Thursday, March 22, 2012

Me and Marco Polo

I have been working hard on organizing my trip to China that is coming up in June: I'm one of ten American children's literature scholars invited to take part in an inaugural symposium focused on the theme of "The Image of the Child in Chinese and American Children's Literature." Ten Chinese scholars will also be presenting. All the papers will be translated English-Chinese or Chinese-English. The symposium will be held at Ocean University in Qingdao, China.

I've been busy trying to buy my plane ticket, a project which turned out to be surprisingly difficult. I'm flying Indianapolis-Chicago-Beijing-Qingdao. I tried to book the whole thing through United, but couldn't seem to do it. Each time I called United, I would get a recording that announced, "Your wait time to speak to a representative is approximately . . . . twenty minutes." I would wait for twenty minutes, then speak to someone in some distant part of the world who couldn't understand what I was saying, then I'd ask to speak to a supervisor, then I'd find out that there was a problem arranging the Beijing-Qingdao segment of the trip on Air China, so I had to wait twenty-four hours and try again. . . or I had to be on a wait list. . . or I had to call Air China myself.

When I finally did call Air China myself, with much trepidation, what a pleasant surprise! My approximate wait time to speak to a representative was no wait time at all. "Brad" spoke better English than the United Airlines folks. I did have to email him a photocopy of my passport, my credit card front and back, and fill out a form to send in. But once I did, the ticket was booked right away.

Then I had to start looking for my hotel in Beijing, as I'm going to stay there for a couple of days before heading up to the conference. Once we get to Qingdao, everything will be taken care of for us there. Luckily, one of the other scholars already had her hotel reservation, so I just copied her, after a few failed tries on their website - actually, successful tries, but each time I hadn't realized that I succeeded, so I kept trying again, and so ended up with a slew of reservations I then had to cancel. And it was scary to sign up to pay 1917 RMB for the three nights. I had to go find out what kind of currency an RMB is, and what it is worth in dollars. It turns out that the whole three-night stay in what looks to be a very fancy hotel will be just $340.

I still have to get the visa, which also doesn't look easy. I'm going to use a special visa agency based in Chicago. Oh, and then, I still have to write the paper that I'm presenting, which is due on April 1 to allow time for the translation. Mine is on the gendered representation of the child in mid-century American chapter books, particularly Henry Huggins and Ramona by Beverly Cleary.

So it's been a big job. But I keep telling myself not to complain. It's going to be a wonderful trip of a lifetime when I get there. And, hey, Marco Polo had a lot of preparations for his trip to China, too. He didn't even get to sit in a comfortable office chair booking his travel on his computer, or by telephone. Put in perspective, approximate wait times of 20 minutes aren't too terrible. Not for me and Marco Polo.


  1. My Chinese friend, Yanbao, has never heard of "Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo", so when planning your talk, don't assume that your audience will be familiar with that story of the poor boy who falls in a well and is nearly killed by the length of his ridiculous name.

  2. Thanks for the advice, Scott!