August 17, 2008

Beijing, Day 1

First: I’m emailing all my entries to Mom for her to post since the PRC apparently doesn’t like wordpress.
Second: I know there are a lot of readers I don’t know about. If you’re out there, please leave I comment so I know who you are.

We arrived last night in Beijing. The subway stations were the best I’d ever seen – clean, easy to use, modern, TVs showing the games – until we got to the end, where we had to carry our bags up two flights of stairs. We exited at Dongzhimen Square and couldn’t figure out where to get a taxi. There seemed to be a rank on the opposite side of the street, but the street had a barrier. We walked quite far to the next crossing and got a taxi there. Unfortunately, the taxi driver didn’t know where the hotel was. Eventually we made it, and the hotel is wonderful. The room is cozy and dark wood and stainless steel. At first the concierge thought we were a married couple until we corrected them.

Anyway, back to the journey. The best part was that I didn’t have to change my watch since we’re 12 hours behind EST. We flew Korean Air – the plane was aqua, as were the seats and the flight attendants’ outfits. The in-seat video units (ISVUs) had about two dozen movies. I watched Iron Man, Made of Honor, and Smart People before deciding I should save some for the flight home and watched Arrested Development on the iPod instead. When they came around with lunch, the options were American beef or Korean beef. Being somewhat adventurous, we tried the Korean beef. It came with an instruction sheet that said “How to Make Bibimbap”. We had to put the rice from the separate container into the main beef/vegetable bowl and then pour on the sesame oil and then mix it all together with hot pepper paste. It was quite good, but I wish the beef wasn’t served cold. (The Korean passengers did not get the instruction sheet. I assume they were all familiar with mix-it-yourself-bibimbap.) We had the seats in the back that had an extra bit of space between the window and the window seat (instead of a third seat), so I slept on the floor quite comfortably for a bit (until there was turbulence and my face was three inches from a thick metal pole).

The Incheon airport in Korea was shockingly quiet. Compared to an American airport of that size, I was amazed at the noise level. I don’t know if people talk quietly there or just don’t talk at all. It was very nice and clean and we were greeted by, surprisingly, Quiznos and Subway. There were lots of duty free shops and restaurants called Traditional Korean Cultural Experience, which showed models of the food, most of which looked much like what we had on the plane. The scenery out the airport windows was great – very close dark green mountains. As we landed we could see lots of little islands and boats. During the layover the day started to catch up with us. Since we were flying west in the early afternoon, it stayed light for the entire 13-hour flight (and it didn’t help that we flew so close to the Arctic).

korea

The next leg, Incheon to Beijing, was very short and populated by many people going to the Olympics. It finally got dark while we were in the air.

Beijing airport too was (very) clean and quiet. There were lots of Olympic greeters and information stands and it was no problem getting on the train.

When we got to the hotel last night, we decided to go to the hotel restaurant instead of experimenting with going out. It turned out to be such a good idea – the buffet was AMAZING. Imagine Bartlett times eight for size, and everything tasted good. There were stations for seafood, noodles, western pasta, Chinese, Mongol/Indian (how the server described it), multicultural meat dishes, and an amazing dessert stand (hopefully they’ll let me photograph the desserts today since I didn’t think to bring my camera to dinner). I attempted to try this thing called dragonfruit – sort of like passionfruit but white and smaller, more condensed seeds – but it was warm and not very sweet. Everything else was delicately formed chocolate and gel. Also, the buffet listed which items had pork in it (for Muslim guests, presumably). I think the spicy meatballs were my favorite, but it was hard to decide.
We just got ping pong tickets for today, so we have to go collect those.

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