Friday, July 25, 2008

The Flight Over

Our plane leaves at 7:30 am from Atlanta to Newark, arriving at 9:50 am, from which we connect at 12:10 pmto Beijing (all on Continental). So we get up at 3:10 am, finish packing, close the house, drive to the Chamblee MARTA station, to leave our car for our kids, and to catch the first train to the airport (4:46 am). To airport routinely, and we caught the plane (which was delayed because the crew was time restricted from showing up until 7:30). We met a Chinese Georgia State student who was flying back to China for vacation.

We got in 30 minutes late to Newark, which was fine with us, but hard on some who had tight connections. Waiting for the Beijing flight was a contingent of 15-20 Americans who were going to Beijing to teach folks English for 5 days (and proselytize their version of Christianity). The plane was mostly full, but not completely. As planned, we sat next to Tristina Oppliger, the 27 (?) year old daughter of the tour director. We talked about the Baja eclipse, which she had seen in 1991, and some that we had seen. She had the window seat.

We were served three meals, a dinner meal (fish or "sirloin steak"), a mid flight snack of a hamburger and ice cream, and a wakeup meal (something vaguely Chinese). By far the worst food on an international flight we have ever had.

The flight sort of followed a circumpolar route, so it headed north from Newark, through Vermont, and over Quebec. However, instead of going straight over the pole, or going westerly, it headed slightly northeasterly, over Baffin Island, and extreme northwestern Greenland, across the Arctic Ocean north of Siberia. Then southerly over Siberia, Mongolia, and into the Beijing area. Because it is July, the flight was in the bright sun the entire time. We were asking the question: Since we left at 12:10 pm, and got in at 1:40 pm, was this an overnight flight, or a very long day flight. The answer was clear on the plane, since the flight crew actively discouraged open windows, which streamed in lots of light into an otherwise dark airplane. Gathering to talk in the galleys was also strongly discouraged. They wanted us sitting, with eyes glued on the screen in front of each seat, or sleeping, when not eating.

In the prime seat was a seasoned traveler who was making his 10th trip on this flight. He ran a waste water treatment company, which ran 4 plants in China. His description of China is of a country with 19th century capitalists, ready to cut any corner, and cheat anybody they can to make a profit. He said: Always bargain - otherwise you will be routinely overcharged. He had bothered to learn only two words of Mandarin, so I taught him "tai gui le" - too much/too expensive.

While Mike stuck with Freecell and watching the progress of the plane across the Arctic, Carol watched the wide variety of programming. She thought it was especially neat to view a Planet Earth program "Pole to Pole" right after crossing Hudson Bay. She finally got to see the movie "Mrs. Henderson Presents."

We had to sneak over to other windows to see out, but the sky was clear over northern Canada, so we got to see bits of Nunavut, some open water, and the ice-covered Arctic Ocean. We thought tp try to take a picture of the ice, but by the time we got the camera, it had clouded over. Carol got to see a bit of southern Mongolia, and northern China, as we approached Beijing.

Despite the fact that the informational video showed three forms to fill out, there was only one form. We deplaned, went through customs much more smoothly than we could have ever anticipated, got our luggage finally, changed 400 USD into 2701.50 RMB at a bank in the airport (one RMB is slightly less than 15 cents US), and caught a taxi to our hotel, with Tristina, for 108 RMB. The trip took 45 minutes or so.

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