Posted by on Apr 18, 2011 | 5 comments

Our 747 Aircraft

We took off from San Francisco airport at around 4:00pm on Friday, April 15.  The plane was a Boeing 747.  We took the northern route, up and across Alaska and the Bering Strait, then down over Siberia and the Kamchatka Peninsula.

View From Our Window

Over Siberia

We were chasing the sun the whole way, so our long 12-hour flight was like a single afternoon, stretched out endlessly.  The sun never went down, it just moved a short distance across the sky. Of course I was completely unable to sleep on the plane, so I was feeling somewhat dazed and confused when we landed.  We arrived in Beijing at around 7:00pm local time on Saturday, April 16 (Beijing time is 15 hours later than San Francisco).  An entire day was gone. The first thing I noticed about the Beijing airport was the sheer vastness of it.  Just getting out of the terminal required a considerable amount of walking.  We went through customs, and then we had to take a train just to get to the baggage claim area.  We found two of our bags very quickly (a pink Samsonite suitcase, and a tan London Fog bag), then had to pick the other two bags out of a sea of identical-looking black Samsonite bags.  If you are traveling and need to buy new luggage, I highly recommend getting a color that stands out from the pack. The airport architecture is very modern, and everything looks very shiny and new.  Seeing signs everywhere in Chinese is a constant reminder that we are in a far away land.


Yuan’s friend DouDou met us at the airport and gave us a ride.  When we walked out to the car I was struck by how the pavement surface was so new, smooth and polished.  As we drove out of the parking garage and left the airport, the road continued to be in such amazing shape, it was like we were gliding over it.  And it just went on and on like that, everywhere we drove in the city.  I have gotten so used to roads in the Bay Area and practically everywhere else in the U.S. that are uneven and bumpy, full of cracks and potholes and pits and grooves and every imaginable defect.  When I do get to drive over new pavement it is never as smooth as the Beijing roads, and it never seems to last more than a few hundred yards.  These roads, in contrast, were a real pleasure to drive over, and there was no end to it.

Traffic in Beijing, on the other hand, was a total nightmare.  It reminded me a lot of driving in Boston (minus the potholes, of course), and that is really saying something.  Lane markers appear to be merely suggestions, as drivers who suffer from a constant state of lane envy keep forcing their way over to the next lane, inevitably having to squeeze someone else out of their lane in order to accomplish the maneuver.  There is absolutely no sense of “wait your turn” for anything; instant gratification is the rule here, and everything is a game of chicken, accompanied by a never-ending litany of horns honking.  Driving next to some very large and menacing buses and trucks (of which there were many) means always keeping an eye out for when they decide to move into your lane – and taking them on is not for the faint-hearted. As if dealing with the other cars and trucks on the road weren’t bad enough, you also have to watch out for mopeds, bicycles and pedestrians.  Walking across the street here can be a very dangerous business.  At intersections there is a constant slow-motion dance that goes on, with some cars turning right, maybe crossing a couple of lanes and merging with traffic, while at the same time the bicycles weave their way through and pedestrians hop or slide from one spot between the cars to another.  Traffic lights are only loosely observed, and crosswalks are a cruel joke:  if you are standing in a crosswalk and a car is moving towards you, you had best leap out of the way because there is no way the car is going to stop for you.  No matter that you are crossing on a green light, and there is even a walk light beckoning, assuring you that it is safe to cross.  Don’t believe it!  There seems to be no concept of “right of way” whatsoever here. After driving for what seemed like forever we made our way into the center of town and stopped for dinner at a nice little restaurant that DouDou found for us called 云南土司菜, which roughly transliterates to Yunnan Tu Si Cai.  I say roughly because in my study of Mandarin I have found that Pinyin (the system of rendering the Chinese language into a romanized alphabet) is not always pronounced as a reader of English might expect.  Chinese has some sounds that do not have English equivalents (though there are far fewer of these for English speakers to learn than the reverse, as Yuan can attest to, having struggled to learn the pronounciations of English vowel sounds).  Pinyin only helps if you understand its rules of pronounciation.  Luckily there are pronounciation guides out there to help with this.

Brian at Yunnan Restaurant

Yuan at the Restaurant

Yunnan Tu Si Cai Restaurant

The Menu

Our Table

Our Dinner

We had some really good food, including a spicy noodle soup and a dish that included wild mushrooms and three different kinds of peppers.  Yuan and I were both starving and dehydrated from the trip, so everything tasted especially good.  The freshness of the ingredients and the spices make authentic Chinese dishes so much more interesting than the Westernized versions we are used to. The waitress brought water to the table, but it was hot water – a new experience for me, but apparently very common here.  I prefer my water cold, and I exercised some of limited Mandarin to ask the waitress if they had cold water:  有冰水吗 (you bing shui ma?).  To my surprise and disappointment, the answer was:  没有 (mei you, we don’t have any).  Oh well.  The warm water is supposed be better for you, they say.

We finally got back to Yuan’s condo, and DouDou had prepared it for arrival, leaving a series of notes and gifts for us along the way, wishing us a long and happy marriage.  Our first anniversary is coming up at the end of this month.  The dates and peanuts are a Chinese play on words – the words for “date” and “peanut” sound like the words in the traditional wish for newlyweds: 早生贵子 (give birth to a son soon). It was a heartwarming welcome, and I felt grateful that Yuan has such a good friend.

Gift From DouDou

From DouDou

Dates and Peanuts From DouDou

The condo itself is very interesting, fairly small in size but full of personality.  The choices of furnishings and appliances are very modern, but in so many details they are different from and more interesting than what I am used to seeing in the U.S.  No Ikea cookie-cutter styles here.  Quality materials and workmanship are the rule, and a flair for detail that make the place feel so much more livable.  That sense of style can be seen in many aspects of the Beijing architecture and environs, and it really sets this city apart from so many American cities that have lost so much of that sense of uniqueness and local pride. Of course by the time we got home we were so exhausted that we quickly went to bed and crashed for the night, our first night in Beijing.

Lamp in Yuan's Condo



Qing Dynasty Chair




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