Monday, July 8, 2013

China Day One/Two - Leaving on a Jet Plane & Arriving in Beijing

Wednesday June 19, 2013 - Thursday June 20, 2013

After a brief "nap" at Grandmommy's and Granddaddy's, all six of us were up at 2:45am and out of the house by 3:30am. For our 17 day adventure, our group managed to stick to 6 rolling suitcases and 5 backpacks (pretty good considering we had to pack for Davis too but didn't get an extra suitcase allowance on the way over!) Our trip to the airport was smooth at that time of the day and we were in line at the United counter by 4:05am - which was actually before the counter even opened!

I have to say that United was really a great airline on the way over. You hear so many reviews from other adoptive families and we were encouraged to go with a more expensive airline. But really with six of us traveling, price was the main object. They had great customer service and super friendly flight attendants. They helped us adjust our seating so that we were all together in two rows, instead of Wesley and Parker being 10 rows behind us like our boarding cards said. Plus both of our flights over actually landed early. 

This was Wesley's first plane ride and Parker's second time on a plane (first one was in 2007). They both did well and were so excited that they managed to stay awake the entire time on our 6am flight from Tampa to Chicago O'Hare. When we landed we had a four hour layover before our flight to Beijing. We ate breakfast at McDonalds and hung out in terminal B for a while where the Field Museum had a lifesize replica of a Brachiasaurus. All the China flights leave from Terminal C so we eventually took the people mover underground to that building and hung out - walking the boys around to the shops to burn off some energy before the big flight.

You must have permission in the form of a visa from the Chinese government to travel to China, so everyone had to check in at the gate and have their passport and visa verified before we could load up the plane. We ended up in Economy Plus, just about in the middle of the plane. It was a good flight, just a long one - leaving at 2:45 pm on Wednesday and with the time zone changes arriving 2:15pm on Thursday (2:15am back home).  It helped that every seat had its own entertainment screen with on-demand movies and TV shows. Also each seat had a place to charge electronic devices, which came in handy with iPads and the boys' handheld video games. We were served two meals and a snack on our 12 hour flight. Lunch was Chinese chicken or beef. Our snack was a cold sandwich and ice cream and breakfast the next day was either an omelette or noodles. Most of the food was pretty good considering it was airline food.

The adults snoozed off and on. Wesley's longest stretch of sleep was about 3 hours. But Parker was in such a zone with all the electronic available to him that he did NOT sleep at all until the very last hour of the flight.

When we arrived in Beijing it was smoggy and bright! The Beijing airport is enormous and all we saw was Terminal 3. It has 3 parts - international arrivals in one building, domestic arrivals in another building and then customs and baggage claim in the last building. We wondered how we would navigate our way around, but were pleasantly surprised to find that ALL of the signage was in Mandarin Chinese and then English (as well as all the advertisement boards!). We found the bathrooms and then headed off to catch the monorail two stops down to immigration. We followed the signs for foreigners and hopped into the long lines. One by one we went up to the agent at the counter and handed them our passport where they compared us to our passport picture and then carefully checked our visa and stamped it.

At baggage claim we quickly found five of our families' suitcases, but Granddaddy's  was nowhere to be seen. That was a bit distressing but thank God it made an appearance within ten minutes and we were on our way once again towards the exit.

I had heard from another Lifeline family about an amazing tour guide in Beijing named Angela Shen. We had worked with her for the last month or so on planning the Beijing portion of our trip. Angela has private vehicles and drivers and so she picked us up from the airport. As we walked around the corner, there were literally hundreds of people pushed in together waiting with signs (some English and some Chinese). It was a bit overwhelming really, almost uncomfortable. We scanned the crowd carefully until we saw one held high that said "Daryl and Debbie Allen." Angela's smiling face quickly put us at ease. We followed her out of the airport towards one of her minivans. Pretty soon all the luggage was loaded, we were seated and had cold bottles of water for the trip across Beijing to the hotel.

The city of Beijing has at its heart the Forbidden City and everything goes out from there. Currently there are six rings of interstates and they are working on number 7. The airport is on the Far East edge of the city between rings 3 and 4 but our hotel was in the middle of downtown, near the Forbidden City. After a lot of research, I booked our stay at the Novotel Xin Qiao, recommended by the same Lifeline mom that recommended Angela. It was a very nice Western style hotel with a wonderful Chinese/English breakfast buffet included in the price. We had two rooms near each other on the 4th floor. Grandmommy and Granddaddy had a king sized bed and we had two queens. It's important to note two things about the beds though. First, the Chinese believe that the harder a mattress is, the better it is, so ours must have been the best! And also a queen sized bed in the USA is bigger than a queen sized bed in China. Our queens were more like oversize twins. But we used our mantra of "this is an adventure" and it worked out just fine. The hot water in the shower was fabulous - heated by the natural hot spring under the hotel.

After checking in, Angela went home and we freshened up and then Granddaddy and I exchanged money at the front desk before we all explored the city on our own. Parker fell asleep in the lobby while waiting on us. As tempting as it was to just go to sleep, we knew the best way to overcome jet lag was to stay up and go to bed on China time. So we woke him up and just kept going. 

There were several large shopping malls in the couple of blocks around us, as well as many familiar logos from home - Starbucks, Haagen Daz, McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut and Burger King. Shopping malls here are very nice and very interesting. Usually there is some kind of supermarket in the basement and then each floor above is arranged by type of item sold - one floor all women's clothes, one floor for men's, another for children, another for household items and a floor for restaurants. For the most part they aren't arranged in closed off stores, but with an open floor plan so you almost can't tell where one store stops and another starts. Tired and hungry we finally landed on Burger King for dinner and managed to order by pointing to the Chinese/English picture menu available at the register. Dinner cost about 120 RMB, which was about $20 US for Daryl, me and the boys. 

There was a subway stop right in front of hotel, but we always walked. And when we needed to cross the main road we used the wonderful underpasses provided. Crossing the side streets was definitely an adventure. Driving is almost a full contact sport in China - with cars and carts and scooters and bikes sharing the road and using the lines on the pavement as suggestions rather than the rule. Plus no one seems to really stop, they just honk and keep going. We were often ducking and weaving through traffic in the crosswalks with the boys in hand. As crazy as the traffic is though, no one gets upset by it. We saw zero instances of road rage and surprisingly very few accidents during our whole time in Beijing.

Exhausted we were back in our rooms and down for the night by 9pm, glad to have finally made it safe and sound to the homeland of our Davis.

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