My journey to China started with a 2 am wake up call, although many of us had stayed up the whole night in anticipation for our imminent departure. We were bussed to the Pittsburgh Airport where I snagged a quick breakfast at Dunkin Donuts. Then, I unexpectedly bumped into my classmate Asher Hancock, who was flying to the Bahamas. It was a pleasant surprise. We then boarded our flight to Washington Dulles. I slept most of the flight, as well as the first 2 hours in Dulles, due to the lack of sleep the night before. The next 3 hours were spent playing cards, walking around, and eating food. The 14-hour flight to Beijing went faster than I thought it would. I watched Thor, The Greatest Showman, and The Disaster Artist. I also played battleships, Tetris, and poker with my friend Erin Marshall who was sitting next to me. We were served chicken, a turkey sandwich, and pancakes in the inflight service. One thing I was struck by was that even though it was a US airline, all the announcements were repeated in both English and Chinese. This shows how important China is to United Airlines and was my first hint that fluency in English was not common among the Chinese.
When we arrived in Beijing, I was surprised how easy immigration and customs were. I assumed that China, an authoritarian country, would have a long, tedious, and strict immigration process. Instead, they only collected our fingerprints and checked our visas and let us enter the country. Immigration was also easy, a simple bag scan with no questions asked. American immigration is a difficult process, even for citizens. Officers ask where you have traveled, for what purpose, for how long, what you are bringing back, and other things. I thought it would be tougher entering China as a foreigner, but it was much easier. When we left the airport, the first thing I was stuck by was the sky. It was just grey from smog. There was no blue and I couldn’t even see the sun. I knew China had a pollution problem, but I didn’t expect it to be that bad. The air pollution in Beijing was much worse than in New York, America’s largest city.
Beautiful Beijing Weather
We suffered through horrible Beijing traffic to reach our Hotel. The roads in China are an interesting contradiction. They are wide and well paved, but many drivers seem to ignore the lines, merging and turning wherever there is an opportunity. We checked in and headed to dinner at a very nice restaurant. We were served a multitude of Chinese dishes, many of which I had never seen before and didn’t even know what they were. Some dishes we were served included Peking duck, rice snacks with duck, wraps with duck, celery, tomatoes, and fried rice. Overall the food was delicious and nothing like American Chinese food, even the food at our pre-departure meeting. After dinner, a small group of us decided to explore the area around the hotel. Alana, Alec, Jared, David, Chris, Rashel and I walked down the street and wandered into a McDonalds, where we noticed the menu was different than in America. We then spent the better part of an hour in The Glory Mall. I was surprised by how modern in was; with virtual reality rides, arcades, and orange juice vending machines, it was something I expected to see in Japan, not China. There were many Chinese stores as well as American brands like H&M and Alienware. My first day in China was a great success! I ate a lot of great food, experienced a lot, and went to bed exhausted.
An orange juice vending machine