A Travellerspoint blog

Day 5: Handball, Anyone?

Who knew??

overcast 79 °F

Wow, two posts in one day. I'm supposed to be at the China-Cuba women's volleyball match right now, but instead I'm at my cousin's house in air-conditioned comfort watching on TV. That's an interesting story I'll get into later.

First I'll write a bit about handball. Bonnie and I got a late start and didn't leave for the city until 1:30pm - we caught a taxi straight to the Olympic Sports Center Gymnasium, which is across the street from the Olympic Green. At the security checkpoint I had to empty my bag, which was no surprise since it's happened at every venue, but this time I had to leave behind four rechargeable batteries. I already had a set of four replacements in my camera bag and should have known to take out the second set. Fortunately the volunteers staffing the checkpoint said I could come back to retrieve them.

We made our way to the gymnasium and found our seats about 2/3 of the way through the South Korea-Sweden match. Since handball isn't played in the U.S. outside of middle school gym class, perhaps, I can't imagine that anyone reading this is well-versed in the game. Think of it as hockey on a wooden floor. First of all, the ball looks like a small volleyball and is easily held by one hand. The players have to dribble it if they're going to run more than three (I think) steps. The defense forms an arc surrounding their own goalie, and the offense passes the ball around rapidly before someone tries to break through and score a goal. The goalies do not wear any protective gear other than long-sleeved jerseys and long pants, and they have to contend with balls that are whipped in their direction.

The action is pretty fast and the contact way more physical than I had expected. The Swedes and the Koreans were all over each other, and although the ref calls fouls they didn't let up. South Korea ended up winning 31-23, and I could tell that the Swedish coach was unhappy with the reffing. Towards the end of the game he even got a yellow card for arguing with the ref.

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China and Angola were on next, and as you can expect they got a lot of support as the hometown team. Angola wasn't going to give up without a fight, though. We left just after halftime because we had to make our way to the Capital Gymnasium for more women's volleyball. After picking up my batteries, we walked to the nearest subway station at Bei Tu Cheng. Just before we got there we passed two Chinese guys in their early 20s who were holding a crude, handwritten sign that said "Volleyball" and "Tickets." I hesitated a bit and then called them over, mostly to ask if they were looking for tickets to the China-Cuba match that was about to start in a couple of hours. Their eyes got really wide and they asked if I had any. Well, yes, I happen to have a pair in my bag. You should have seen their expression...it was like a sad puppy who really wanted a bone or a treat and would do just about anything to get it.

Since we were supposed to me my cousin's wife, Peggy, and her mom at the venue, I needed to check in with her first. The puppy-dog-eyed guy whipped out his cell phone. After a long conversation with Peggy (and with Bonnie's quick approval), I decided to sell them. These guys were on the verge of begging me for those tickets, and I just couldn't let them down. It was kind of a weird situation, but I don't regret it. Plus Bonnie and I were able to get back to the house by 7pm and have a chill evening for the first time in days.

Tomorrow I have a free day, i.e., no Olympics events to attend. I'm meeting up with this guy, Herbert, who wants to open a cafe here in Beijing. He had sent an e-mail to Atlas randomly asking about importing coffee into China, and I answered it. We started corresponding and were able to coordinate our schedules. I may not post tomorrow since I'll be in town all afternoon and evening, but fear not, Gentle Reader...Al Sandiego will return shortly.

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Posted by alsandiego 16:02 Archived in China Tagged events Comments (1)

Day 4: Jetsetting Around Beijing

Men's volleyball and more women's soccer

sunny 84 °F

I'm tired. It's the morning of Day 5 of competition and I wouldn't mind having a day off, but I have tickets to women's handball this afternoon and then will see women's volleyball tonight. So the show will go on...it's not like I'm not having fun, but the rush-rush of getting from one place to another has been a bit draining.

Day 4 was great. My cousin Bing's daughter, Bonnie, and I went to men's volleyball at the Capital Gymnasium, which is on the west side of town. To get there, we took the 10:55am shuttle bus from the River Garden Villas (where we're staying) into the city. The Villas are located in the 'burbs where a lot of expatriates live - there is a high-class strip mall down the road with a Starbucks and a Subway. It's a nice, green, leafy area that's a nice change to the hustle and bustle of Beijing, but the downside is that it's a hike to get downtown. From the Guomao subway station we rode to the Fu Xing Men station, switched to Line 2 to get to the Xi Zhi Men station, and caught a taxi to the venue.

Unlike most of the other venues, the Capital Gymnasium was not built for these Olympics. It actually has a lot of history: it was the site of the much-vaunted ping-pong matches between the U.S. and China in the early 1970s before the two countries formalized diplomatic relations. You may remember the scene from "Forrest Gump." The Gymnasium has been renovated for the Games, of course, but it still has a proletariat-ish facade with long, vertical granite lines. The seats inside are squeezed together (maybe because most Chinese people are shorter), but the environment was electric.

The first match we watched featured the U.S. against Italy. By now I'm sure you heard about that bizarre, tragic murder of the father-in-law of the U.S. men's volleyball coach at the Drum Tower of the Great Wall. So, so sad. The coach has not been with the team for obvious reasons, and I wondered how the players would adjust. They lost the first game 26-24, and it initially looked like Italy would win. The U.S. came back in the second 25-22, however, and won that as well as the third and fourth, 25-15 and 25-21. In the third and fourth games they looked very much in sync with their sets and spikes...Reid Priddy and Clayton Stanley were especially awesome spikers.

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There were two American boys who couldn't have been older than 12 who sat next to us. They both were wearing USA Volleyball warm-up jackets and turned out to be from Poulsbo, WA, which is on the Olympic Peninsula. Small world. We happened to sit in the middle of a big crowd of Brazilians, since Brazil played Serbia in the second match. If you've ever seen Brazilians at a sports event on TV, you know that they really get into it. Most of the people in this crowd were middle-aged, but they knew all of the cheers and songs. One of them was particularly catchy and went like this:

Heyyyyy, sou brasileiro (I'm Brazilian)
Com muito orgulho (with much pride)
Com muito amor (with much love)

I arrived at the event wearing my USA Olympic t-shirt but brought my yellow "Torcida do Brasil" (Fan of Brazil) t-shirt that I got from the back of a Brazilian at a men's volleyball match at the Sydney Games in 2000. I changed into it in between the two matches, much to the delight of the people sitting around us. Something funny I have to mention has to do with the cheer that the Chinese spectators use, which is "Zhong Guo, jia you!" that translates literally as "China, get gas!" You've probably heard this being screamed if you've been watching NBC's broadcast. Many non-Chinese fans have appropriated this cheer and inserted the Chinese or English name of their respective countries, so instead of "Zhong Guo" the Brazilians yelled "Ba Xi" (xi" being pronounced "shee"). Really funny. During the U.S.-Italy match I screamed "Mei Guo (literally as "beautiful country"), jia you"...that elicited turned heads and stares from some of the Chinese attendees in our area. I'm sure they're confused as to why a Chinese person is cheering for the U.S. and waving a large American flag.

We left the Brazil-Serbia match during the second game because Bonnie had to meet up with her mom and some friends of theirs from Santa Cruz, CA, who are also here. I got her into a taxi and then made my way over to Worker's Stadium in the Chaoyang District just northeast of the city center for women's soccer. Yet another urban adventure combining bus, subway, and foot. I'm feeling like I can get around this city pretty easily now, but that doesn't make the travel time any shorter. I got to the stadium a bit late and was soon joined by my cousin Andy. We had great seats just six rows up from the field, but our view of the far side of the field was partially obstructed by the team benches.

Nigeria was leading Brazil 1-0 when I arrived, but Brazil scored once, twice, and thrice. The second goal was a spectacular bicycle kick - I've never seen one before, so witnessing it live was pretty incredible. The Brazilians were fast and just too good for the Nigerians, who did have a small cheering section including a brass band that played during the ENTIRE match (except for halftime). Repeating the same tune over and over and over. I felt bad for the spectators who were seated in their section.

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The second match was between Sweden and Canada, two teams I saw in Tianjin last Saturday. They were fairly evenly matched in terms of size and style of play (from what I could tell), but Sweden was better at passing the ball and won 2-1 (if I remember correctly). Good game, though - originally we were planning to leave at halftime but decided to stay. At halftime we walked outside to food & beverage venues to get some sodas. Wow, what a mess. First of all, Chinese people don't know how to form a line. Even if there is one, people will try to push or squeeze their way to the front. If you ever come to China and need to stand in line for something, you'll need to learn the term "pai dui" (pie dway) so you can tell the skippers off.

We stood in line for what seemed like forever. I ended up helping this other woman play line cop. She looked kind of Euro with her green-framed glasses, and I wonder if she had lived in the West because she had no qualms about telling the line-jumpers to go to the back. She even pulled the metal posts in between the red ribbon barriers out so that they were more obvious. The killer was the electricity apparently went out just as we were getting close to the order counter, so the volunteers staffing the refreshment stand had to stop. The Euro woman barreled to the front and went off - I couldn't hear what she was saying, but boy was she pissed. Andy and I surrendered and pulled out of line, only to notice several Coca-Cola carts behind us with fast-moving lines. Ha...if only we had known.

Afterwards we walked around the area next to the stadium and checked out the bar area in Sanlitun, which was the original gringo/expat hangout neighborhood in Beijing. It had been a long time since I had seen anything so cheesy. One bar after the other, each with a neon sign and inside a tacky band on stage whose members crowed like screech owls. A sad sight. Andy guided me into a maze of alleyways off the main drag and into a cool bar that had been built in an old Chinese house. They had Grolsch in bottles, but I stuck to Qingdao - made in the port city of the same name at a brewery started by Germans over a hundred years ago.

We didn't get home until after midnight...I did a load of laundry and collapsed. Now I need to get motivated to head into town for handball!

Postscript: I forgot to mention in my previous post that I saw a bunch of celebrities at the tennis session on Monday. Carl Lewis, the star of the 1984 LA and 1988 Seoul Olympics, walked down the stairs right next to where we were sitting. In the VIP section 1/3 of the way around Center Court, Prince Felipe of Spain was there to watch Rafael Nadal. The last time I saw him was in 1995 at my graduation from Georgetown - he got a MSFS from the School of Foreign Service the same year I got my BSFS, so King Juan Carlos II was the speaker.

LeBron James later showed up to watch Roger Federer - he was with three other guys, one of whom also looked like a member of the U.S. men's team. With basketball now the most popular sport in China, millions of people now know the NBA stars like they were homegrown heroes. You should have seen how all these Chinese spectators mobbed him for autographs when he was leaving the tennis stadium. He actually had to push people away. It makes you wonder if being famous is really all that...

Posted by alsandiego 05:51 Archived in China Tagged events Comments (1)

Day 3: Wake Me Up Because I'm Still Dreaming

Nadal, Williams, and Federer...oh, my!

overcast 75 °F

I generally am a lazy person. I can't remember the last time I went for an outdoor run or lifted weights. Even riding my bike to and from work is more about lightening my carbon footprint than getting exercise. I've always loved tennis ever since I was a kid, though, and I will go out of my way to play it. Watching tennis is something I don't often do because of my lack of a TV at home, but I can easily park myself on a couch for Wimbeldon, US Open, or whatever. Seeing tennis in person is a whole other story - I absolutely love it. The first time I attended a pro tournament was the Sovran Bank Classic (now called the Legg Mason) in Washington, DC, back in 1989. A couple of years ago I happened to be in Montreal during the Rogers Cup and saw Andre Agassi during his last year on the tour.

Never could I imagine that I would witness the world's #1 and #2 men play in the same day. My cousin's wife, Peggy, asked me if I wanted to go to one of the opening sessions of tennis, and I didn't hesitate to say yes even though I already had tickets for the semifinals of men's and women's singles. It took us forever to get to the venue, the Olympic Green Tennis Court, because of closed roads and mislabeled maps. We finally got as close as we could and still had to take one of the free Olympic shuttle buses to the gate. The hassle was well-worth the effort. Once we had passed through the security checkpoint, Peggy found the information booth and discovered that Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Serena Williams would each take a turn on Center Court (the design apparently was based on a lotus flower).

Nadal appeared first and played against Potito Starace from Italy. I can't say that I ever jumped on the Rafa bandwagon - I find his style to be on the brash side - but there's no doubt that he's an awesome player. You can't win the French for the fourth straight time and then beat Federer in five sets at Wimbeldon. He didn't seem all that sharp today, though. He took the first set 6-2 without any problem, but he started slipping in the second set while Starace picked up his game and won 6-3. In the third set, each held serve until the critical fifth game when Nadal broke Starace and closed out the match at 6-2.

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Serena Williams' first-round match had been suspended because of yesterday's rainstorm with her leading 6-2, 2-1, so we had the fortune of seeing her absolutely whip Olga Govortsova of Belarus. What was especially impressive about Serena was her return of serve...wow.

To complete the trifecta, Federer played Dimitry Tursunov of Russia, whom I recognized as a decent player in his own right. I can't begin to tell you how absolutely stunning Federer was. Tursunov has an awesome serve and could keep up for the most part, but Federer simply outclassed him. His backhand slice just floats over the net. His forehands are so precise and powerful. I was amazed. End of story.

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After tennis Calvin (my cousin Bing's son who was at tennis with us) and I made our way across town to Chaoyang Park for beach volleyball. We had a bit of extra time and by chance ran into a Dutch couple who told us that the Heineken Holland House was open to the public. I had remembered hearing about the Holland House at the Sydney Olympics - it was actually a three-masted ship docked in Darling Harbour and the site of much partying. At the one here in Beijing, Chinese nationals apparently have to download an invitation from a Web site, but everyone else can get in with just a passport. Very cool place - they took over a large building with traditional Chinese architecture and decked it out in orange, orange, and more orange. There was an outdoor area with tents that served snacks and drinks, so we got burgers (topped with mayo and ketchup) and fries (with more mayo). Much better than the food at the Olympic venues!

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Beach volleyball is pretty much what you see on TV, including music clips (many of them cheesy) played in between every single point. The weird part was the three large groups of uniformed spectators who seemed to have been planted in the audience to lead cheers or at least clap their plastic blow-up sticks in perfect sync. I can't help but wonder. Anyway, the first match featured Nicole Branagh & Elaine Youngs of the U.S. against a German team - good action and close in both sets, but the U.S. duo pulled away. The second match pitted two Australians against a pair from the Republic of Georgia, with the Aussies winning in two sets. We left after that and made the long journey by taxi back to Houshayu in the Shunyi District where we're staying.

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Final notes: saw the Olympic Stadium (aka the "Bird's Nest") and the National Aquatics Center (aka the "Water Cube") on the way to and from tennis. Very cool indeed. If BOCOG (Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games) did one thing right, they designed great facilities and made sure they were spectator-friendly.

Posted by alsandiego 18:02 Archived in China Tagged events Comments (2)

Days 1 & 2: Weathering the Weather

From one extreme to another...

rain 72 °F

I used to be able to handle humid climates. Back when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in eastern Bolivia, I lived through two rainy seasons that pushed my comfort buttons like a ten-year old playing Whack-A-Mole. But I prided myself in having acclimated to the subtropics and wore it like a badge of honor. Over the years I lost a lot of my tolerance to heat and humidity, and these two weeks in China will be a true test of how much I have left. Last night was the first exam.

Yesterday Calvin (the elder son of my cousin Bing in California) and I took the train to Tianjin to watch two women's soccer games: Sweden vs. Argentina and Canada vs. China. Tianjin is about 120km (72 miles) southeast of Beijing, and we got to ride the new bullet train that just started service on Aug. 1st. Aside from the fact that the train is super-fast and cuts the trip down to half an hour, we had to wait for over three hours for the next train that had available seats. This unexpected delay gave us plenty of time to wander around Beijing South Station, which is pretty impressive with its shiny granite floors, curved ceiling, and large waiting area with cushioned chairs that you might find in a hotel lobby. The perimeter of the station was lined with the type of stores you see in the international terminal of an airport that sell liquor, cigarettes, perfume, etc. The two McDonald's branches weren't open yet, though I was surprised to see a large Costa Coffee outlet - Costa is a large chain of cafes in the UK but I didn't know they had expanded into China.

There were lots of people waiting for trains, and it was obvious that they were members of the burgeoning moneyed class in China. Usually when you go to train stations in China, you see small groups of migrant workers from the rural areas either squatting on the floor or sitting/lying down on their overstuffed nylon bags or sacks. They're easy to spot and serve as a grim reminder of how huge numbers of people from the countryside move to the cities in search of better lives. That's worth a blog posting on its own. I didn't see any of these migrant workers at Beijing South, though - rather, the place was crawling with "Chuppies" (Chinese yuppies), toting the latest in cell phone technology and thumbing their noses at the days of the androgynous Mao suit.

Getting a taxi from the Tianjin train station to the Hyatt Regency Tianjin was a bit of a hassle, not because there weren't any taxis to be found. Au contraire, we saw plenty of them waiting right outside in a designated area. These taxis didn't have meters for some reason, so the drivers were all trying to draw passengers to their respective vehicles. The first guy tried to charge me 30 RMB (just over $4) to go to the hotel. I'm familiar enough with China to never accept the first offer, so I tried to get him down to 15 RMB. He went up to 20 and I didn't budge, so Calvin and I walked away. I expected the driver to call us back, saying that he would take us for 15, but that didn't happen - this is when you know you've gone below the seller's/vendor's threshold. The next woman quoted 30, and I countered with 20. Deal. When we got to the hotel, however, she asked for 30. My conversational Mandarin is fairly limited and I'm often self-conscious about speaking because I often mix up the four tones, but this was a rare instance in which all of the words poured out of my mouth. I challenged her right away and she backed down.

At this point it didn't feel excessively hot or humid outside...slightly uncomfortable, yes, but not unbearable. We chilled out in the room for a bit and then caught a taxi to the Tianjin Olympics Center Stadium. The boulevard leading to the stadium was closed off to traffic, so we had to walk for a few blocks and then go through several security points. Everything went smoothly and I was pretty impressed with the infrastructure and the flow. The seats themselves were quite good - just past midfield and high enough to be able to see everything but low enough to feel like we were in the middle of the action. The shocker came soon after we sat down. We were sweltering to the point of using our event tickets (printed on thick paper) to fan ourselves, but that didn't stop a large bead of sweat from running down my right leg even though I was stationary. My theory is that the bowl-shaped stadium trapped the humidity and prevented the breeze from coming in.

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I can't imagine what it was like for the players to have to run around in those conditions. Regardless of the weather, Argentina definitely looked outmatched by Sweden. The Swedes were bigger, heftier, and more aggressive, and as such controlled the ball pretty much the entire time. The Argentines looked lethargic and couldn't gain control of the ball. 1-0 in the end. The main draw was yet to come, though. China's women's soccer team has been one of the best in the world for quite some time - remember, they barely lost to the U.S. in the inaugural World's Cup when Brandi Chastain whipped off her jersey at the end of the final. Obviously the vast majority of the spectators came to cheer for China. What I certainly didn't expect to see was how rah-rah Chinese people have become. Nearly everyone had a Chinese flag sticker either on their shirts or stuck to their faces. Lots of red headbands with yellow characters sporting various messages. And, of course, a sea of flags.

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The China-Canada game definitely was more interesting. Canada's players were taller and larger, so they won all of the contested headballs. China had speed, agility, and good ball-passing skills, though. Add a fired-up crowd, and it was exciting enough to distract me from feeling very uncomfortable...temporarily. When we first arrived the Jumbo-tron screen showed the temperature at 92 degrees, and during the second game it had dropped to a balmy 85 but with 72% humidity. Nasty stuff. Needless to say, I was happy to get back to the air-conditioned hotel room.

This morning we took the train back to Beijing South Station and made our way all the way back to my cousin's house via taxi, subway, and taxi again. In the afternoon a group of us went to the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park to watch the preliminary heats for men's & women's pairs, lightweight fours, etc. Wow, what a cool venue. The flatwater course is 2,000 meters long, and our tickets were for a section relatively close to the finish line. It was so hazy out that we couldn't see the rowers at the start line and instead had to wait for a couple of minutes before they came into view. The great part was that the temperature had dropped significantly and probably was in the low 70s with overcast skies, which made for great conditions in which to sit outside. The U.S. team had entrants in some of the heats we watched, so it was fun to cheer for them and wave our flags. I had brought a large flag that almost got confiscated at the security checkpoint, because the BOCOG volunteer thought it was too big to bring in. My cousin Andy saved the day by challenging the volunteer and then his supervisor, otherwise I might have lost it for good. This particular flag flew over the U.S. Capitol back in 1993, and I've schlepped it around the world with me: Germany, Bolivia, Australia (for the 2000 Summer Olympics), and maybe even one other country.

About halfway through the heats it looked and felt like it was going to start pouring rain, so we hightailed it out of the venue. Just as we were walking to the van after getting off the shuttle bus, it began raining - harder than I had seen rain fall in a long time. As I type this at 2:40am local time, it's raining again. Hopefully the net result will be a blue sky (or bluer, which isn't saying a whole lot) tomorrow and/or cooler temperatures...otherwise it might just keep coming down.

I'm dozing off right now so I'd better end here, but I'm happy to report that I saw myself on NBC's Olympics broadcast a few hours ago. They were covering the rowing and showed the women's quads heat with the U.S. in it - from a distance I spotted my big flag that almost didn't make it in. Very cool.

Posted by alsandiego 19:45 Archived in China Tagged events Comments (3)

First Report from Da Muthaland

More details than you probably wanted to know...

overcast 81 °F

I'm happy to report that I'm not dying from breathing in polluted air in Beijing. Yes, I've been here for only 28 hours so far, and at least half of that time has been spent at my cousin's central air conditioned house way out in the 'burbs. Ask me how my lungs are feeling next week and I might be singing (or wheezing) a different tune, but for now I'm of the opinion that the haze that has been written about, reported on, criticized, etc. for months is not dissimilar to the smog you see in cities like LA: fine dust particles (from the Gobi Desert) mixed with air contaminants mixed with fog. Stay tuned for an update.

So I made it to Beijing after an uneventful trip from Seattle via Seoul. I got to Sea-Tac at 11:30am on Tuesday morning, three hours before take-off. While checking in at the Korean Air counter, the women told me that my big red suitcase (aka "Clifford") was 3 or 4 kilos over the weight limit. When they told me this, my other check-in piece already had been put on the conveyor belt and disappeared into the bowels of the airport that mere mortals never get to see. That meant I couldn't transfer anything to the duffel bag. I sat there with Clifford open, pushing things around, and realizing I couldn't do a whole lot. Finally the Korean Air peeps told me to reweigh the bag, and after they saw that the weight hadn't changed much (I had taken out 2 lbs. of coffee) they said I could check it in but that I would need to stay within the limit the next time. Sure, no problem, since EVERYTHING in Clifford was for my cousin and his wife or my mom.

On the plane I got bounced around from one seat to another, not by the flight attendants but by other passengers who were trying to keep their respective groups together. I can appreciate that, but since I always travel solo I'm the one who gets asked. I went from a window seat to an aisle and finally back to a window, four or five aisle ahead of where I originally had been. Plus, I was fortunate to have a really nice Korean woman (probably in her mid- to late 30s) and her cute daughter (8 or 9 years old) as my aisle-mates. The mother spoke English fairly well so we chatted on and off during the 11-hour flight. She even showed me the proper way to mix bibimbap, the well-known Korean rice dish. When you order it at a restaurant, it usually comes pre-assembled or close to it. Korean Air, however, served it in components that you had to blend yourself. The meat and vegetables were in one bowl, the rice in another, and the condiments separate from that. So following the instructions of Nice Korean Woman in Seat 30G, I dumped the rice on top of the meat/vegetables, drizzled a packet of sesame oil on top, and squeezed out a small tube of hot pepper paste. Mixed well, ate, and enjoyed.

The Korean Air flight attendants, starting with the ones who greeted us as we were boarding and ending with those who said goodbye when we were deplaning, assumed I was Korean and therefore spoke to me in Korean. This is not the first time in my life that such a thing has happened. Usually Asians are pretty good at deciphering who belongs to what ethnicity based on facial composition, but I guess I look Korean because I kept getting "Anyeong haseyo!" and who-knows-what-else thrown at me. I almost felt embarrassed revealing that I wasn't one of them - it's like telling them they've been fooled. As far as I know, this doesn't happen to anyone else in my immediate family, even though my younger sister Christine is a carbon copy of me (with longer hair).

I have to say, Korean Air has a great in-flight entertainment system. Each seat has a screen as well as a remote control that pops out of the armrest. You can watch a number of different things (full-feature movies, short movies, documentaries, news broadcasts, sports, etc.) and even pause and restart if you need to use the bathroom or something. I watched four movies and four travel shows in between the two meals, which is about equal to my exposure to TV over a five-month period. Just another reason that foreign carriers are usually the way to go when you have a choice.

Nothing to report on my short layover in Incheon (the actual location of the Seoul airport), other than having to guzzle an entire bottle of water because I couldn't take it through security. The water was in my 2008 Great Lakes Regional Barista Championship commemorative bottle that I didn't want to leave behind, so the only option was to empty its contents...into my stomach, as I would have lost my place in line had I left for the bathroom. On the flight to Beijing, we were served another meal that was a bit perplexing. There was a plastic container of a white gelatin-like substance, but the entire label was in Korean with no indication in English as to what was inside. I opened it and found that it had a creamy texture, but I wasn't sure it was tofu or if it was supposed to be sweet or salty. There was a sauce packet that, again, was labeled only in Korean and therefore not indicative of being sweet or salty. I dumped that over the creamy white blob and tried it...salty. I'm not a huge fan of cold tofu, but this was passable so I ate most of it. As many of you dear readers know, I hate wasting food.

Arrived in Beijing and breezed through immigration and customs. Literally. The whole episode was anti-climactic, since my cousin had gotten his supervisor at the U.S. Embassy to sign a letter attesting to my identity, relationship to my cousin, and location of their residence. The plan was to whip it out in case I got hassled by the authorities because I wasn't going to stay at a hotel. No problem there. The only problem was getting through the thing that looks like a metal detector but actually measures your body heat. I think it was installed during or just after the SARS outbreak, because I've seen it at the Shanghai airport as well. The one in Beijing Terminal 2 kept going off and the people manning that station didn't seem to know what to do. Fortunately I squeezed to the front of the line and managed to avoid setting the alarm off, meaning that my body temperature is normal. Well, duh...I'm such a cool person (har har).

I was going to blog about our short trip out to the Huanghua section of the Great Wall as well as the Chinese acrobats show we attended, but it's now past 2am and I'm having trouble staying awake. So I'm going to post this now and try to catch up later.

Posted by alsandiego 19:12 Archived in China Tagged events Comments (1)

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