Saturday, October 24, 2009

Getting to Beijing

I departed Richmond, VA October 8th on Air Canada (I used AmEx points & scored a great deal on business-class tickets), connecting through Toronto, Ontario to Beijing. I hit the lottery in Richmond and was "invited" to pass through the new L3 full-body imaging scanner for the first time--huzzah for cheap thrills!

Had a great view of Niagara Falls on the way into Toronto--my first time flying into Toronto! (I've flown my own plane into Ottawa a couple of times.) There was a bit of drama boarding our 777 for Beijing: a passenger on the inbound flight on the aircraft had a medical emergency, and the resulting emergency response and stabilization of the passenger delayed our boarding by nearly an hour.

The flight from Toronto to Beijing went up over the polar icecap and then down over Siberia. Despite leaving Toronto around 4pm and flying "overnight" to Beijing, the sun never set during the flight. I arrived in Beijing completely mentally upside-down, having been subjected to sunlight for over 24 straight hours. (The great-circle route from RIC through YYZ to PEK.)

The portions of the Beijing airport I saw were absolutely gorgeous--very new and just downright immaculate:

The drive from the Beijing airport to the hotel downtown was surreal: we (myself, a travel-agency representative, and our driver) got caught up in a roadblock for approximately 15 minutes, during which time police blocked egress from the airport at an on-ramp crossing in order to allow a VIP motorcade to pass. After the motorcade had passed, we turned onto the same on-ramp and then proceeded to overtake the motorcade on the airport highway, peering into the three-car procession of Mercedes from our limo as we blew past them and their police escort. (Good to see ineffective but very showy and inconvenient security procedures are a growth industry worldwide!)

Some initial items of comparison and interest: the air quality in Beijing was just as horrid as I'd been led to expect, smoking was allowed nearly everywhere indoors, and passing through Chinese Customs was quicker than a typical pass through US Customs.

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Charlottesville, Virginia, United States