July 23rd, 2008

birds nest

July 22-23, 2008 - Pre-China, first evening in China

Originally published at Andy Does Beijing. You can comment here or there.

My grand and auspicious day (my two and a half days-long day) started on Monday, when I finished up all my state-side work (music building, webmastering), the last touches on my papers (which took a while), and packing (which, it seems, I took care of on Sunday). All that lasted me till half past three in the morning on Tuesday. I checked in the internets and, just before the birds started chirping at four ‘o clock, decided my time was better spent watching movies than the insides of my eyelids. Dr. Strangelove is finally struck from my bucket list, but not Being John Malkovich, which ran through my 8am wakeup call. Turns out it was a good thing I stayed up all
night, because I got an email about 7:30 to “OH NO YOU BROKE SOMETHING GO FIX IT!”

The rest of my morning was mundane: showering; double-checking money, passport, and packing; printing out my homework; grabbing clothes I forget from my parents’ house, eating a little cereal. Y’know, those little things you do before you leave the country. Mom was nice and schlepped me down to the pick-up point for our bus (although I did have enough time to walk, come to think of it).

Meet me at the Field House

Time to start your big adventure, kids! Don’t forget your … parents? Yup.

For anyone south of New York, our professors arranged a Chinatown bus (Double Happiness, if anyone wants to charter them) to run us from the athletic buildings on UD’s south campus straight to the JFK Airport in New York. That’s $80 we saved in gas and cost-of-ownership. Nonetheless, our parents, who all dropped us off at the field house, stuck around to commiserate (or to ensure we got out of their hair for a month). Our professors showed up eventually, too, and made the rounds like good politicians coaches, shaking hands with everyone and (more pertinently) collecting money for the bus.

10am and time to go! We took a few photos with everyone, then just the trip members, then neglected to take one with the busses because they came a little bit late (but no matter). Everybody on the bus — goodbye, parents! Thanks for sending us to another country :)

JFK — J/K, guys!

JFK airport is the same ol’, same ol’. We checked in at AirChina pretty efficiently; I just handed them my e-ticket pass with my confirmation numbers and my passport. They asked whether I wanted an
aisle or a window. An aisle, I said, and that turned out to be a good choice.

Onwards and Upwards

Our medium-huge planes on the tarmac at JFK (credit Brittney Baker) On the plane, the seats were A-B (window, aisle), E-H (aisle, inner, inner, aisle), and C-D (aisle, window). It was only a moderately large plane, y’know, just a double-decker with eight across. AirChina had sat singletons by aisles or windows and families in inner rows (like the Chinese family with a few kids who spoke American English the whole time). My row was two students at each window/aisle pair and, in the center block, Quinn and … me. She and I each claimed an extra seat to strech out in.

I fell asleep about fifteen minutes in to the plane ride. Whoops. They tell me I missed an hour of sitting on the tarmac, take-off, and dinner. I couldn’t really make up for the first two, but dinner was
still hot! A very stereotypical airline meal, it had an individually wrapped roll with packets of powdered creamer and sugar; a tiny salad (Syran-wrapped), a small piece of cake (very sweet, also Syran-wrapped), a tea cup, and a single-serving dinner tray. Our first taste of Asia: the entrée was chicken and rice in a sweet brown sauce, almost teriyaki sauce. Om nom nom. Shrimp was also on the
menu.

Delicious Chinese single-serving plane meals
The in-flight movies were a variety of popular Chinese cinema and some American flicks with subtitles, such as 27 Dresses. I wasn’t impressed except with the map that showed us flying north and then south, so I went back to sleep.

Wakefulness found me just in time for me to miss lunch, as well as lunch (a small ham and cheese sandwich). The air stewardesses had tucked the sandwich into my seat back pocket along with a customs form, which was the typical Name-Nationality-Reason for Travel-Address-Whooooo Are You, Who-Who, Who-Who dealie. Dinner came soon after, around 4pm CST. The timing of all this was quite odd, but I blame the twelve-hour time difference. My body didn’t know either way, though, as I hadn’t properly slept since 8:30am on Monday.

Getting off the plane in Beijing Thirteen hours later (the shortest long flight we’d ever taken), we touched down in Beijing at 6:30 CST. 你好中国! (Hello, China!) The first thing we all noticed, which we hadn’t seen before because all the windows were closed, was the smog. It really is that bad, guys. The next thing we noticed were the busses queued up to schlep us back to the terminal. A pleasant ride, we all hung on tight and soon enough ended up in the airport structure. From there, it was a tram ride down to arrivals / baggage claim. Their tram was pretty sweet, the same kind of thing I’ve seen on TV shows and animes showing East Asian mass transit. Smooth, clean, pretty quiet, looked like a magnetic track.

Approaching the tram for inside the Beijing airport (credit Britney Baker) The Beijing airport is huge! Not just in scale, as it is quite wide and accomodates some huge magnitude of people, but also that the ceilings are a good 30-40 feet high. The architecture is a fusion of industrial features and sweeping curves, with a ceiling of orange
slats hiding the architectural lighting and the proper ceiling, which is grey. Customs had nigh on a dozen booths open, split between Olympians (and related people), nationals, and foreigners (外国人). I
was personally surprised by the number of Chinese people in the internationals line; I suppose they claimed residency in the U.S. and were thus shunted to our line. I was also surprised when a Chinese
guy, who was right behind me, allowed two Delawareans in front of him in line so we could three could be together.

Another surprise: a breeze in the airport. They kept the place around 80′F (which is about … 25′C, I believe?), but it was still comfortable. That’s a lot of air. A lotta lotta. I noticed HVAC systems once I started looking, but they were pretty subtle and just mounted here and there in the walls or hiding behind glass walls.

In sum, the airport was grand, large, high-tech, efficient, and very open and welcoming. I wouldn’t mind going back there — but not for a month, mind you!

Welcome Home

Lobby of the airport Our tour guide hailed us. He looks around 21, cute guy, trendy for a Chinese kid (kinda tight emo pants, square emo kid glasses, shirt with some print on it, kinda messy hair, Nike sports bag). A real vivacious type, he really did say hi to all us Delaware folks coming out into the lobby and waved a little red flag with his company’s name
on it. “Follow the red flag,” said my professor, Dr. Barlow. In turn, I told him, “That’s rather ambiguous advice around here.” Incidentally, our third program director, Master Kevin Sun, and his
wife joined us in the lobby.

All forty-five of us (plus some hangers-on, maybe) and our luggage fit in the bus — barely. We all enjoyed watching out the windows to see Beijing: lots of signs in red; towering office, commercial, and
residential buildings; an awful lot of people just walking the streets or biking. Another surprise: fewer people than we expected. Beijing, our tour guide told us, is home to an awful lot of people — on the
order of 8 million, I think? — but the roads felt pretty empty coming to the hotel.

Our tour guide welcoming us to our hotel
The further we drove, the less development we saw, and we eventually came into a bit of a shanty neighborhood that reminded me of South America. Many small grocery shops and some restaurants dotted the streets, as did a variety of people (including men walking around shirtless or in wife-beaters). We turned in at a taller building with four stories which had a nice red sign welcoming the “University of Delaware faculties and students” for our stay — quite precious!

Key distribution was a bit unorganized. We have most of the third floor, which made life easy, but didn’t know which rooms were whose. Apparently Dr. Barlow wanted to assign us rooms in Delaware, but Dr. Goodwin vetoed that in favor of a more laissez-faire system: get a key (one per room), find a roommate. Unfortunately, they neglected to tell us that and simply started handing out keys (which were really RFID cards). Mild confusion ensued for about half an hour, where our TA was with a student, Linda LaRue had a double to herself, and I also lacked a roommate. We decided to call it quits and just sort it out at dinner. Although we theoretically started with an even number of men and ladies, we ended up just making one mixed room (two good friends) and everything shook out okay.

Our bathroom, almost all of it. The banquet room downstairs is pretty standard; a glass-walled area with some fifty round tables set with saucers, bowls, and forks. They soon brought us out toppings for dinner, which included cooked mushrooms (which we figured out eventually), cucumbers, tomatoes, and sprouts. Next came a huge bowl of noodles (面? mian4), with a serving spoon and large chopsticks (筷子, kuai4 zi). Although the learning curve for serving was a little steep, we were hungry… and kept eating … and kept eating. Darn Chinese food. ^_^ We also asked for some water, as the airplane ride dried us out, but instead got pots of tea. Nice thought, something to drink, but still not water.

Beds in the hotel room Our room accomodations are pretty swell. The beds are short twins with a small bedside table between them. The beds are a bit firm, but
I’m fine with a mat on the floor. Also, by the window is a nice table to sit at (or put your things on) and two brown wicker chairs. The counter holds a nice 21″ TV, a water dispenser with a tank (yay, safe water), A/C wall unit, overhead lights, light sconces above the beds, and an economy bathroom.

I’m serious when I say “economy bathroom” — it has a sink, a toilet with maybe a liter of water in it, and a showerhead mounted on the wall fed by a hot/cold water unit mounted on next wall. No shower
stall, nor any toilet paper. Ah well, it’s been worse (see: electric water heater over a tub in a cottage in Costa Rica). On the plus side, the hotel gifted us two sets of shower shoes and supplied a full
set of linens.

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<p style="border: 1px solid black; padding: 3px;"><strong>Originally published at <a href="http://www.andysacher.com/beijing/?p=11">Andy Does Beijing</a>. You can comment here or <a href="http://www.andysacher.com/beijing/?p=11#comments">there</a>.</strong></p><p>My grand and auspicious day (my two and a half days-long day) started on Monday, when I finished up all my state-side work (music building, webmastering), the last touches on my papers (which took a while), and packing (which, it seems, I took care of on Sunday). All that lasted me till half past three in the morning on Tuesday. I checked in the internets and, just before the birds started chirping at four &#8216;o clock, decided my time was better spent watching movies than the insides of my eyelids. <i>Dr. Strangelove</i> is finally struck from my bucket list, but not <i>Being John Malkovich</i>, which ran through my 8am wakeup call. Turns out it was a good thing I stayed up all<br /> night, because I got an email about 7:30 to &#8220;OH NO YOU BROKE SOMETHING GO FIX IT!&#8221;</p> <p>The rest of my morning was mundane: showering; double-checking money, passport, and packing; printing out my homework; grabbing clothes I forget from my parents&#8217; house, eating a little cereal. Y&#8217;know, those little things you do before you leave the country. Mom was nice and schlepped me down to the pick-up point for our bus (although I did have enough time to walk, come to think of it).</p> <h1>Meet me at the Field House</h1> <p>Time to start your big adventure, kids! Don&#8217;t forget your &#8230; parents? Yup.</p> <p>For anyone south of New York, our professors arranged a Chinatown bus (Double Happiness, if anyone wants to charter them) to run us from the athletic buildings on UD&#8217;s south campus straight to the JFK Airport in New York. That&#8217;s $80 we saved in gas and cost-of-ownership. Nonetheless, our parents, who all dropped us off at the field house, stuck around to commiserate (or to ensure we got out of their hair for a month). Our professors showed up eventually, too, and made the rounds like good <strike>politicians</strike> coaches, shaking hands with everyone and (more pertinently) collecting money for the bus. </p> <p>10am and time to go! We took a few photos with everyone, then just the trip members, then neglected to take one with the busses because they came a little bit late (but no matter). Everybody on the bus &#8212; goodbye, parents! Thanks for sending us to another country <img src='http://www.andysacher.com/beijing/wp-includes/images/smilies/icon_smile.gif' alt=':)' class='wp-smiley' /> </p> <h1>JFK &#8212; J/K, guys!</h1> <p>JFK airport is the same ol&#8217;, same ol&#8217;. We checked in at AirChina pretty efficiently; I just handed them my e-ticket pass with my confirmation numbers and my passport. They asked whether I wanted an<br /> aisle or a window. An aisle, I said, and that turned out to be a good choice.</p> <h1>Onwards and Upwards</h1> <p><span style="float: right; padding: 5px;"><a href="http://andysacher.com/storage/pics/china/journal/07-23-jfk_planes.jpg"><img alt="Our medium-huge planes on the tarmac at JFK (credit Brittney Baker)" src="http://andysacher.com/storage/pics/china/journal/07-23-jfk_planes-t.jpg"></a></span> On the plane, the seats were A-B (window, aisle), E-H (aisle, inner, inner, aisle), and C-D (aisle, window). It was only a moderately large plane, y&#8217;know, just a double-decker with eight across. AirChina had sat singletons by aisles or windows and families in inner rows (like the Chinese family with a few kids who spoke American English the whole time). My row was two students at each window/aisle pair and, in the center block, Quinn and &#8230; me. She and I each claimed an extra seat to strech out in.</p> <p>I fell asleep about fifteen minutes in to the plane ride. Whoops. They tell me I missed an hour of sitting on the tarmac, take-off, and dinner. I couldn&#8217;t really make up for the first two, but dinner was<br /> still hot! A very stereotypical airline meal, it had an individually wrapped roll with packets of powdered creamer and sugar; a tiny salad (Syran-wrapped), a small piece of cake (very sweet, also Syran-wrapped), a tea cup, and a single-serving dinner tray. Our first taste of Asia: the entrée was chicken and rice in a sweet brown sauce, almost teriyaki sauce. Om nom nom. Shrimp was also on the<br /> menu.</p> <p><span style="float: left; padding: 5px;"><a href="http://andysacher.com/storage/pics/china/journal/<br /> 07-23-plane_food.jpg"><img alt="Delicious Chinese single-serving plane meals" src="http://andysacher.com/storage/pics/china/journal/07-23-plane_food_t.jpg"></a></span><br /> The in-flight movies were a variety of popular Chinese cinema and some American flicks with subtitles, such as <i>27 Dresses</i>. I wasn&#8217;t impressed except with the map that showed us flying north and then south, so I went back to sleep.</p> <p>Wakefulness found me just in time for me to miss lunch, as well as lunch (a small ham and cheese sandwich). The air stewardesses had tucked the sandwich into my seat back pocket along with a customs form, which was the typical Name-Nationality-Reason for Travel-Address-<i>Whooooo Are You, Who-Who, Who-Who</i> dealie. Dinner came soon after, around 4pm CST. The timing of all this was quite odd, but I blame the twelve-hour time difference. My body didn&#8217;t know either way, though, as I hadn&#8217;t properly slept since 8:30am on Monday.</p> <p><span style="float: right; padding: 5px;"><a href="http://andysacher.com/storage/pics/china/journal/07-23-disembarking_plane.jpg"><img alt="Getting off the plane in Beijing" src="http://andysacher.com/storage/pics/china/journal/07-23-disembarking_plane-t.jpg"></a></span> Thirteen hours later (the shortest long flight we&#8217;d ever taken), we touched down in Beijing at 6:30 CST. 你好中国! (Hello, China!) The first thing we all noticed, which we hadn&#8217;t seen before because all the windows were closed, was the smog. It really is that bad, guys. The next thing we noticed were the busses queued up to schlep us back to the terminal. A pleasant ride, we all hung on tight and soon enough ended up in the airport structure. From there, it was a tram ride down to arrivals / baggage claim. Their tram was pretty sweet, the same kind of thing I&#8217;ve seen on TV shows and animes showing East Asian mass transit. Smooth, clean, pretty quiet, looked like a magnetic track.</p> <p><span style="float: right; padding: 5px;"><a href="http://andysacher.com/storage/pics/china/journal/07-23-beijing_airport_inside.jpg"><img alt="Approaching the tram for inside the Beijing airport (credit Britney Baker)" src="http://andysacher.com/storage/pics/china/journal/07-23-beijing_airport_inside-t.jpg"></a></span> The Beijing airport is huge! Not just in scale, as it is quite wide and accomodates some huge magnitude of people, but also that the ceilings are a good 30-40 feet high. The architecture is a fusion of industrial features and sweeping curves, with a ceiling of orange<br /> slats hiding the architectural lighting and the proper ceiling, which is grey. Customs had nigh on a dozen booths open, split between Olympians (and related people), nationals, and foreigners (外国人). I<br /> was personally surprised by the number of Chinese people in the internationals line; I suppose they claimed residency in the U.S. and were thus shunted to our line. I was also surprised when a Chinese<br /> guy, who was right behind me, allowed two Delawareans in front of him in line so we could three could be together. </p> <p>Another surprise: a breeze in the airport. They kept the place around 80&#8242;F (which is about &#8230; 25&#8242;C, I believe?), but it was still comfortable. That&#8217;s a lot of air. A lotta lotta. I noticed HVAC systems once I started looking, but they were pretty subtle and just mounted here and there in the walls or hiding behind glass walls. </p> <p>In sum, the airport was grand, large, high-tech, efficient, and very open and welcoming. I wouldn&#8217;t mind going back there &#8212; but not for a month, mind you!</p> <h1>Welcome Home</h1> <p><span style="float: left; padding: 5px;"><a href="http://andysacher.com/storage/pics/china/journal/07-23-beijing_airport_lobby.jpg"><img alt="Lobby of the airport" src="http://andysacher.com/storage/pics/china/journal/07-23-beijing_airport_lobby-t.jpg"></a></span> Our tour guide hailed us. He looks around 21, cute guy, trendy for a Chinese kid (kinda tight emo pants, square emo kid glasses, shirt with some print on it, kinda messy hair, Nike sports bag). A real vivacious type, he really did say hi to all us Delaware folks coming out into the lobby and waved a little red flag with his company&#8217;s name<br /> on it. &#8220;Follow the red flag,&#8221; said my professor, Dr. Barlow. In turn, I told him, &#8220;That&#8217;s rather ambiguous advice around here.&#8221; Incidentally, our third program director, Master Kevin Sun, and his<br /> wife joined us in the lobby.</p> <p>All forty-five of us (plus some hangers-on, maybe) and our luggage fit in the bus &#8212; barely. We all enjoyed watching out the windows to see Beijing: lots of signs in red; towering office, commercial, and<br /> residential buildings; an awful lot of people just walking the streets or biking. Another surprise: fewer people than we expected. Beijing, our tour guide told us, is home to an awful lot of people &#8212; on the<br /> order of 8 million, I think? &#8212; but the roads felt pretty empty coming to the hotel.</p> <p><span style="float: right; padding: 5px;"><a href="http://andysacher.com/storage/pics/china/journal/07-23-entering_hotel.jpg"><img alt="Our tour guide welcoming us to our hotel" src="http://andysacher.com/storage/pics/china/journal/07-23-entering_hotel-t.jpg"></a></span><br /> The further we drove, the less development we saw, and we eventually came into a bit of a shanty neighborhood that reminded me of South America. Many small grocery shops and some restaurants dotted the streets, as did a variety of people (including men walking around shirtless or in wife-beaters). We turned in at a taller building with four stories which had a nice red sign welcoming the &#8220;University of Delaware faculties and students&#8221; for our stay &#8212; quite precious!</p> <p>Key distribution was a bit unorganized. We have most of the third floor, which made life easy, but didn&#8217;t know which rooms were whose. Apparently Dr. Barlow wanted to assign us rooms in Delaware, but Dr. Goodwin vetoed that in favor of a more laissez-faire system: get a key (one per room), find a roommate. Unfortunately, they neglected to tell us that and simply started handing out keys (which were really RFID cards). Mild confusion ensued for about half an hour, where our TA was with a student, Linda LaRue had a double to herself, and I also lacked a roommate. We decided to call it quits and just sort it out at dinner. Although we theoretically started with an even number of men and ladies, we ended up just making one mixed room (two good friends) and everything shook out okay. </p> <p><span style="float: left; padding: 5px;"><a href="http://andysacher.com/storage/pics/china/journal/07-23-hotel_noodles.jpg"><img alt="Our bathroom, almost all of it." src="http://andysacher.com/storage/pics/china/journal/07-23-hotel_noodles-t.jpg"></a></span> The banquet room downstairs is pretty standard; a glass-walled area with some fifty round tables set with saucers, bowls, and forks. They soon brought us out toppings for dinner, which included cooked mushrooms (which we figured out eventually), cucumbers, tomatoes, and sprouts. Next came a huge bowl of noodles (面? mian4), with a serving spoon and large chopsticks (筷子, kuai4 zi). Although the learning curve for serving was a little steep, we were hungry&#8230; and kept eating &#8230; and kept eating. Darn Chinese food. ^_^ We also asked for some water, as the airplane ride dried us out, but instead got pots of tea. Nice thought, something to drink, but still not water. </p> <p><span style="float: right; padding: 5px;"><a href="http://andysacher.com/storage/pics/china/journal/07-23-hotel_room.jpg"><img alt="Beds in the hotel room" src="http://andysacher.com/storage/pics/china/journal/07-23-hotel_room-t.jpg"></a></span> Our room accomodations are pretty swell. The beds are short twins with a small bedside table between them. The beds are a bit firm, but<br /> I&#8217;m fine with a mat on the floor. Also, by the window is a nice table to sit at (or put your things on) and two brown wicker chairs. The counter holds a nice 21&#8243; TV, a water dispenser with a tank (yay, safe water), A/C wall unit, overhead lights, light sconces above the beds, and an economy bathroom.</p> <p>I&#8217;m serious when I say &#8220;economy bathroom&#8221; &#8212; it has a sink, a toilet with maybe a liter of water in it, and a showerhead mounted on the wall fed by a hot/cold water unit mounted on next wall. No shower<br /> stall, nor any toilet paper. Ah well, it&#8217;s been worse (see: electric water heater over a tub in a cottage in Costa Rica). On the plus side, the hotel gifted us two sets of shower shoes and supplied a full<br /> set of linens. </p> <p><span style="float: left; padding: 5px;"><a href="http://andysacher.com/storage/pics/china/journal/07-23-bathroom.jpg"><img alt="Our bathroom, almost all of it."<br /> src="http://andysacher.com/storage/pics/china/journal/07-23-bathroom-t.jpg"></a></span> I think I have more living space here than at my house in Newark. Fate, it seems, has a sense of irony.</p> <h1>Open Doors, Closing Thoughts</h1> <p>These health science kids are a pretty social bunch. Room doors were open till late &#8212; we didn&#8217;t lock up until we went to bed at 11pm CST. I&#8217;m on Verizon international roaming, so my new global phone obviously works. I also ran up $1.15 in text message charges, so tomorrow will be a good day to buy a new SIM card and switch to a Chinese provider. </p> <p>My roommate, Rich, is a pretty chill guy &#8212; social, easy-going, polite. He likes to keep a neat room &#8212; it&#8217;s relaxing, y&#8217;know? &#8212; and just got back from an Israel birthright trip, so he knows the deal when it comes to travelling. Looks like a good guy to live with.</p> <p>All our Chinese staff is quite polite, though most of them don&#8217;t speak English. I regret not practicing my Chinese more over the summer, as my pronunciation is apparently horrid. (I tried to talk to the<br /> waitstaff, but to no avail &#8212; the girl knew enough English to say she didn&#8217;t and I knew enough Chinese to not ask for a cup of water.)</p> <p>As for internet access, our program directors talked to the hotel and swung a great deal: 110 RMB (~$15 USD) for all of us for the month! Our rooms have ethernet ports, so we&#8217;ll see how well that works soon enough. (I forgot that my laptop&#8217;s ethernet is broken, so I may end up buying a wireless router today when I get a card reader for my camera; I forgot my USB cable!) Additionally, it&#8217;s a big city, so I expect to find netcafes here and there.</p> <p>Whee!</p>