"" Writer's Wanderings: Our Beijing Visit

Friday, August 08, 2008

Our Beijing Visit

Last October, we did an eight day precruise tour of China including Beijing, Xian, the Yangtze River area, and Wuhan. This is a little excerpt from my journal on our first morning in Beijing as we boarded a plane for Xian. Is it any wonder that many athletes showed up wearing masks for the Olympics?

Our group boards the buses for the airport. There are three buses for 78 of us and our bus, #2, has only 18 on it making it nice and roomy. Our local guide, Maggie, introduces herself. She warns us of pick pockets and teaches us some Chinese words: zao—good morning, ni hau (pronounced nee-how)—hello and used like “How are you?”, xie xie (pronounced shea shea)—thank you.

We arrive at the airport about 7:30 a.m. Our tour guides, Fred and Duan, have already checked us in and pass out our tickets. We board another bus that takes us out to our plane. Even though the sun is coming up, the fog is too thick for it to penetrate. We board the plane and begin our wait. We cannot see the plane sitting next to us.
Maggie had explained to us that Beijing is nestled between mountains and they not only hold the smog in but cause the fog to roll in often. The smog she said is from industry (they burn coal for energy) and is a sign of the improving economy.

As we wait, the question we ask each other is “Will they take off in this stuff?” It’s a frightening thought. What are their safety standards? Are their margins less defined than ours?
We are served a meal while we wait. It is some kind of bean and rice dish and very hot. I pass. It smells a little funky. There are a few other things in the box that look interesting and I nibble on some as I watch the plane next to us reappear slowly and then fade again into the fog. I test the black egg. One bite is enough. Although it doesn’t taste horrible, it doesn’t taste good. There is a salad under some kind of meat, a carton of yogurt, something that resembles a cinnamon roll, and a container of water.

Gradually the shape of the plane reappears and I begin to see more lights beyond that plane. At 11:05 a.m., we finally take off for Xian. Because we waited on the plane, we are among the first flights to escape the fog on the one runway that is open.

At 12:45 p.m. we arrive in Xian. It is foggy here as well but not as bad as Beijing. The smog is nasty though and it smells. Three buses await us for the trip to the Terra Cotta Warriors.

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