Friday, January 18, 2008

Ni-hao from Beijing.

We made it to Beijing, and everybody's awake, at least for the moment. It's just before 7pm here, but the flight (which left at about noon Chicago time) was at the wrong time for sleep. Everybody napped a little, but not much. The flight was fine -- US flights, even business class, pale in comparison to international carriers.

Most of the lower level of business class (it was a 747) was empty, as was much of "Economy Plus." But did they upgrade anybody to fill those seats? Nope. They even made an announcement to stop people from taking the Economy Plus seats unless they paid for them. I know they want the money, but once the plane doors close, why not just give them the seats? Reward frequent fliers, build up a little goodwill. But they just don't get it.

Since there's no airport shuttle service for the hotel, we had to take a cab here. Two cabs, actually, to accommodate the people and the bags. Now I knew that I should have brought a card with the hotel name and address in Chinese characters, and if we were just going from home to Beijing, I knew I would have. But this is the back end of a very long trip, and I didn't do it. The Chinese police/security guy at the airport knew enough English to tell both drivers roughly where to go, but neither of them knew exactly where the hotel was, or what it was called. Michele and the boys were separated from me and the girls, but we both found our way here in different ways. Michele had the phone number for the hotel, and had the cabbie call. She made it here first. We took a rather more circuitous route. We finally made it to the right neighborhood (I did know that much) and I scanned signs and buildings until I found the hotel, then directed the driver to it. It went OK, but we wouldn't advise this method to others.

This biggest reaction we have so far is that the reports of Beijing's pollution are wildly underestimated. Nicholas was hacking right after leaving the airport, and I felt pretty ill in the cab. You can barely see a city block, and smokestacks are everywhere. Beijing city planners would have done well by playing SimCity -- don't put your industrial zones too close to residential! Even here in the hotel room, I still smell the city. I'm not sure if it's through the windows, or if it's in our clothes.

Tomorrow we'll do some sightseeing, but tonight we're focused on just keeping people awake, getting them something to eat, and recovering from the cross over the dateline.

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