Guest blogger Tim Parenti reports for the Heinz Chapel Choir as they tour China...
Days 1 and 2 – Tuesday 28 and Wednesday 29 April 2009
It has certainly been a long day. Well, a long day-and-a-half, to be fair. And I am really tired.
To keep things simple on my end of things, I'm going to link to a few pictures at a medium resolution throughout my narratives, as well as a few more at the end. I do hope you'll take the time to view them.
After staying up until about 02:30 in New York on Monday night (Tuesday morning), the guys in my room decided to get a little bit of rest before waking up around 05:00 for final preparations. We took the 06:00 hotel shuttle to JFK's Terminal 7, and met director John Goldsmith there. Check-in was surprisingly quick, and many of us were completely through security before 07:00.
Since our flight wasn't scheduled to leave until 10:10, we had some time to kill in the terminal. After grabbing breakfast, many of us just hung out around the various shops and the food court, while others stayed by the gate.
Finally, it was time to board. And at 10:41 EDT, we finally took off and began our 8068-mile (12984 km) journey to Hong Kong. In order to fight jet lag, we were wise to immediately adjust to Hong Kong time, but that made it a bit weird when the staff were bringing around "brunch" an hour later at about 23:45 HKT.
By 01:00, the cabin lights were shut off so that we could get some rest. And from having stayed up much of the night before, it was much-needed. Taking the polar route was a lot of fun, too. We flew over northern Greenland around 04:30, and by then the lights were on again and people started milling about to stretch and to get their blood flowing. "Lunch," as they called it, was served at 06:30, and then the whole process was repeated again with a mid-morning nap, more stretching, conversing, and the like.
We landed in Hong Kong at 14:25, which was a little bit disconcerting, as our boarding passes instructed us to be at the gate for our connecting flight to Beijing at 14:35. At Hong Kong's airport, they don't really make airport-wide boarding announcements; rather, they have people with signs that inform passengers of what's going on. It was a little bit frustrating being told that it was final call for our flight immediately after going through security, but we hurried along. We all made it okay, and were off again by 15:36, albeit a half-hour behind schedule.
While most people I talked to said that the 15½-hour flight to Hong Kong was tolerable, and was operated in a manner that helped them adjust well, our three-hour flight to Beijing was, for all intents and purposes, a simple domestic flight on a Wednesday afternoon. It was rough for a few of our crew, but all-in-all, everyone's doing well. Because we hadn't eaten since 06:30 (and had no time in Hong Kong), the meal served at 16:30 was received quite eagerly. We landed at 18:26, queued up into a big alphabetical line for passing through immigration and customs, and before we knew it we were gathering our baggage and heading off to the buses.
Dinner was held at the Jin Tai Fulong Restaurant, and while we weren't always exactly sure what everything was, we were, for the most part, adventurous, and tried a lot of it.
Upon arriving at the hotel, most people took right to bed due to exhaustion from the 30-hour marathon that was Days 1 and 2. I found it very interesting when being given my room key, though, that I am in room 444, due to the negative connotations the number four has here in China. It's basically akin to getting room 666 or 1313 in America — while it's really just a number, it still doesn't leave you with the greatest of feelings.
You see, the word for "four" (sì, 四) is very similar to the word for "death" (sǐ, 死), with only the tonal inflection being different between the two. And since the Chinese are very superstitious when it comes to numbers, many hotels avoid the number four altogether.
Apparently this hotel thought it would be just as well to give the "room of death" (which is actually quite nice) to non-"four-fearing" American tourists. Yay.
You can see more of my hand-picked images from Days 1 and 2 here.
Fun fact: In case you couldn't guess, Beijing is still very proud of its hosting the 2008 Olympic Games. Later this week, we will visit the "Bird's Nest" and the "Water Cube," two of the most recognizable venues built for the Games.
Coming up: On Thursday, we will have tours of Tian Anmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. We will finish the day with a reception for local alumni of the University of Pittsburgh.