with three little kids. Korea has been the easiest for this so far, but due to ticket costs my company has decided to have us stopover in China previously and this trip was the same.
On a previous trip we stayed overnight in Beijing and that proved to be a mistake because ultimately Logan ended up hospitalized for the majority of our time back in the US after getting salmonella and E. coli poisoning in Beijing, and Zoe had the same and was hospitalized for 1 day. In addition to the sicknesses picked up there I was also hassled at immigration when we went through the 72-hour visa-free transit line. Eventually they let me through but it wasn’t necessary and just extra trouble after you’re already tired from traveling.
We were planned to stopover in Shanghai during our recent trip back to the US. I had asked my company to please not route us through China, but the lower cost beat out my desire to avoid problems again. I also had raised my concern about a short 1hr and 40min layover in Detroit, as I told my company that we need 3-4 hours for transfers when coming into the US. I was told that the airlines allow that transfer because it’s within a window they believe is sufficient time to transfer, but having been through immigration, customs, baggage claim, baggage recheck, security and gate hunting with a family of 5 that includes an infant and two toddlers, I assured them that it simply wasn’t enough time. Again the lower cost beat out my sensible request…
We left our home in Malaysia around 3pm because we’d found in the past that waiting much later meant that we cut it close to missing our flights due to rush hour traffic jams when trying to cross the causeway after 5pm. We got to Changi around 6pm, got ticketed, checked our luggage, made our way through immigration and then headed to the lounge to relax until our flight. Around 9:30pm we went to our gate and through security, then boarded our China Eastern flight for Shanghai, which departed shortly after 11pm.
We arrived a Pudong airport in Shanghai just after 4am and that’s when the first hurdle came. At major ports of entry in China, like Shanghai and Beijing, they offer 72 hour visa-free entry as long as it’s just a transfer stop in your itinerary (not the destination) and as long as you stay in that immediate area. It stimulates tourism for China and gives travelers a way to break up their trips and see interesting cities.
Everyone except for us from our plane lined up at the normal immigration area, but we walked all the way to the end where the signs pointed to the 72/144 hour free visa counters. Unfortunately there weren’t any immigration agents at our desks. We waited for a while as the people from our plane were processed and other plane loads of people arrived and filled that line up again and again. We asked where the agents were and we were told to wait. We continued to wait. Eventually after asking different officials we were told that this desk didn’t open until 8am. What?! They have planes arriving all night long at this huge port of entry and this desk isn’t open over night?
Eventually we got to the back of the regular line and after several hours with our kids crying, whining, crawling, sleeping, and just being miserable we made it to the counter and passed into Shanghai. We collected our luggage and went through customs but since it had taken so long to clear immigration our ride wasn’t there waiting to take us to our hotel. I called the hotel and we waited as they made the arrangements for someone to come collect us. We eventually got a ride to our hotel.
We checked in and Carol went out and got some amazing dumplings for breakfast while I took a shower and the kids jumped around with their second wind. The dumplings were unbelievably hot and when you’d bite into them they’d spray hot soup out all over the place. I would definitely recommend trying them if you’re ever in Shanghai – they were great.
We eventually all got showers/baths and then took a long nap. That evening Carol and Zoe went out into the streets and walked around, checking out the area and eventually picking up dinner.
The next morning we went to the airport and again our travel arrangements were a mess. My company didn’t assign seats to everyone for some reason and had instead assigned two separate seats to one person, so we waited at the check-in counter for nearly 3 hours while the staff begrudgingly resolved the issue. Of course the guy who made the arrangements later said he did it correctly, and of course the airline said it wasn’t done correctly. All I know is that we were the ones who suffered – getting to the airport early to navigate it with children and then being forced to race to the gate after spending all that time at the check-in counter because somebody/nobody made a mistake…
We sat on the runway in Shanghai for almost 2 hours because “the sky in the corridor to Tokyo is full”. As I mentioned before, I had already told my company I didn’t like the short 1hr 40min layover they had for us in Detroit, and yep, the nightmare continued. We got to Detroit almost 2 hours late and missed our connecting flight to Louisville. We had to clear immigration and wait for a while to get or luggage, then we waited in line to speak to an agent about booking a new flight. We obviously weren’t the only ones who missed our flight so the wait was over an hour, then it took another hour to speak to the agent. They could put us on another flight in about 8 hours and we were “lucky” because they’d had bad weather the past few days and canceled many flights and pushed those people to other flights. I explained that I didn’t feel “lucky” having to extend our 65 hour trip from Malaysia to Louisville by about another 10 hours and it was at that point that I decided we would rent a car and drive.
We went outside the airport at Detroit to catch the shuttle bus over to the rental car place, and it was possibly the coldest I’ve ever been in my entire life. Our little ones weren’t prepared for it, so we quickly tried to bundle them up as best we could while we waited 10mins for the bus. I had already reserved an SUV in Louisville to be dropped off in West Palm Beach when we left to return to Malaysia, so I asked how much would the price change to pickup in Detroit instead of Louisville and was told the price would jump by another $1200 (original L’ville to WPB was $1400, so $2600!). WHAT?! Scratch that – how much for an SUV for a one way rental to be dropped off in Louisville? They informed me that they aren’t allowed to rent SUV’s to walk-ups, only with reservations. So we ended up with a tiny car that I needed a shoehorn to get in and out of, and we ended up leaving Sebbie’s stroller in the lobby of the car rental building because it couldn’t be crammed into our tiny car.
After this excruciatingly long trip with so many problems I smashed my family into this tiny vehicle and drove for the next 5 hours from Detroit to Louisville. In the dark, while it snowed. What a great start to a “vacation”.
The following morning I wasn’t able to stop in to see my old boss because we were at the Louisville airport changing over from the car to our originally reserved SUV. Amazingly we had a brand new GMC Yukon with only like 4000 miles on it. The rental lady was surprised about because she said normally they only allow regular SUV’s to go one-way, not luxury class SUV’s. The Yukon was fantastic! Tons of space for everyone and very comfortable.
We immediately set out for Birmingham and made it there by early evening. Our first stop was to see my Grandfather, who was being visited by my mom and my nephew, Riley, when we arrived. We spent about an hour or so there visiting. It was great to see them and I wish my mom had been able to stay in Birmingham longer, but she had to leave and we needed some rest after going nearly non-stop for 3+ days.
We got me booked into a hotel in Trussville and then I dropped off everyone at Carol’s mother’s home. The next several days was spent visiting with family and shopping. I went and visited with my grandfather 3 more times, once with Logan and two other times with Zoe. I also joined Carol and the kids at her Aunt Elnora’s home, where I had a good time hanging out with Joe, Carolyn’s uncle, while Jean and the kids hung out with Elnora. We managed to pickup a new stroller, get Christmas gifts for everyone, including an NES mini console for me and a new iPad for Jean, plus we all got new clothes to take back to Malaysia.
Here are the photos from our trip over from Malaysia to the US, including the stopover in Shanghai, as well as some from our first of three main stops – Birmingham: