Day 1: Beijing Beginnings

Rise and shine! We left for the Pittsburgh Airport at 2 AM in the morning. We arrived an hour early before we could start to check-in, so I had to find a way to stay awake until then. I resorted to a mix of jumping and calisthenics every so often. Soon we boarded the plane and after an hour nap, we arrived at the Dulles Airport in Washington DC. We had another 5 hours to spare before boarding the plane to Beijing. Because I wanted to help myself to adjust to the time difference in China, I had to stay awake before boarding the plane. It was a challenge; many others had spread across the seating area and napped. After playing card games, exploring the terminal, and eating a wonderful Auntie Anne’s cinnamon sugar pretzel, we finally boarded the plane. I sat in the window seat in the very back of the plane. The flight took around 15 hours, but thankfully I slept through most of it. Between naps, I watched a couple of movies and brushed up on some basic Mandarin phrases.

When we were finally descending, I saw many towns within the green mountains out the window. I was in awe of the green landscape. After we got off the plane, I could notice the change of temperature compared to Pittsburgh; it was hot. Before entering through customs, I was surprised by the fingerprint scanners. I remember visiting Beijing in 2008, and I don’t recall having to scan my fingerprints before entering China. After passing through customs smoothly, we met our program managers and guides, Liliana and Jane. They took us outside the airport, and the first thing that hit me was the heat. It was interesting that in less than 24 hours I had to adapt from living in cool and cloudy Pittsburgh to hot and dry Beijing. I could also notice that there Beijing’s sky was covered by a light screen of smog. I hope in the five days we’re here I can see a somewhat of a blue sky in Beijing.

After the bus ride, we arrived at the Penta Hotel in center city Beijing. We dropped off our luggage and headed straight for the first dinner of our Plus3 adventure. We ate at Hua’s Restaurant, where all 28 of us sat at three round big tables with glass revolving table. I was reminded of the many Chinese family reunion dinners I had in the past where this “family-style” of eating took place. As opposed to the “individual-style” of ordering your own entrée, this “family-style” involves all people of the table eating and passing around the same food. The chrysanthemum tea that was served was warm and calming. Just to name some of the dishes we had: Hainan chicken, taro root, scallion pancake wrap with pork, Peking duck wrap, celery dish, Chinese vegetables, fried dough, sweet tomato, fried shrimp, Mapo tofu. Initially, the cold dishes were served first. It took a while until the hot dishes were served, so I thought that was it for dinner. I was quite wrong as many more plates of food came one after another. One of my favorite dishes that night was the Peking duck. A chef came into the room and was cutting up the Peking duck and plating it right in front of us.

We returned to the hotel after an amazing dinner, but I wasn’t ready to go to sleep quite yet. I went to go explore the streets of Beijing with some other students. We went into a McDonalds’ to check out the menu, and I was surprised they had three stations where you can order from a giant touchscreen. We went through an underpass and it took us to the Glory Mall. The first thing that caught my eye was the freshly squeezed orange juice vending machines on every floor. This vending machine makes orange juice and you can see how it does it through the glass screen. There was even a fresh coconut water vending machine. We checked out an arcade where there were many music rhythm games and a wall lined with claw machines; I was very impressed by two guys who were super skilled in this game like Dance Dance Revolution. We decided to leave the mall, but we ended up not using the underpass. We had to cross the 10 lanes of traffic, which was a relatively daunting task because there were cars, buses, bicycles, motorcycles, mopeds, and people all over the intersection. We got back to the hotel safely, and I can’t wait for what’s in store tomorrow.

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