August 23, 2008

Beijing, Special Guest Post by Dad

Some observations from Beijing from MOH:

Perhaps Stacy will allow me to post some of my own observations, and embellishments to her blog.

China is clearly morphing from one culture to another, for better or for worse. Its obsession with Western ways is desperate. We have seen 100,000+ young Chinese with shirts with English writing, while I doubt we have seen a single shirt with Chinese writing – not the name of a company, sports team, nothing. As for the English writing, anything goes. At least 20% of the writing on shirts makes no sense at all – just English words strung together.

All children learn English and most can, and will, in perfect English, say: “Welcome to Beijing” and a little more. One 10 year old told me he wants to go to university in Washington because “it is the best”.

Another observation of the culture is one’s personal space. While the locals have been extremely polite and helpful and pushing is no more prevalent than in the States, in fact much better than NYC during rush hour, walking “through one” and bumping them seems to be totally normal.

Spitting is apparently way down, by Central Government decree, and we have only seen a couple of spits. In fact we saw an altercation at a subway station when an older man reprimanded a younger man for spitting. We could not understand the dialogue but clearly there was a cultural dispute going on, perhaps exacerbated by the presence of Westerners.

The subway and road system is fantastic. The typical pre-Olympic media panic about traffic was based on ignorance. What they did not appreciate is that all the new roads and the new subway lines only came into service in the last few months. They were judging Olympic traffic being on pre-Olympic infrastructure. They have a ring road system with 5 rings that any U.S. city would covet. Each ring can have as many as 12 lanes – some express, and “local” roads often have 10 lanes. U-turns are not permitted anywhere. The subway and in fact the entire City is perfectly clean and wherever one looks, there are people picking up and sweeping, albeit sometimes with archaic implements. Often they use straw booms and we once saw someone picking up trash with super-sized chopsticks. Not sure how long this will last after the Games are over. [S: There are also bins everywhere that are half trash, half recycling.]

We have used the subway extensively. It is extremely easy and efficient. I doubt that we have waited more than 7 minutes for a train, but more typically less than 5 minutes. Leaving the Stadium after Athletics, compared with Atlanta and Sydney, is remarkably easy and fast. Granted we run along the sides of long lines to expedite this process but even without this, our wait would be no more than 15 minutes, compared with over an hour in Sydney (if we hadn’t figured out how to beat that system).

Taxis are easy to spot but the rules for their pulling over are very stringent. No taxi will pull over into a turn lane to pick one up, so one has to know where to stand to get a taxi. This took a little while to figure out. No taxis speak English, or at least the ones we found. One has to give them Chinese instructions that we get various people to write for us. Even then they seem to struggle – either a function of lack of training or the sheer size of the City, or both. They have real difficulty with our hotel – large new Westin at the corner of two 10-lane roads. It seems remarkable to m that they do not know this intersection, especially after I have them speak to the Westin Hotel staff on my cell. The scale of the City is staggering. As far as I can tell, at least on the more-developed north side of the city (due to Feng Shui, I am told), there is urban development with mid- and high-rise buildings for at least 20 miles from east to west. Perhaps something like everything within Atlanta’s perimeter and perhaps beyond, all developed like Midtown.

As for Games, we have focused primarily on Athletics, with some other events thrown in. Usain Bolt has clearly been the star of this show with an unprecedented 3 golds in record times in the sprints. However, here have been many other memorable moments. We saw the Women’s 3,000m steeplechase (Galkina-Samiltova) and Pole Vault (Isinbaeva) world records shattered, Olympic records in Men’s Pole Vault (Hooker) and several other records broken. World Junior champion for Kenya demolishing the field in the Women’s 800m also sticks out as a glimpse into the future when a few face burst onto the scene. Dibaba’s historic and controlled distance double for Ethiopia, perhaps to be equaled by Bekele this evening stamped Africa’s continued dominance in the distance events, while Jamaica’s victories and the USA’s dismal performances perhaps marked a turning point in the sprints.

The looks on the athletes’ faces after victory, sometime defeat and even just in accomplishing their lesser feats of reaching finals, are memories to treasure. Often it is the camaraderie between athletes, sometime teammates, sometime even competitors, that I enjoy the most. The Eastern Europeans after sweeping hammer throw sticks in my mind – an obvious bond between neighbors who compete (sometime war) furiously against each other. Another act of Olympic sportsmanship was Wallace Spearmon earning bronze and hoisting his friend Bolt above his head after the 200m, only to be disqualified for stepping on a line.

The memories will last a lifetime and now onto London in 2012 and hopefully Chicago in 2016.

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August 22, 2008 (b)

Beijing, Day 7 – Minutemen Meatpuppets Descendants Angst

(The above was written on a woman’s purse, showing the trend for nonsensical English writing; the opposite of Americans wearing t-shirts with nonsensical Chinese characters.)

Today we decided to go get Dad his duck. We went to a place called DaDong Duck restaurant, where some famous chef specialized in cooking various parts of the duck, as well as Peking duck. I ordered a veal with shallots that was quite good but not very Asian tasting (yesterday we went to a great Sichuan restaurant where everything had tons of hot peppers), and Dad finally got the duck. He was invited into the kitchen to choose which specific duck he wanted, and then they finished cooking it, delicately sliced it, and put the slices back into the shape of a duck breast. I tried some but didn’t like it. He also had a fried rice with sea cucumbers. While he was ordering I tried to tell him that it had sea cucumbers, but he seemed to be ok with it. It was only after he had finished half of it that I explained what they are – apparently he thought they were just a different type of cucumber.

After lunch Dad decided we should get massages at a very clinical-looking place next door. This turned out to be a very bad idea, a it was definitely the most unpleasant massage of my life. The place was sort of an Eastern-medicine clinic with antique-looking medical equipment. The “massage room” was also the acupuncture room, so the massage practitioner kept running away to go put needles in people. (There appeared to be some sort of bodily fluid stains on the rock-pillow I had.) However, it was actually better when he ran away to acupunt people because the massage was sort of like what would happen if you combined CPR to the back and an old massage chair set on “point” and “vibrate”. For some reason he thought only my right lower back needed work – perhaps he wanted to cause real kidney damage. He also tried to crack my back by stretching me sideways and to pull my head off my neck. The latter was during the sitting-upright part of the massage, by which point other people were waiting in line and laughing at me wincing and trying to tell him no (failed attempt. I couldn’t get the message across). It was actually counterproductive because now my back and neck hurt. Dad enjoyed it. I would really like another massage to correct this one, but I’m now refusing to let anyone touch me. Also, they should understand that my bones don’t crack, nor do I want to attempt their cracking, nor should this be a part of massage. Also, did I mention the unrelaxing atmosphere? It smelled like a hospital, the acupuncture-removal process made a popping noise and involved fire, and, most of all, people laughing at me. I was so desperate to get out of there I decided to wait the next hour until we got to the Summer Palace to use the bathroom instead of going there.

The Summer Palace was all the way (further than) the end of the subway line we usually take. It was the summer residence of the emperors who lived in the Forbidden City. It’s really more of a park, though, and they gave us a handy little map. We followed Haruka’s advice and climbed over the hill and found some nice ruins (19th-century) to explore. The whole thing was sort of like the Forbidden City in that it was rather uninformative, very large, and not many things to look at besides the buildings. We eventually wandered into a sort of shrine-type building with statues of the Buddha and a bunch of other people. One of them was holding a baby dragon in one hand and, understandably, recoiling in horror and making a face that reminded me very much of Ramya. Unfortunately, there was a no-photography sign.

We went from there to Olympic Green and stood in a ridiculously long and crowded line for McDonald’s (again, unfortunately). Highlights of the games were Bolt and Jaimaica’s world record 4×100 relay, watching the decathletes running the 1500 (they’re sort of made for short distances and throwing, so they struggle with it), and Steve Hooper breaking the Olympic record for pole vault. (I love pole vault. When I was a pole vaulter for a very brief time, my record was about five feet.) They played “Land Down Under” over the speakers.

August 22, 2008

Beijing, Day 6 – Shuang, rhymes with Hmong

First, more from Wednesday. Another favorite at the athletics was the German pole vaulter Spank, who did just that to himself while doing high-kicks after clearing a vault. Also, the guy sitting in the row behind us was apparently in Officers’ Club with Dad (small world). Finally, we figured out what the little remote-control cars driving around the field were for – they brought the discus/hammer/javelin back to the thrower. They’re quite cute, but so far we’ve been too far away to get a good picture.

Thursday we woke up early to go to the Great Wall. We hired a guide, Sammi, who was friendly and informative and answered all our questions about Chinese culture. One thing that had puzzled us was how everyone here does V for Victory with both hands for all photos – we’ve even seen little kids do it. Apparently it is V for Victory, but there’s no reason behind it. Sammi also told us about the One Child Per Family rule. They started it in 1978, so she’s one of the first generation of Chinese people to not have siblings. There’s an overstock of men nowadays, and she said to get a girlfriend they have to have “the C’s – cash. credit card, car, condo, and cleaning and cooking”. And there’s a loophole – couples who are both only children can have two children. There are also apparently a bunch of very spoiled children (the guidebook calls it “Little Emperor Syndrome”). However, at the time we forgot to ask what happens to twins.

By the time we got to the Great Wall it was lightly drizzling and very foggy. Of course, we decided to climb it anyway. It has some of the steepest, most uneven steps I’ve every seen. Some were one brick high, some were four; the walls were tilted to match the grade of the hill; some parts were so steep that they looked like a sudden drop. Again, there were no signs telling us what we were looking at – all there was to do was climb up and down (Sammi said we probably climbed 700 steps). The mountains around were very beautiful – steep, pointy, and dark green, mossy-looking from far away, and shrouded in mist. I took some nice scenery pictures. The climb is supposed to take an hour and a half, but we finished in forty minutes – no idea if we walked quicker than most people or what. I wanted to climb up the other (steeper) side from the entrance, but our legs were shaking so we decided not to.

great-wall

Here’s China’s biggest obsession: size. People say America is the land of big things – Hummers, super-size, vast open spaces – but in a country of 1.3 billion people, things are just… bigger. I had no idea of the vastness just of the city of Beijing. The subway system is huge. The Forbidden City is a kilometer from end to end, not including the outer courtyard and Tiananmen Square. The streets are all huge. The reason so many people died in the recent earthquake is because that city was even bigger than Beijing. And then there are the giant pandas. The Great Wall. The Olympic Green is probably a few kilometers across, and is absolutely packed with people. SO MANY. SO BIG. (Not the people though. The people aren’t that big, unless you’re counting the Dutch spectators.)

Thursday evening we went to the Coca-Cola Live Positively award. We didn’t have tickets for Thursday, so we got special day passes (and VIP passes to the Coke building) that expired at 6. We got there just after 6, prepared to argue with them to get in, but they didn’t even look at the time stamp. When we arrived, we found that we had missed the speech, but still got to see Shawn Johnson up close. We were even interviewed by Women’s Wear Daily since we were just standing around, awkwardly eating the free almond cookies and drinking the free Coke. We attempted to make a reservation for a Peking duck place, but they were full, so we left and went to Morel’s, a Belgian restaurant where I had quite a good pepper steak.

August 21, 2008 (b)

Beijing, Day 5

Interesting facts:
-Some people here wear red armbands with yellow writing. Some of them say “China Security”. I’ve seen people in the same uniform with and without them. I have no idea what they are.
-We learned that on signs “dong” means east and “lu” means street. We figured this out while reconciling our maps. We currently have to carry around four different maps, each with different relevant information.

At the last minute, we got tickets to the gymnastics gala and had to reschedule the Great Wall. Instead of waking up early, we got up late and had massages. However, when Dad booked two massages, apparently the hotel was still under the impression that we are a married couple and booked us a romantic couple’s massage. We assured them that we are not, but we still had just the one room. Also, they did some pretty weird things. First, they gave us disposable underwear (I decided to wear my own instead). Then they had little foot-baths. Then they made us breathe into a woven box – I expected there to be some sort of aromatic thing in the box, but no. Empty. Then they took the boxes outside and “emptied” them. Before Dad’s massage began,  his masseur banged little chimes. I didn’t get any chimes, but I did get a fishbowl below my face. It was rather entertaining to watch the fish during the massage.

From there we went straight to Olympic Green for the gala. It was really cool – we would never have seen rhythmic gymnastics at all, and it was beautiful and very coordinated if not completely useless. (There was one duet accompanied by a fiberglass cello and a third dancer inside a clam shell waving her arms. I’m pretty sure they had her locked in there for a good 30 minutes.) All the gold-medal gymnasts performed for about 20 seconds on their respective apparati, and we even got to see trampolining and synchronized trampolining (they bounce about 20 feet in the air). Also, we sat next to Shawn Johnson’s parents and agent.

We had to leave early because the gala overlapped with synchronized swimming. The Water Cube is HUGE. It took us maybe eight minutes to walk the length of it. Inside it’s very smooth and white, and inside the pool area you can see the inside wall with the distinctive cell shape. Our seats were all the way in the back. Not just far back, but actually in the very last row before the wall met the ceiling. (I came in after Dad and everyone was standing because Wenwen and Tingting were performing. The attendant asked me to take my seat and I looked at her and asked, “How exactly do you expect me to get there?” She let me stay on the step until they were done.) Synchronized swimming really is amazing – there’s so much underwater coordination, but they only show a few seconds of it on the underwatercam. And how they make patterns with their legs on the surface?? It was exciting when the Russians (Anastasia and Anastasia) scored all 10s, except we were sitting in the Chinese section and they were pretty unhappy.

Since we had a few hours between swimming and athletics, we decided to leave the green and find a restaurant. We had picked up an Athlete’s Family Guide at USA House that recommended an Uighur restaurant just outside the east entrance. We headed there, asked directions, found it perfectly – and it was closed. Not just for the day, but indefinitely. So we walked all the way to the ridiculously far crosswalk and back down the other side of the street aiming for a Sichuan place on the other side – also closed. We ended up at somewhere that was sort of pan-Chinese cusine. I had Taiwanese chicken that was sort of like little chicken wings and also fried potato crisps with hot peppers.

Most of the athletics Wednesday evening were heats. There was also the men’s pole vault qualification, where the starting height was 10 cm higher than the women’s world record height. And then there was the 200m. Won by Bolt with a giant margin of victory, followed by his laying on the track, kissing the track, taking off his golden shoes, wearing the flag like a scarf, saying into the camera “I’m the one!” and then the pre-recorded Chinese women singing happy birthday, since he turned 22 on Thursday. Oh yeah, he broke the world record by about two seconds.

jamaica2

August 21, 2008

Beijing – It’s duck in a bag!

Despite much complaint (namely, Mom’s), I have been too tired to blog the last few days. Also, I heard that some people have been unable to post comments, but other people have had no problem. It’s not blocked; keep trying.

Tuesday we decided to skip handball and have a good lunch. We headed down to Wangfujing, the “snack street”. We got off the subway and walked down a nice long block closed to car traffic with huge malls, the Olympic flagship store, and lots of Chinese brands (with English names). We went into a fabric store/tailor shop and I considered having a dress made, but then decided I’d rather make it myself and got some nice bright blue silk with those Chinese labyrinth patterns. Much cheaper than at home, of course. By the time we got to the end of the street, we were very hungry but had seen no restaurants. However, I had read there were supposed to be millions of little kebab stands. We went back to the restaurant at the beginning of the street, but there was a line; then I realized that we must be in the wrong place because Wanfujing Dajie is fronted by a big decorated arch. We asked some of the Olympic volunteers (by showing them the guidebook) and they took us there – a little side street. (The Olympic volunteers outside the stadium have been incredibly helpful, especially compared to the authoritarians inside). There we found lots of little streetside grills selling kebabs of “lamb” (I insist it looked squirrely), baby squids, starfish, seahorses, cockroaches, and other creatures. I had a noodle bowl and Dad had a shwarma that may have been duck.
After lunch we headed to Olympic Green, where we decided to visit the giant souvenir shop (the official one). Only there was a long line and it was boiling outside. We had nothing better to do and we wanted souvenirs, so we waited. Fortunately many people here carry parasols, so we stole some of their shade for the 20 minutes until we got inside… and were faced with a second line, but at least this one was air conditioned. They were staggering the line so the store wan’t mobbed, but the t-shirt area was still a frenzy. We ended up with everything we wanted and then went next door to eat.
The food options on the green are remarkably slim. They have thousands of little snack stands with Coca-Cola products but with the most awful things. And then there are two giant McDonald’s, which is where we went (the first time I’ve been to a McDonald’s in at least 6 years). Afterwards we still had some time before the gymnastics, and we saw a sign advertising the Qin warriors in the Johnson & Johnson building. After waiting in a short line and seeing lots of propaganda, we saw the four warriors they had on display. They’re really amazing – each one is different, with individual faces and clothing and weapons. And there are 50,000 of them. (It turns out Johnson & Johnson is doing antimicrobial preservation work.)
The gymnastics was great – it was the final of balance beam and parallel bars. We made friends with a Chinese kid sitting behind us, so fortunately we had a win from China (Li Xiaopeng) and the US (Shawn Johnson, who’s adorable and scored a 16.225).
Afterwards was the athletics. I think the best was the Eastern European sweep in the discus. All the Estonians near us were very proud. Christine Ohurougu won the 400m, making her the world’s fastest linguist (she majored in ling). And there was the men’s 1500m, but I don’t really have the patience for anything longer than 800. For the long ones it’s only exciting when they come round our part of the track.

gymnastics

August 18, 2008

Beijing – You can take our empty packets, but you can’t take our freedom

Since we had no afternoon events, we decided to go touring. We first went to the Silk Market, but accidentally ended up at the mall across the street. After getting to the top floor and seeing no restaurants (at least, no restaurants that weren’t fast food), we realized our mistake and went across the street. The Silk Market was quite like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, but more organized. The market women almost sounded desperate when they tried to sell. They practically threw things at us. I ended up with a t-shirt, a Chinese-style silk shirt, a scarf for David, and some tea. The bargaining is really ridiculous – for the scarf they offered 360 and we bought it for 50 yuan ($6). The most interesting part was that they had tailor shops where you could select your fabric, show them a picture, and have your suit or dress made in 24 hours. I wish I had an idea of what I wanted made or I would’ve tried to get something, but no luck. The only thing I want is the Edwardian dress I’ve been planning for so long, and I want to make that myself. We ate at the Western restaurant at the top. “Western” here is as if someone had a general idea of what Americans eat and then made up their own recipes. I presume this is how a lot of Chinese-American food started off (like chop suey). There was an extensive list of pizzas with the most random ingredients – fruit, bacon, and pine nuts. I found the only one without meat, the margherita, which listed its ingredients as “tomato, cheese, margherita”.

We took the train one stop over to Tiananmen Square, which wasn’t as big as I expected. They had some Olympic topiaries and guards standing at attention. However, the walkway under the street was HUGE. Most of the streets here are 10 or 12 lanes across with barriers in the middle, so they have to have special under-the-street crosswalks. On the other side was the Forbidden City. We tried to go in a different, smaller entrance, and then were greeted by a bunch of over-friendly people at the gate. Now, the guidebook says to be wary of “art students” who offer to show you their exhibitions and charge you exorbitant rates and scam you somehow. I didn’t think this actually happened. However, these people said “Come look at my art! Please, see my art! I am an art student!” and pointed toward a sign that said “Art Exhibit”. We turned around and went back to the main entrance.

From the main gate to the second gate was so far. Then there was another gate with a giant courtyard before the ticket booth. From there there were a series of courtyards with buildings (built in 1420 during the Ming dynasty) in what I would call the traditional Chinese style. (What I didn’t realize, as I am jaded from seeing cheap stuff in Chinatown, is that this stuff isn’t just tourist tack – it’s actual historical Chinese architecture.) We kept going into smaller and smaller courtyards with similar buildings. Since we hate audio guides, we had no idea what was going on. All the buildings had signs saying when they were built and what they were used for, but no more. They seemed to be mostly unused – the emperor’s meditation room for this once-a-year festival, the antebuilding to the meditation room, the emperor’s second cousin’s minister’s meditation room for the week he was there ever. Like British castles having a room in case the monarch came to stay. They had little exhibitions – jade, gold censers, amazing bronze items from the 10th century BCE (seriously, the Near East has nothing on these). Except for the little placards for each item, we really had no idea what was going on. There were no explanatory signs, no historical drawings, and really very few displayed items when you think about how many they must’ve had. The most impressive part was the size of it all.

lionWe went to USA House for dinner, where they were very friendly and we had free massages and barbecue.

At the stadium, we saw the mens’ 3000m steeplechase, where one guy lost his shoe and had to stop to put it back on. He ended up a minute behind everyone, but of course everyone cheered as loudly for him as for the winners. Mens’ long jump went on in the background, but they hardly ever showed it on the big screen. Pole vault was great – we watched the Brazilian pick a wedgie of Olympic size and the Russian break an Olympic record (but apparently missed her break the world record at 5.05m, as the 400 was going on at the same time). It was nice to sit down after so much walking, but I think the seats are a little too short for real comfort.
Also, instead of having them confiscate our food, Dad poured his cashews into his pockets and I stuffed my face chipmunk style with the rest of my Goldfish. He got the cashews through and I spent the next five minutes chewing.

Here’s a phenomenon I didn’t remark on yesterday: human fences. Instead of using orange cones or barriers of some kind, they have either police or volunteers  stand in a line. And there’s also a volunteer in every section making sure no one misbehaves. And one of the guys who raises the flags for the medal ceremonies continually hits himself in the face with the flag.

attendants

 

August 17, 2008

Beijing, Day 2 – “apparently water means tea”

After 12 hours of sleep, ticket arrangements, and Great Wall arrangements, we left to pick up our table tennis tickets from Coke. In the lobby we met two South Africans, Esther and Beauty, who are here working for FIFA and organizing the World Cup 2010. After a bit of confusion at the other hotel (they wanted to see ID badges, which we don’t have) we got our tickets as well as a Spectators’ Guide, which has all sorts of handy maps. From there we went to find lunch. The concierges here only recommend their hotel restaurants. It’s very sad. When we said no, we don’t want hotel food, we want to eat local, the concierge had to go ask someone else if they knew anywhere to eat. The other guy directed us across the road, and we ended up finding the only restaurant over there, which had a picture menu and English translations. It ended up being quite good and also incredibly cheap (although we learned that price is no indicator of food size, as our $3 meals were rather large. We expected tapas). Afterwards, we went back to the hotel to get a cab to Peking University for the table tennis and ended up getting a ride on the Coke shuttle, where we met Mexicans of Chinese descent, the younger of whom had studied at Peking. The table tennis was Japan vs Korea for bronze. The serves were the most interesting part – a few of them did this tiny, hidden serve, one threw the ball really high, and a few sort of turned around. In this gym I also experienced squat toilets. They aren’t that bad, and I feel they’re actually more hygienic that sit-down (Western) toilets, but I wasn’t sure which way to stand.

toilet.jpg

After table tennis we used our guidebook to figure out which bus to take to Olympic Green. (Public transit is free for any day you have an event ticket.) The bus was packed, and most people got off at the first stop. We decided to follow the other people we saw with athletics tickets to the next stop, which took an additional 40 minutes because of the traffic and put us further from the stadium than the first stop. Then we tried to enter through what was apparently the exit and got yelled at. So we walked even further to the entrance. The Olympic security is intense. There are scanners for people and backpacks and then I had to get scanned with the hand-scanner. They made us throw out all outside food and drinks (so we’d buy more inside) and turn on cameras (to prove that they were cameras?) and cellphones. They seemed shocked when I told them I didn’t have a phone. Then they confiscated my granola.

Our seats were in D, which was not a very good section. We got to see the hammer throw up close. It was adorable when Kozmuz (Slovenia) won gold and then went running around draped in a flag and then gave a big hug to silver medalist Meyekovsky (Hungary) wrapped in his flag. Then he climbed into the stands, much to the ire of the stadium attendants. They stood there angrily while he went around rousing cheers among the Eastern Europeans in the front row.

The high jump went on at the opposite end of the field. We could also only see the Chinese big screen – the English one was behind us.
Other events: 3000 womens’ (WR), 100 womens’ (won by three Jamaicans), triple jump womens’ (apparently a WR but I only saw it in replay).

Since there was no good food at the stadium and I only had a caramel popcorn, we tried to go back to the hotel restaurant, but it was closed. We had to have room service.

jamaica

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.