28-Oct -- 3-Nov

The Character for Beijing...
...and China's name for itself:
First character: Middle  Second character: Kingdom
The Flight

Wow.  Business class is definitely the way to go!

Lotsa food, entertainment, and most importantly, ROOM.
The seat reclined every which way and did practically everything
except give you a massage.  (Maybe it did even that, I just hadn't
found the button yet)  Good thing, too, because it's a thirteen-hour
nonstop flight.

We flew directly over the North Pole (according to the flight tracker map)
at night -  tons of stars overhead, and a vast white plain below - not sure
if it was clouds or snow.

At daybreak, we flew in over Siberia, Mongolia, and Northwest China -
an arid desert, punctuated by an occasional speck of a village.


About an hour and a half before we were due to land, the crew handed out
the China paperwork.  Three forms -- The China Health Quarrantine form,
which contained a three rows of checkboxes after the question, "Do you have?".
The first row contained Cough, Sore Throat, and Snivels (sic), and the
last row had the more serious stuff -- AIDS and Dementia.
If I HAD dementia, I'm not sure I'd be qualified to check the checkbox ...

Then there was an Immigration form and a Baggage/Customs form.
I started remembering my trip to Bangalore, and thought, "What have I
gotten myself into now?"

I need not have worried.  Beijing airport is big, bright, roomy, spotlessly
clean, and VERY efficient.  Much better than JFK or EWR, though not
quite as cheery as YHZ (but then again, nothing really is.)

The forms were a formality; I breezed through all three queues, and the
longest wait was about ten minutes to get my bag.  About half an
hour after we touched down, (and ten minutes after our stated arrival time -
we landed early) I was in the car going to the hotel.

The  Hotel

The Hilton offered "Airport Service" on their website, so I called them the day
before and arranged transportation.  Turns out I needn't have worried; taxis here
are plentiful and reliable.  One word of advice, though:   when going anywhere,
try to have your destination written out in Chinese characters beforehand - while
the drivers here are helpful and polite, very few of them speak English!

Back to my story:  Upon exiting from Customs, I spotted a man holding a card with
my name. I identified myself to him, assuming he was the driver, but actually he was
part of a precisely synchronized team:  He spoke a few words into his cellphone and,
taking my bag, walked me to the curb.  As we approached the exit, a black sedan
pulled up, the driver loaded my bag, and we sped off to downtown.  When we pulled
up to the hotel, a porter took my bags and a young lady with a clipboard escorted me
directly to my room (bypassing the front desk), where an attendant was waiting with
a tray of welcome drinks. The greeter then verified my credit card and passport and
announced that they did not have a room upgrade available (as an "elite" Hilton traveller
- which basically means I spend more nights in Hilton beds than at home - I'm entitled
to an upgrade when available).  Could, instead, I please accept a Hilton Panda?

Then they were gone.  When the porter brought the bag a few minutes later, my head
was still spinning, thinking I had participated in a scene from a James bond movie.

And the room ... wow.  I can't imagine what could possibly constitute an upgrade from
what I'm now in.  The furnishings are stylish and modern, with clean lines, light woods
and fabrics, but also unmistakably Oriental.  Everything is so tastefully arranged, I'm almost
afraid to disturb anything.

Postscript:  I saw a coworker's "upgraded" room.  Same exact layout, except with a few extra
features - a fax machine, a cappucino maker, and some very fancy LED reading lamps for the bed.

My hotel room: modern, comfortable and very well appointed
A few minutes after I took the picture above, another service person arrived with a live
purple orchid, which now sits on the upper shelf next to the framed photo.

People here are gadget freaks.  I think it's an Asian trait, and this hotel is no exception. There
are discreet rocker switches in the walls to control various combinations of lighting and power.
By the room door, there is a red and green rocker switch which illuminates a red and green
light right outside my door.  The red is the equivalent of a "Do Not Disturb" tag, and the green
requests maid service.  On Sunday, I made an early night of it (about 8:00 pm) so I turned
on the Do Not Disturb light and went to bed.

After work on Monday, I came back and found a note under the door that said, "We did not
want to disturb you. Please call Housekeeping to have your room made up."

Oh well, I thought, switching off the red light.  I won't bother them.  I had plenty of towels, and
the bed didn't really need making up.  I stepped outside to get a bite to eat, and when I returned
less than 45 minutes later, I found that the room had been COMPLETELY made up, and the
bed turned down.

The service is so good and discreet here, it's almost creepy.

The City

If Hong Kong is equivalent to New York - gritty, diverse, commercial and full of life, then
Beijing is like Washington, DC - ornate, broad avenues, showing the best the country has
has to offer, and a bit smug and self-righteous.


Beijing street scene on a Sunday afternoon


Early morning smog, as seen from my hotel room

Walking along a street in the tourist area, I spotted a sign in English :  "Genuine Chinese Food".
Um, yeah ... wouldn't it all be?
Then there was this, down a side street:

See many toucans in Ireland?

Teaching class in China has its own unique clhallenges.  Everything, including Microsoft Windows, is in Chinese.
Thank god for icons.

Teaching class in China: "Open the Policy editor, and find the Local Users Key ..."


My "Hi Mom" picture:  Greetins from the Forbidden City!

Oh Boy! Field Trip!


Lions are not native to China, so they become fanciful, mythical creatures


All that remains of a wall that once surrounded Beijing


Tiennamen Square, looking out towards the Forbidden City


The Outer Gate at dusk


The national bird of Beijing - the crane


Pimp My Ride, Beijing:  in a sea of conformist sedans, an expression of unbridled creativity