Beijing: the first day

We left from Newark about 1:00 PM EDT, to fly non-stop to Beijing. If you looked at the standard Mercator projection of the Earth they showed on the monitors on the plane, our path to Beijing was a very confusing one. The route looked like a very big upside-down U, as we were due to fly due north over Greenland, travel halfway east-west across the world, and then fly due south over Siberia and Mongolia. Not until we got halfway and the map changed to a polar projection (e.g., the North Pole was at the center with the longitude lines projecting radially) did I figure out what was going on. The east coast and Beijing are almost exactly on opposite sides of the planet, and the shortest path was a straight line[1] more or less over the North Pole. In case you are wondering, pretty much everything north of Canada and Siberia is a featureless white sheet of ice and snow.

There were about 12 different channels, each running about 2.5 hours of TV programming on a repeating loop. After I watched the 2 channels I was marginally interested in (X-Men III and three episodes of House), I still had nine hours to burn. I watched as many episodes of Veronica Mars as my laptop batteries would allow (not that many). One might have thought that if I was going to take a thirteen hour flight to a place with a twelve-hour time difference, sleeping on the plane would have been wise, but I couldn’t, no matter how much I tried. The longer the flight went, the more I had to get out of my window seat and bother the nice elderly couple between me and the aisle. By the time I got to Beijing, I was pretty much exhausted, my brain thinking it’s 1 AM but my eyes telling me it’s 1 PM.

When I first starting thinking what Beijing would be like, I figured that it would be a truly alien place. Chinese culture, like its language, must be so far different from what I am used to that I wouldn’t even be able to process it. Well, I think I was wrong. The Beijing airport is pretty much like any other airport I’ve ever been in. The taxi ride from the airport was very much the same. Apart from the fact that Beijing taxi drivers drive like lunatics and that the road signs were in gibberish[2], the ride from the airport would have been indistinguishable from a taxi ride from, say, Washington Dulles.

After a surprisingly long taxi ride, we arrived at our hotel. The hotel is a multi-building complex, and of course we weren’t staying in the fancy main building, but the student building next door. We checked into our room at about 5:00 PM local time, and despite the fact that I should have tried to stay up later to get over my jet lag, I was unconscious within about 10 minutes.

[1] Yes, I know it’s not really a straight line. Don’t email me.

[2] To only my eyes, obviously.