The High Road to China - The Beijing Experience: Day 1

August 28th and 29th, 2014

It's 201a Chicago time, 301p Beijing time.  We are currently flying near the North Pole or something silly like that.  I've slept a few hours and have so many hours to go.  This is the time I normally look at my surroundings and wonder how I got here.

After the Graduation Adventure at the start of the summer, I had vowed not to spend any more money on travel.  I wasn't going anywhere else in the summer...or for the rest of the year.  But China had been a lingering thought.

This trip, like several others, started with Adele.  She wanted to go to Mongolia.  It was her dream trip.  She floated the idea about me going to Mongolia several times, and for once I just didn't bite.  It may not surprise people that I am not really an outdoors person.  I don't like horses.  I don't want to camp.  If there isn't a power outlet to fire up my straight iron, I'm not having any part of it.  So this was never a trip where I was going to willingly tag along.

We just crossed the International Date Line, so things obviously changed in my decision making process...

Adele made plans for Mongolia.  Fay decided to join her.  So Adele wasn't going to be alone in her week of horse riding across the country.  But at a point in her planning, she said "Why don't you meet us in Beijing??"  That question made me pause.  This was something I could get behind.

At the beginning of the year, I had decided I was going to use miles for this trip.  I would only have to to pay $30 or so to fly Business Class to China.  That would be awesome.  And while I pondered this idea, I had sent the alert out to friends to see if anyone else wanted to join me on this stupid adventure.  

I hadn't finalized anything as I took off to Europe for the beginning of the summer and I kept thinking of the China trip while I was in Europe.  Deep questions were asked. "Do you really want to do this??  Do you think is a good idea??  Are you dead set on going??"  And the reality of the situation was that the Graduation Adventure was a massive drain on my bank account.  So I didn't think spending money on another foreign trip so quickly after the last one was wise.

We have six hours to go before we land.

My resolve to not spend money lasted for six days after returning from Europe.  Six. Days.  Adele sent me a note saying a non-stop flight from Chicago to Beijing was on sale for the exact dates she would be in Beijing.  The sale price was around $600.  Non-stop.  Dammit.  If I paid for this trip, I would have Gold Status again on American.  Sigh.  I wanted Gold Status again.

I put a hold on the ticket immediately.  Just in case,  And then, I texted Danielle (the one friend ultimately silly enough to agree to a trip like this) and told her to do the same.  We had 24 hours to make a decision.  And we all know what that decision was going to be.  I mean, there was no other choice.  We were going to China.

We are crossing over Siberia right now.  Siberia!!

There is no guarantee that this picture was taken over Siberia.  Just to be perfectly clear...
The truth is, there are many stories about our preparation for this trip that I need to tell, but I'm not going to.  Not yet.  Karma is not always our friend and I don't yet want to put into print some of the things we went through to get to this point.  Those stories are better served to be told when we return.  When our feet are firmly planted in Illinois and Minnesota.  When there is easy access to medicine and Facebook and people who speak English.

Today's Life Lesson: Always spring for the seats with the extra leg room.  It'll be the best $65 you could spend.

The airplane is what it is.  We knew to pack a DC adaptor, so the iPads and various i-devices stayed charged.  We watched movies, read magazines, ate, slept.  All the things you do.  I was hoping for a newly renovated plane, like American Airlines touts on their website.  But it wasn't.  Hey, we had the in flight entertainment on the seat backs.  This was better than coming back from Paris.

We did learn that even though American Airlines always seems to have a vegetarian option going to and from Europe, you need to ask for one in advance if you're going to China.  Noted.

Eventually, we landed.  The frigid recycled air on the airplane turned humid and sticky inside the airport.  It's possible that ours was the last plane arriving this evening, as all of the workers in customs and immigration seemed to be very ready to go home.  It was 10p on Friday.  The end of the day for everyone.  Including us.  Our visas were successful.  We now have a new stamp in the passport.  And we were ready to meet up with the rest of the crew.

Adele and Fay arrived from Mongolia a few hours before us.  And we had a driver meeting us to take us to the hotel.  As we walked out of the very protected airport, we figured it would be easy to spot Adele.  And it would be very easy for her to spot us.  Cause a redhead and a blonde are going to be noticeable here.  Sure enough, we found each other and the driver.  I needed to find an ATM, which I kind of didn't find...I'm sure I could have looked harder and longer for one, but we had a driver and passengers who were itching to get us to the hotel.  I had gone to the ATM at home and just decided to get money converted.  It cost me more to do that than just getting from the ATM, but at this point I didn't care.  I just wanted to make sure I had cash.  And that's how they get you.  Whatever.  I'm tired.  Leave me alone.

The drive to the airport was fine.  It made me chuckle to see the toll booth that looked like a faux-Forbidden City.  After 30-45 minutes, we were at our hotel.  To make a long story short(er), we checked in, got situated, and made plans for tomorrow.  It was 130a Beijing time.  Saturday morning.  We left Chicago at 710p on Thursday.  Bed was calling.  Tomorrow was quickly arriving and we didn't have time to waste.  There is so much we want to do and not enough time to get everything done...

On our way!!


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