Travelling to China

26 Jul
I left Iowa early on July 17th. I made it to Cedar Rapids airport right around 5am and I have never seen a ticket desk at that tiny airport as crowded! The woman behind me said she had better service in Beijing. Little did I know what this meant.
I still made it in plenty of time for my flight, it was just the previous flights that were back-logged. My Chicago friend, Erin, brought me breakfast in O’Hare. I went out through Security and we had a picnic on a beach towel in baggage claim. It was so much fun, passed the time quickly and good to see her. When I went back in through security with 45 minutes before boarding and the line was SO long. I started to panic that I would miss by flight but I did eventually make it through and had time to buy a neck pillow for the plane. Finally got on the plane around 12:30 and fortunately the plane was half empty so I had 2 seats to “stretch out” in. Still only was able to sleep in short bursts though but the other girls got quite a good amount of sleep. I heard Angry Birds’ sound effects from different directions throughout which made me laugh.
It was a 13 hour flight and a 13 hour time difference, enough to confuse almost anyone. By the time we made it to the Beijing airport, through security then customs I barely knew what day it was and amost fell asleep on a bench waiting for the other girls to get through the passport check. Once we left Customs there were 2 highschool girls, Claire and Pam, and a teacher, Mai-ee to pick us up and they were all very sweet and excited to meet us.  Sophie, the 4th girl from our group was coming in on a flight an hour later so we hung out at a Starbucks ’til she came in and fortunately got coffee, my 4th cup since leaving Iowa.
The drive from the airport was very interesting. Took maybe 45 minutes. Everything was very green around the airport but the girls said it was the greenest section of the city. For a mile or two there was a stretch of a lot of trees but they said the park was planted as a green belt to impress officials to bring the Olympics to Beijing before the final decision in 2001.
There are 6 rings in the city with a highway in each one. One of the girls explained to me that on certain days, depending on the last number on your license plate, you could only drive so far towards the center of the city. She said they were half an hour late getting to the airport (although they still beat us to the exit) because they had to take the long way around in only the outer rings to get there. I read today that the 2nd Ring road was built in the place of the ancient city wall that was torn down in the early 80’s (?).
There was a severe rain and wind storm here a few days ago so they said thats why its hazy here but maybe its smog too? Not certain.
We went to a restaurant and they ordered many different dishes, a starchy white sweet potato-type sticks with blueberry sauce, spicy squash shoots/tendrils, a couple tofu dishes, spicy noodles, clear rice noodles, baby bamboo shoots that you peel off the outer layer before eating like a panda, small pumpkin cakes and many other delicious things. We asked the high school girls what each of the things were and many of the things they just called “traditional Chinese snack” which we laughed about but they didn’t know the English name for many of the foods. However, overall their English is very good. We sat in a private room at a large round table with a lazy-susan in the center and the waitress kept bringing more and more dishes, so much food! I was starting to get really sleepy by the end of dinner, I couldn’t wait to get to the dorms. Of course, by the time we got there I had a 2nd wind (more like 4th) and it took me a while to get to get ready for bed and finally sleep. I woke up at 4am for about half an hour but then slept til 7:30.

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