Monday, October 21, 2013

Day 1-2 : That's a LONG trip!

Let's start with a little explanation here.  I did not update my blog during my trip.  Turns out that sticky Chinese internet control really does work, and I was unable to access my blog while I was there. it's 3 weeks later, and I'm finally getting around to it.  I don't know how I will ever forgive myself. :)


It occurred to me as I walked back to my hotel after dinner tonight that I got up at 4:15am Sunday morning EST.  It’s now…around 9:30am on Monday morning, EST, and my only “sleep” has been a bit of napping on the plane.  No wonder I felt a little drunk as I walked to dinner!

That was a long trip!! 5 hours to Vancouver, a brief stopover, and then 11 hours from Vancouver to Beijing.  Can you guess what I was craving most when I finally got to my hotel??

Happily, the trip was pretty much uneventful.  I breezed through customs and security at Pearson. (I guess before 6am on a Sunday morning isn’t exactly prime time…though it looked as though the crowd closed in behind me.  Seems we know who is the big-time trend setter at YYZ!!)  The last couple of times I have flown, I have been singled out for random additional inspection; either testing for bomb residue, or searching my luggage (including both on one trip…).  In the same vein, security asked me today as I boarded for China whether I had announced to customs my intention to move more than $10 000.00 across the border.  I guess my look of confusion wasn’t clear, as when I replied no, the agent asked me whether I should.  I laughed and told him that I don’t earn enough to have those kinds of problems.

I settled into my seat for the flight to Beijing, and then the guy in the row behind me sat down.  He STANK of B.O.  An 11 hour flight and I felt like I was in a hockey bag…Not an auspicious start. Conveniently, a flight attendant came by and asked if my neighbor and I would mind switching with another couple.  Something about space in the overhead compartments….I didn’t question it as it moved me away from that odour.  The real story came from the guy sitting behind me in my new seat – I’ll call him guy #1 for sake of ease.  Apparently, guy #1 put his luggage in the overhead compartment.  The guy who switched with me (guy #2) then came along and started bashing the luggage that was already in there to try to fit his in.  G#1 said something along the lines of “Please sir, if you would be so kind, might you consider a lighter touch with the coveted belongings of others?” (recall that G#1 is my source for this story).  G#2 responded “I’m going to kick your ass as soon as we get off this plane.  Your wife is a freak, too.” (That response has been corroborated by other passengers.)  In any case, the crew wanted to separate those two guys.  Worked for me.  G#1 had no noticeable body odour.  Conveniently enough, G#1 and his very non-freakish wife are on the same tour as me.

When I was in Chicago last week-end, I spent one night in what was by far the nicest five-star hotel I’ve experienced – the Chicago Langham hotel. (Thank-you, Hotwire, that I don’t pay 5-star prices but still get to enjoy those luxuries.)  I spent the rest of my nights in Chicago in a Hilton Doubletree. (Also a very nice hotel for anyone looking for lodging in Chicago.)  Wouldn’t you know, the first hotel I saw today in Beijing?  The Langham!  We aren’t staying there…this tour isn’t quite that posh…but we are staying in the Hilton Doubletree! J  I even got my cookie upon check-in.

I got a good run in on the treadmill here (I’m rather pleased with myself that I managed that after all that travel), and then wandered the neighbourhood around my hotel, as I am inclined to do in strange cities. (If I were not so sleep-deprived, I’d still be out wandering!)  I don’t know how close we are to the core of downtown, but so far it’s not exactly what I expected.  Lots of beautiful parks and green spaces on the outskirts of the city, and a surprising lack of congestion in and around this neighbourhood.  Don’t get me wrong – lots of people (and I was out starting around 8pm on a Monday night…not exactly rush-hour commute), but not the dense humanity I was expecting. Strangely, if I ignore the characters on a lot of the signs, there’s a very familiar feeling here.  I suppose that’s partly because my hotel looks out on a row consisting of McDonald’s, KFC, and Pizza Hut.  Sigh…. At least my room is on the back side of the hotel – a nice view:

Dinner tonight was just the way I wanted it: I was the only person in the whole restaurant who spoke English! On the down side, this meant I ordered way too much food, and I didn’t really like half of it.  The spicy ginger garlic tofu was very tasty, until the chilies had me begging for mercy.  Good thing to note, my waitress tried to refuse my tip, looking very stern at me when I refused to take it back.  Given that my entire meal including tip cost less than $20, I wasn’t backing down.  Her manager or someone spoke up as we were debating who would keep the 20 yuan (100 yuan = <$20, including the service fee where I changed my money), and then the waitress laughed and thanked me. She had already laughed at me several time as I ordered…she probably thinks I’m a bit odd, to say the least….

I also came upon……it’s hard to describe.  Picture 150 older folks doing really low-energy line dancing in a public square.  That sort of sums it up… If there was someone leading the group, I couldn’t spot her/him, yet they were all doing the same routine and moving in concert.  As I am told, Chinese people tend not to smile in public, so that explains why most of the dancers looked to be pretty unimpressed with what they were doing.  As my guide explained later, this is aerobics for seniors, though he assured me “it’s also to have fun!”  Weird.

Tomorrow I am going to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square!  The camera is charging as I type. 

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