I just got back from Beijing and my first trip to Asia. Since I am jet-lagged and having a hard time concentrating, it seems the perfect time to put some observations and thoughts on virtual paper.
I wasn’t looking forward to the fourteen-hour flight from Chicago to Beijing. I do believe that the human spirit is capable of withstanding many things – not the least of which is air travel in a 30-inch pitch, especially since there was no way I was coughing up 350.00 and 75,000 miles to upgrade to Business class. That’s two round trips to Europe or South America in my bottom-feeding mile redemption.
Luckily, due to status with AA, this miser was able to snag free Main Cabin Extra seating at no extra charge after online check-in, which made the flight merely inconvenient instead of unbearable. I can’t remember ever being so grateful for 6 inches.
I found on arrival that in the airport and on most streets and buildings in the city, almost all of the signs and public announcements are in both Mandarin and English. This is very helpful.
I also found that surprisingly few people at the airport or in the city speak any English. This is not very helpful. Especially to someone who, despite knowing better and having earlier blogged his intention to do so, was too lazy to learn to say anything other than “Hello”, “Thank you”, and “No” in Mandarin (“Ni hâo“, “xiè xie” and “bù shì” to anyone interested).
Pretty much everyone had me at “Ni hâo”. This is completely my fault, and I didn’t expect or deserve anything more.
China – the country – makes you welcome, but at arm’s length. China – the people – were unfailingly friendly and good-natured and seemed as curious about me as I was about them nearly everywhere I went.
There are 21 million people living in Beijing, making it China’s second-largest city behind Shanghai (this is hard to believe) and the third-largest city in the world (behind Shanghai and… Karachi?).
Since my trip coincided (not premeditated) with the May 1 celebration of International Labor Day, I feel like I saw at least half of those people, plus what seemed like a fair amount of the other 1 billion people living in China. All on the same day.