After a long day of travel, we have settled into our hotel in Beijing! The majority of the group left Boston at 9 a.m. on May 11 and had a layover in Newark before flying over 13 hours to Beijing. While the flight was long, we all started getting to use our Chinese, either by listening to the flight attendants or speaking with passengers next to us. Wanting to practice some of my Chinese, after the flight attendant said that one of the lunch options was Italian food (ie: lasagna), I asked the Chinese man sitting next to me if you can get Italian food in China. He said some, but not too much. As we talked, he informed me about doing business in China, how difficult it is to get a car and some cities to explore. Additionally, I learned that he had been in Boston looking at Northeastern University for his son – small world!
Once in the Beijing airport, I was amazed by how western everything looked. Between a Justin Beiber modeling advertisement, Starbucks and McDonald's, if it weren't for Chinese characters, I would not have known I was in China. I learned that the Beijing airport was built in 2008, just in time for the Olympics. We saw the old airport on our drive into the city – it is now used for diplomats. After sitting in the airport for two hours as we waited for more of our group members to arrive, it was time to take a deep breath of the fresh Beijing air.
Much to my surprise, the pollution was not noticeable today. Only when I looked at the sky line could I tell that there is a cloud of pollution hanging over the city. Beijing is a very large city and the airport is on the outskirts. Beijing is not on a grid system like Washington D.C., but rather is accessed via concentric circle highways. It took us about 45 minutes to reach the Beijing Dongjiaominxiang Hotel. Along the way, we saw the SOHO building, KFC and many high rises. Dong Laoshi said that many of the buildings are relatively new. In some cases, she does not even recognize buildings because they were not here a year ago.
We dropped our suitcases off in the hotel rooms – two girls to a room but all three guys are in one room – and hopped back on the bus to go eat. I was sitting at the front of the bus and was very thankful to not be driving, walking or riding a bike. From my vantage point, I thought we could have easily gotten into six accidents. I will just have to get used to the many modes of transportation all vying for access on the roads. Speaking of the road, they seem very well paved in the city.
At the restaurant, Dong Laoshi ordered many dishes for us all to share: tofu with bean sprouts, tofu with pork, beef stew, a noodle dish, tofu with seafood, lamb and vegetable dumplings and rice. I think that was everything. We all enjoyed our first meal in China – some of us need to work on our chopstick skills – before returning to the hotel. After having been awake for over 24 hours, many of us called it a night.