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.

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