Aaron’s Note: These posts were written during our China tour with a group from the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce in November of 2009.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009
We left the house to begin our voyage to the other side of the world at 12:00 EST on Monday. At 6am Beijing time on Wednesday, the trip was finally over. With the time change and the International Date Line, it can be hard to figure out exactly what that means in terms of hours. It was 29 long hours to get here.

It’s a long travel day, but considering you get off the plan 15,000+ miles from where you started, it’s something of a minor miracle.

Driving through Beijing

The trip was fairly uneventful, apart from a long delay in Chicago. We were supposed to get to L.A. at 5:30 local time and meet with Aaron’s cousins and Denise’s aunt, but it was not to be. We sat on a plane at Chicago waiting for the cargo door to lock for about 3 hours. They scrapped that flight and we had to wait another couple of hours for the next plane to leave

All told, we were about 5.5 hours late getting to L.A.

By the time we made it to the Air China counter, we had missed our tour group and had to get our boarding passes and make it through security on our own. We hurried up and waited at the gate for two hours before the plane to Beijing took off.

Denise was able to sleep for most of the way. Aaron was happy to get six hours of sleep. It takes a lot of patience to travel 29 straight hours where almost all you do is sit, but we finally made it to China!

One initial impression is that China does things big. I guess it’s like Texas in that way. The walk from the gate to the immigration entrance was definitely over a mile. Then we took a five minute train ride to where our baggage was. The terminal was cavernous and almost seemed empty. It was like they had an excess of space to work with, but not nearly enough to fill it with. It was certainly impressive, but lacked that charming, provincial innocence of the Kent County International airport.

Gatehouse at Forbidden City

We found our bags (yay! They made it!) and cruised through customs to find out tour guides waving big signs with our bus number. We checked in with Ginseng (yup, that’s the “English” name his professor gave him in college) and waited for the fun to start.

We rolled out into Beijing traffic around 7:30am. There is an absurd amount of new construction happening. Ginseng joked that the national bird of China is the (construction) Crane. The city is vast; it was hard for us to keep our bearings as we cruised along the busy streets on our way to Tiananmen Square. Ginseng had loads of interesting and insightful information for us to try and take in as we walked along the square. Aaron wasn’t able to really pay too much attention. Fatigue combined with a biting cold kept him from retaining any of the cool information that was pouring in. Denise was busy snapping away. Check the pictures for a better description of what we say.

We marched along with our group to the Forbidden Palace. It was built in the early 1400s. Walking where once only Emperors and their families stood was surreal

Gatehouse at Forbidden City

The wood work was intricate, the stone work exquisite, and the architecture was inspiring. Denise took some great pictures, which you can see in the photo gallery with this blog.

The sightseeing stop was just sort of passing time until we hit lunch and went back to the hotel. I think Ginseng realized we had spent too much time earlier in the tour of the Forbidden City, because he stepped on the gas as we came through some of the residences and the Imperial Garden. It was too bad, as the garden was amazing. It would have been nice to spend more time there.

Regardless, it was nice to get back on the bus and out of the cold. It was about 11am now and we were off to our first Chinese lunch. We went to a dumpling restaurant, and it was pretty good. There were about 12 different dishes that came out. Aaron tried one of each item. He thought about half were really good, a quarter were not too bad, and the other quarter was not at all to his liking. Denise stuck with white rice, but did try a vegetable. It was not to her liking.

After noon, we headed to the hotel for a shower (much needed) and a rest. We were determined to not go to sleep until after dinner in order to force ourselves into the new time zone

Tian An Men Square

In that, we were successful. However, having slept just 6-8 hours in the last 48 was starting to take its toll.

We went to an acrobatic show at six. All of the performers were very young and very talented. It was in a small auditorium, and although the act was impressive, it felt like a high school talent show because the production values were low.

We ate some food after that. There was rice and other things. Frankly, it’s all blending together. This is certainly a poor way to end the note, but we promise to be better reporters after we’ve gotten some sleep!