As many of my dear readers may be aware, I was on vacation last month. That is my story and I'm sticking to it. Actually, I was working - in a sense - so let's call it a working vacation. I traveled to Beijing, China for four weeks to teach a university course. As the class was only twice a week, I had plenty of time to get into trouble.
First, however, I had to get there. That part I had easy. At the early morning hour leaving Oklahoma, the lines were almost zero and the airline employees at the check-in were quite friendly and helpful. One woman, when learning I was headed to Beijing, thought to impress upon me that she was really a Ph.D. candidate studying economics. Her dissertation explored Chinese influence on global economics. We chatted a while on the topic, having plenty of time and nobody behind me in line. It was 4:30 a.m.
Then the security checkpoint. I whizzed on through, having a kindly countenance and a lingering gait. I saw that my boarding pass had the "VIP" indicator on it. So, feeling like a VIP, I relaxed on my first flight of the day, napping until arrival in Chicago. As a connecting flight, I walked out already in a secure area and so I could continue to relax, even grab a Chicago-style pizza for my lunch.
As I sat on a bench next to a bank of charging stations to eat my pizza, trying to stay away from the crowds, a woman arrived and sat on the floor beside the chargers to charge her phone. I invited her to sit on the bench instead of the floor. We talked, of course. She appeared to be Chinese so I thought she might be on the same flight with me. No, she was transiting between Syracuse, NY and Denver, Colorado. But she was born in China, so I got that much right. She was a masseuse, she said, so I told about the fabulous massage I had just before my trip, at a "Chinese" massage spa (the style is remarkably different than the standard fare).
On board the Beijing-bound flight, I was in the window seat, chosen so I could lean that way and sleep. I brought my neck pillow just for that purpose. There was still too much of a gap because the seats did not align sleepily with the window. My seat was one of a pair, not a trio, in the first row of the coach cabin. That meant no storage under the seat in front of me. In fact, while everyone else had a video screen in the back of the seat ahead of them, we had some funky metal arm which swung up like a tentacle. With the tray tables also swinging up, it became quite a mess juggling all of the appendages. But we got 'er done, as they say, and I was not too wrung-out by the time we arrived in Beijing.
Apparently, four airplanes arrived about the same time so the line at immigration was long. They had all the gates open, however, so it was better than previous visits. Then I followed all the usual steps to get to the outside world. In Beijing's Capital Airport, advertised as the largest terminal in the world, you get some exercise. From gate to immigration line was about 3 kilometers. From immigration to the tram is about 1 km. The tram takes you about 3 kms. When you exit the tram, it is time to get your luggage and go through customs inspection. That is about 2 kms. As usual--this has been the case since my first day in public school where I sat at the back of the room alphabetically--my suitcase was the last one coming out of the chute. My ID tag had been unceremoniously ripped off the handle and the little TSA-approved lock had also been removed.
Many family and friends and work colleagues await arrivals there. It makes for a huge crowd, so they have set up barriers to draw out the crowd. The effect is that of being a celebrity walking a runway, perhaps for 1 km, until the barriers end and you can go on out and join the crowd. Having everyone peruse you as you arrive--after a 13 hour flight, clothes ruffled and hair matted, a grim facade greeting them--is rather daunting. Not for the faint-of-heart! And yet the sight of my name on a placard caused a grateful smile to appear on my face. My student assistant was there to greet me and escort me to my home for the month.
My assistant, "Catherine", had it all planned. She led me in as short a route as possible to the taxi cue. She instructed the driver where to go. En route we talked about the class, since she was a student in the class as well as my assistant. We arrived at the same hotel as always, the Yinghua, and she helped me with translation during the check in process. It was late enough in the day and I was hungry so we dropped the bags in my room (324; see the discussion of rooms on my previous blog post) and went out to get some dinner at a sandwich shop. That was Saturday, so I had a lot of time until Monday afternoon when the first class would begin.
Returning home, however, was a much more disagreeable experience....
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