The University of Iowa

The journey to China: an ambiguous day

June 11th, 2014

By Dakota Phillips

Dakota, of Elgin, IA, is a junior majoring in Chinese and communication studies at the University of Iowa. He is currently studying abroad in Tianjin, China on the Iowa in Tianjin summer program.

We got up at 3 a.m. to drive to Chicago. For whatever reason when I got up, I left my eyeglasses on my bed. Moments later, my loving dad accidentally sat on them, rendering them unwearable. I determined it best to go without and wait until I reached China to get them repaired.

I didn't sleep much that night. I'd like to deny my excitement, but it kept me awake.  We drove to the airport and stopped for McDonald's breakfast. McDonald's…because they're open.

At the airport. $100 for a second bag. Thanks, Dad. Sir, you have to move your car. Bye, Dad. This is where we part. Bye, Mom.

Please take off your shoes. Seat C20. Uneventful flight to LAX. The in-flight movie before the stream of crap reality TV was The Lego Movie.

Upon landing in LAX, it took me quite a while to find my terminal. I landed in T6, and was told to go the Bradley Building. Once at the Bradley Building, I was told to go to T2. I went to T2 and got in line with a few hundred Chinese people and a sprinkling of white people and a couple of Middle Eastern people. Neither here nor there, but it was my first taste of being the minority.

All aboard. We got on the plane which was playing some Oriental style music that was flute-centric. There was a small pillow, a small blanket, and a pair of odd two-pronged headphones that played separate mono channels in order to create a stereo effect.

plane screen

My screen on the Air China flight

Thenextseveralhours sortofrantogether therewasaconstantstruggle totry to STAYAWAKE orsleep to stave offjetlagjetlag   I wound up watching quite a few movies. I watched the original Ocean's Eleven. I watched the Woody Allen movie 'Midnight in Paris'. It was at this point that my love for Woody Allen redoubled, even though he keeps making the same movie.


Ladies and Gentlemen, we're beginning our descent into Beijing, please turn off your electronic devices and fasten your seatbelts. Thank you for your cooperation.

Off the plane with the sea of jet-lagged nationals.

Customs first. I get it, but there is an implication that if you're denied access to the country that you don't get your things back. It's the least of your worries, but still. Queue up in one of the several 'FOREIGNERS' lines for customs. Do you have your yellow paper? No? Go fill out a yellow paper.

arrival card

Mandatory arrivals card for customs inspection

Welcome to China. 谢谢.

The first thing I see past customs is a KFC on the second floor. This airport is truly enormous. A labyrinth of high ceilings connected by automated trams that are filled wall to wall with people respectfully trying not to stare. Honestly, the novelty of the white American was thankfully less than anticipated.

I picked up my bags and pulled them out of the airport. I got swindled by my cabbie, but I got to my hotel safely and in good time. Exhausted, I took the elevator to the seventh floor, opened the door to room 718, opened my bags, unsuccessfully tried to connect to the internet, and fell asleep alone on the bed at 8 pm local time, 20 hours after I started in Chicago.


Me: Wei? (Hello?)

Receptionist: 你的室友已经到来。他会来了,你的房间在三分钟内

Me: Ni hui shuo yingwen ma? (Can you speak English?)

Receptionist: 我不会说英语。感谢您和我们一起住。


Three milliseconds later the door opens with a Chinese bellhop and this strapping young man named Dan Snow appeared. I leapt into some pajamas, made with the pleasantries, and laid the groundwork for what would eventually come a true friendship with my roommate for the next few days at the hotel.