I would not consider traveling from Pittsburgh to Beijing as a walk in the park, but it was a very interesting experience. My day started off with my alarm going off at 2am so that I would be able to meet up with the rest of the group and be on time for our 2:30am bus ride to the Pittsburgh airport.
One of my favorite things about early morning flights is that you practically get the entire airport to yourself. We breezed through all of our lines and made it to the gate with plenty of time to spare and no worries about missing our flight. We then flew from Pittsburgh to D.C. which only took about forty-five minutes. After we landed, the games began.
To avoid getting jet lag, a few of us tried to stay awake during our entire five hour layover so that we could get on the plane and fall asleep at a suitable time for China. Not many students made it, but it did not seem to impact their sleeping abilities on the plane. Other than the occasional announcement from the pilot or the flight attendants coming around with drinks, the fourteen hour flight from D.C. to Beijing was silent. The seats on the plane were equipped with screens and movies to watch during the flight, but doing anything for fourteen hours gets boring after a while.
When we landed, it was about 2pm in Beijing so we still had plenty of day to get through. When we left the airport to get on our bus to go to our hotel, it was not hard to notice that everything was different. I was not surprised because I had known what I was getting into, but seeing how things really are versus how you thought they would be is an experience that will often take your breath away. Everything was written in Chinese, from the billboards to the busses, and there were minimal translations so someone who does not speak the language, like myself, would be completely lost if it were not for our tour guides.
As soon as we got to our hotel, it was time to go back out and go to dinner. The roads of Beijing are like examples of controlled chaos. Cars, motorized scooters, and bikes are moving in every direction then everything stops for a brief second so that you can cross the street, but as soon as the light turns green again the chaos resumes. The restaurant where we got dinner was very nice and we got to eat in our own room. There were cushioned chairs with armrests and even chopsticks that had a rough tip so that there would be more grip on the food. Our meal was served family style, or large portions were put out and everyone would take some from the large plate. There was a large glass circle in the center of our table that rotated and the food was placed on the circle so that it could be easily passed around from person to person.
The travel day was long and tiring, but I can already tell that this trip will be one that I will remember forever.