December 4, 2013
The alarm on my phone went off very early. Thankfully, I'd set out my clothes for the day before I went out for dinner. I showered and got ready for what would be a near 30-hour trek home. Admittedly, I was still very much feeling the effects of the night before.
The group assembled early in the lobby of the hotel and had a quick boxed breakfast before loading our luggage and boarding our transport to the airport. The ride was about an hour and we arrived just as the sun was rising.
For our final checkin, some of our group had contacted Air China to reserve their seat type beforehand. I didn't take that opportunity, so I made a beeline straight for the check-in desk to ensure I got at least an aisle seat for the flight from Beijing to NYC. Other than losing a few lighters I'd picked up from the Russian bar the night before, I went through security with no problem and we all arrived at our gate, I even secured an aisle seat for both flights. Shortly before boarding, we captured a few pictures of the incredible smog over the city. You could barely see the sun already in they sky above the aircraft.
The flight to Beijing seemed short and a breakfast meal was served aboard, which was a pleasant surprise. We arrived in Beijing with more than three hours till our flight to NYC. After another round of security screenings, immigration checks, and completing a departure form, I arrived at our gate; the plane was already there and waiting for our flight time. Those of us with yuan to burn did some last minute shopping. I grabbed a cup of Starbucks coffee and my first holiday cup of 2013. I also picked up some mugs, coffee, and a few souvenirs. I snapped a quick picture of a vending machine that sold not only bottle water and soda, but energy drinks and beer.
Eventually, we boarded the 13.5 hour flight home. Somehow I ended up forming the boarding line. A few of our group had run to the washroom and when they returned, we took advantage of one final local custom of letting them cut in line to join us. To my surprise, no water is allowed on the flight. Another search of our carry-on bags was completed and we boarded.
We departed on time and took to the air. The flight was filled with more Chinese nationals than I was expecting, and after the first meal was served, out came the US Customs & Immigration in Mandarin Chinese. Because of the more than 100 dialects of the Chinese language, near-mass craziness took over.
Our flight was long and I wasn't able to sleep all that much. My only real highlights were that the middle seat was unoccupied during most of the flight as she sat up with her family further ahead on the plane. Additionally, we flew almost over the absolute North Pole, which was very cool and not what I was expecting when I originally purchased the vacation.
We arrived almost before the time we took off on the same day, courtesy of timezone changes. As soon as the plane landed, non-US travelers immediately jumped out of their seats. On any other flight, this might have been a moment of alarm, but the flight attendants did their job and reseated the passengers.
We deplaned and headed to immigration and then to pick up our bags before going through immigration. Air China allows each passenger to check two bags and it was apparent even the Chinese who are living in the US took full advantage. I've never seen so many boxes and bags from one flight. My luggage arrived and I said goodbye to several of my new friends from the trip, including Michael and Pavel.
I was exhausted and had been up for almost 24 hours straight, but made my way to JetBlue to checkin and see if I could catch an earlier flight. With luck, and $50, I was able to book a flight leaving at 3:45 p.m., almost five hours earlier than my original flight. While it was delayed about an hour leaving due to needing a new aircraft, it got me back to Orlando and eventually back to my home before my original flight would have taken off from JFK.
Just when you thought things couldn't get crazier, my flight to Orlando was another moment of fun. I sat in a middle seat between two New Yorkers each with a different personality. Hello Brooklyn and Queens. The gentleman to my left was an artist handyman who shared pictures of his paintings and his weekend plans with me. To my right sat a woman who had only flown a few times before and was not ashamed of talking about anything. She even cautioned me about her probably yelling just as the plane took off; in excitement and not fear. She had her own stories to share and was a self-admitted chatterbox. Oye.
Once I returned home, I started settling back in. I didn't go to bed till nearly midnight as I was winding down from about 30 straight hours of travel. I had the next day off from work to recuperate and to do some chores around the house. Thankfully, I'd planned food for a few days when I got back and was able to really relax and acclimate.
It was an amazing trip and created such great memories. I met amazing people, experienced a fantastic culture, and documented my fun and adventures along the way. I will always remember the People's Republic of China and its history.
I can't wait for my next adventure!
Beijing, China, Shanghai, Vacation,