Sunday, October 10, 2010

China - a View from the back of the bus - Day One

Bus #3, Passenger #68
By Missy Schmidt (Chinese name: “Sweet Lioness” Mandarin naming 蜜狮 Pronounced mee-shee)

Traveling to China is a lot like “Amazing Race” with a little “Survivor” thrown in for good measure. The following is a recount of our adventures, a once in a lifetime experience with the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.

Day One (and ½)
At 4am, we met the rest of our group at the Norfolk International Airport, departing on a bus - we sat in the back, of course - to JFK airport in NYC where we would connect with our flight to Beijing in the northern city which serves as the capital of the People’s Republic of China (

In addition to being Type-A, Bert and I are also techies. In addition to the multitude of snacks a la American and necessary preventative pharmaceuticals, we carried in our backpacks iPhones, iPads, a Flip video camera, a Sony still-video camera, an iPod and an assortment of chargers and adaptors to plug us in around the world.

Our geekiness may be due to, or a result of, our careers. My husband, Bert, is President and CEO of WHRO-Public Broadcasting for Hampton Roads, Virginia ( Unique in the PBS system for its ownership by the region's 18 school divisions, WHRO is also the only broadcaster ever named to CIO Magazine's Top 100 Technology Companies with their focus on educational services such as online high school courses and teacher training for the entire state of Virginia.

For the first time ever on a trip, I outfitted my hubby with his own backpack to accommodate all of our paraphernalia. Normally, I am the family "mule," so named by my step kids, Jillian (13-3/4, going on 21, aspiring actress, singer and dancer) and Bertel (11, MacBook devotee and budding filmmaker). My backpack, aka "magic bag," has been known to produce just about anything.

Luckily the iPad has unbelievable storage space and battery life; Bert could watch his downloaded Sunday's Pittsburgh Steelers game and enjoy on the bus ride of SEVEN hours to NYC!

The flight to Beijing aboard Air China was uneventful. Good fortune was with us. We sat in the back of the plane where the curvature of the construction does not allow for three seats across. So, the ½ space next to the window served as our personal storage space. (Air China wasn’t picky about stowing gear under seats.) We were able to kick our shoes off, stretch out and sleep.

I wore a face mask to ward off my usual sinus infections brought on by air travel.

The plane’s TV monitor revealed our route was over the North Pole rather than across the Pacific Ocean as we had originally anticipated. Ah-ha moment. Now the shorter flight length of 14 hours made sense. (Several years ago, I’d flown to Japan from San Francisco in 15 hours, AFTER a flight of five hours from the East to the West Coast!)

We arrived in Beijing Airport around 6pm, to the largest single terminal airport in the world, reputed to be shaped like a dragon, and built specifically for the 2008 Olympics. Due to fog (or smog?), it was dark enough outside to appear much later than it was. We learned the odd darkness for the time of year and day could also be attributed to the fact that, despite being larger in land mass than the U.S., China has but one time zone for the entire country. Our Chinese guide on the back-end of our trip explained: his countrymen had experimented with Daylight Savings Time at one point but abandoned it quickly due to the ensuing chaos.

Jason (his chosen American moniker), our tour guide who we preferred to call by his Chinese name, Wei, attempted to teach us the most important words we would need on our trip. I’m using phonetic spellings: Nee-How (Hello) and Shay-Shay (Thank You). He warned us not to use the more familiar Nee-How-Mah (Hello, How are you?) as we would have no idea what the typical 150-word Chinese response meant.

Traveling to our first restaurant in the Chinese capital of Beijing, Niaochao LiJing Dining Hall, for the advertised “classic SU ZHE YUE Dish” served on a Lazy Susan, we enjoyed some of the infamous Beijing traffic. The typical Beijing commute means lots of traffic. There is no real rush hour; they experience “rush hour” 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The dining hall, located across from the infamous 2008 Olympics Bird's Nest, served a local micro brew called Yan Jing. Not bad even when served warm. We never did get a tour of the Olympic venues as per our itinerary, but we did stop on our last (rainy) day in Beijing for some pictures from the side of the road.

After dinner on the way to our bus, we encountered our first, according to Wei, “professional” beggars. He cautioned us to ignore them as they could be most aggressive. As we drove, Wei also noted the “national flags of China” flying from the balconies of the high-rise apartments, laundry to the uneducated Westerner. No matter how nice the building, those “flags” were always flying everywhere we went in China, city or countryside.

In Beijing, we stayed at the Marriott City Wall where we promptly passed out after dinner – after plugging in our many electronics to recharge – in anticipation of an early start the next day.

Slideshow on Flickr

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