Saturday, May 31, 2008

China Day 01: The Adventure Begins

Our plane leaves at a little before 1 PM, so my brother dropped us off at the airport around 9:30. It was a good time to be on the road - traffic was actually light, all the way to the International Terminal - and the lines in the airport to check our bags weren't even bad!

The decor in the International Terminal was unique. First there was the dinosaur, then there was the underground passage with the colored rainbow lights flashing along the ceiling,
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and then we hit the concourse itself.
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I swear this thing is so long it has a horizon! Dad and I staked out some seats in the waiting area, then he watched the bags while I did my half-hour walk. It turns out that a complete circuit of this concourse is only slightly shorter than a walk around my entire block at home.

When I got back to our gate I discovered that we all had to go to the desk to have our visas verified. Not sure why, but whatever. When that was done I chatted with some of our fellow-passengers, including a trio of Chinese twentysomethings who were spending a couple of years in the USA teaching English. Dad tried out his "ni hao" on them, and I gave them my "zai jian" - they were delighted and said we'd do just fine.

We didn't actually have that much time for chatting - the plane started loading and off we went on our 12.5 hour nonstop flight! Dad and I quickly discovered that our new noise-canceling headphones were a fabulous thing to have. In fact, between their over-the-ear design and the noise cancellation, if I plugged mine into the plane audio even the lowest volume setting was too loud. It turned out that I could listen to the movie soundtracks best if I left noise cancelling off, and turned the volume almost all the way down.
Dad eschewed the onboard movies in favor of listening to the cockpit channel. He had brought along an old National Geographic map of the Northern hemisphere centered on the North Pole, and you never saw a guy have so much fun with a map and a pencil.

He plotted every step along our Great Circle route as we flew North over Hudson Bay in Canada,
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through the Arctic Circle within 600 miles of the Pole,
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back South over Siberia and Mongolia,
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and into Beijing.

Friday, May 30, 2008

China Day 00: Preparation

Dad and I are almost ready to start our China vacation! We have been planning and preparing for it for several months:

1. We obtained and viewed a 36-lecture course on Chinese history entitled "From Yao to Mao" from the Teaching Company. This gave us a lot of very helpful background information and helped us tell our Chins from our Mings and our Chings.

2. I downloaded a series of 14 lessons in basic Mandarin Chinese from these folks. Actually, if I remember correctly I found them on itunes and downloaded the lessons free from there. I learned to say Hello (Ni hao, or "nee how"), Thank You (Xie xie, prounounced "Shyay shyay"), You're Welcome (Mei shi, pronounced "May Sure"), and Goodbye (Zai jian, or "Zye Djeeahn"). (In real life all the Chinese transliterations have accent marks over them telling you what tone to use. In Chinese, if you say the same sound with a rising tone vs. a falling tone in your voice, they mean two different things. As different as the words "Horse", "Mother", and "Swearing or Scolding" which are all the sound MA with three different tones. See here for more.

3. We packed. And re-packed. And re-re-packed. And took things out. And took even more things out. You see, everyone is very concerned about luggage weight these days. This is especially an issue because we are going to be taking about five internal flights on various Chinese airlines over the next few weeks, and Chinese airlines have even more stringent weight requirements than American ones. To wit, we are limited to one suitcase, maximum weight 44 lb, and one carry on bag, maximum 11 lb. I actually took out enough stuff to get the main suitcase down to around 35 lb, but the carry on was never less than 15 even when I switched to the old, non-rolling one and took out everything but my CPAP and my knitting. I even spent Uncle Sam's Windfall on a travel CPAP that is particularly small and light, and Dad got one too. They were well worth it - very compact and still they worked great. Dad luckily tossed an extension cord with a multi-plug end into his bag at the last minute so we were able to get two outlets close enough to the beds to plug into. The machines were compatible with the 220 current they have over there too. I made sure I wouldn't run out of knitting on the trip; I took four complete socks' worth.

Today we drove out to Chicago where we were met by my brother John. We stayed overnight with him and he will take us to the airport tomorrow morning. Because his birthday will take place while we are in China, we brought him his presents and cards so he would have them on time! Dad kept practicing with his new camera: John's cat Lucky now makes his blogging debut below!

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Tea Cozy in its Final Form

I love how it looks like the petals of a flower are enclosing my tea pot:
Patons SWS, Natural Pink, 2 skeins; as you can see I didn't bother to match the color on the two sides of the cozy. So sue me! I love the way this cozy keeps my tea hot for a long time. Unfortunately the weather is changing as I type and it will soon be too hot for hot tea...