I arrived at Pitt on Friday. We had a group meeting and then dinner together. We had a really nice family style dinner at Sichuan Gourmet to prepare us for the family style meals we would have in China. Everyone was struggling a little with the chopsticks as we passed the food around. There were so many dishes; we didn’t know what most of them were, but we all tried a little bit of everything. Friday dinner was when I started to get to know more people going on the trip. A couple of us stayed up all night in one of the lounges and talked more.
I started the next day off at 2:15 am when our group met in the towers lobby to leave for the airport. I hoped that I’d sleep on the plane because I didn’t sleep at Pitt. We arrived at the airport early and the bag check wasn’t open. A worker that was there early checked us in. Our large group was composed of mini groups of people that had the same return destination. A worker that was there early began to check us in by our mini groups before the bag check opened at 4 am. Thankfully, nobody’s bag was overweight. We tiredly went through TSA and then had an hour before our flight to get breakfast. We got on the plane to DC around 6 am, and I thought that I would try and stay up until our fight to China at 1pm. I was wrong. Once our plane got in the air, I fell asleep so fast. People were talking about the turbulence, but I was so sound asleep that I didn’t even know there was turbulence.
Our group arrived at the DC airport with a six-hour layover and not much to do. Most people slept on the seats at the gate, some watched Netflix. I really wanted to stay awake until the flight, so I walked around the terminal with some other people. Everything is always so overpriced at airports, and my mission was to find the cheapest neck pillow. We stopped in at least five different stores; most had neck pillows for $16.99, but I managed to find one for $14.99.
Finally, it was time to board the plane. I thought that I would stay awake until we got in the air, but I think I fell asleep as we were taking off. I was trying so hard to stay awake, that by the time the plane was level in the air, I couldn’t fall back to sleep. Our flight was fourteen hours too long. I was either awake or eating for most of it. They served us meals at times that didn’t make sense for American or Chinese time zones, and the order of the meals was dinner, lunch, breakfast which I thought was odd. On the plane, I watched Wonder Woman, Black Panther, and The Greatest Showman. By the time we arrived in Beijing, I was exhausted.
The first thing I noticed when we stepped off the plane was how large and hot the airport was. Before we went through customs, everybody was fingerprinted in the airport. Everybody was very surprised by this, but after thinking I’d get fingerprinted at the Chinese consulate in NYC, the scanners at the airport didn’t really phase me. From there, everything went pretty smoothly, and our program coordinators from the Asia Institute, Liliana and Jane met us at the airport to take us to the bus.
As we were bused to the hotel, I was still taking in the fact that I was actually in China. Beijing was not what I expected. I joked with the others that after watching Black Panther of the flight, I thought I’d Beijing would look more like Wakanda. The sky was grey from smog, and a lot of the buildings were made out of grey or tan-ish material. I expected a lot of skyscrapers; instead, I saw many trees and short buildings. There were so many people and even more cars. Traffic was so slow.
Once we got to the hotel, I immediately took a shower and was ready just in time for dinner. We went to a really nice restaurant where we had our first family style dinner in China. We sat at circular tables with a rotating center plate which eliminated the need to pass food. Again, we didn’t know what everything was, but we tried it all anyway. I thought that I would stay up a little after dinner to try and fight the jetlag, but I fell right asleep around 8 pm.