Last November, I was sent to Beijing to talk about my work. This was one of these "fly halfway around the world and see a conference room" trips, but we did get to see a little of Beijing. Also, for whatever reason, our flight to Beijing was routed across the east coast of Greenland, over the Barents Sea, and Siberia, approaching Beijing from the northwest, whereas our return flight was routed east over eastern Siberia, the Bering Sea, Alaska, Northwest Territories, Manitoba, Ontario, and south into Dulles. So
I actually got to fly around the world!
The journey started Monday Morning. Even though the flight from Dulles was mid--day, I left Baltimore really early to avoid the worst of the Dulles traffic. I also drove via Frederick and Leesburg and used the Greenway to reach dulles from the northwest. This to avoid the Capital Beltway. As I approached Dulles, I could see the work on Phase 2 of the Silver line well in progress. I parked, went into the terminal, and checked in. Because it was an international flight, United wouldn't let me check in on-line, and when I got to the airport, the kiosk wouldn't check me in until a human saw the Chinese visa in my passport. Once checked in I went downstairs and did the security check, which wasn't too obnoxious and then went to the little subway train (rubber tires on concrete tracks) that goes to the midfield concourse.
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Once out at the concourse, I found the United Club nearest my gate (finally got to use this AGR Select Plus perk), and hung out there and had breakfast and did some work while I waited for my flight to load.
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As I headed to the gate, I found my colleagues checking out the stuff in the duty-free shop, and then we boarded our 787. I had sprung the extra cash for Economy Plus, worried that I might not survive a 14 hour flight in regular economy. My setup was great - I had the whole row to myself! That's even better than a little extra legroom.
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The flight was remarkably smooth, and I think the 787 with the increased cabin pressure made the flight more tolerable. I liked the big windows, but the electronic dimmer was a bit of a nuisance. I must have messed up my Netflix offline downloads to my tablet, because I wasn't able to view the movies I had downloaded, but United had enought of a variety that I was able to kill some time watching a couple of decent movies. They also fed us a lunch/diinner that was all right but made the pre 2000 coach meals we all complained about seem like the finest gourmet cuisine.
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In addition to that meal, we were given a "turkey sandwich" in the middle of the flight that was a small roll and one small slice of turkey. I guess it helped regulate blood sugar or something, but they shouldn't have wasted their time, A Clif bar would have been just as good. Free beverages included wine and beer; the wine was tolerable plonk, nothing to write home about, but, in moderate quantities, useful to helping one sleep. We also got a "breakfast before arrival. It was OK on the outbound flight, totally inedible on the return flight. Don't ever complain about Amtrak diver food until you try what the United Airlines commissary in Beijing Airport whips up.
Finally, we land. It was actually pretty clear for Beijing. Being that we work for the EPA air office, we were a little disappointed that we didn't really get to see much of the legendary Beijing smog. On the other hand, I guess we were happy not to have to breathe it.
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Clearing immigration and customs was surprisingly efficient. I'm not sure the immigration officer even spoke English, he just fed our passports into a computer and passed us through without saying a word. Then we had to ride another subway train to the main part of the terminal where we picked up our bags and went though the green "nothing to declare" lane. Our bags were x-rayed before they let us out. There we met a driver sent to us by the Embassy. He spoke no English, and it was a bit wierd, trusting tis guy who loaded us into a van and took us for a ride on the freeway.
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Traffic was a little more congested than DC, but otherwise, except for the unreadable road signs, it was wasn't much different than home. We finally got to our hotel, the Westin in the Chaoyang District about 5:30 PM. (This was the equivalent of about 6:30 AM at home, if I understood the time differences correctly.) This place was very nice, considering the room rate was the standard government allowance. We also got access to the club level, which included a lot of snacks and free beverages of all types. I got my room upgraded because I agreed to join the Westin Starwoods rewards program, and I got a cool ID card with mostly Chinese writing on it. I'll see how well it works when I stay at a Westin on my trip later this month. We were all pretty jet-lagged, so it was off to bed.
I was up at 4 AM, and went to the workout room, and then got dressed and enjoyed the super buffet breakfast, which included both western and Chinese dishes. Then, we assembled back up on the club level to plan for our presentations, which were going to start after lunch. A couple of us then took a walk through the Chaoyang district, which is where the embassies are. All the embassies has a very stern looking Chinese guard in front of each one. I'm not sure I've seen that in DC. For lunch, we tried a hot pot. Pretty neat, they fire up a wok at your table with soup (hot, mild or both) and whatever you want to order (beef, fish balls, vegetables, etc.) you then dunk the stuff into the broth dip it in a dipping sauce and eat. They also provide bowls for the broth.
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Fortunately, I hadn't put on my short and tie yet, so up to the room to change clothes for the conference, and into a van to brave the Beijing traffic.
--to be continued