Our layover in Seattle was mercifully short, although long enough for everyone on the tour to find a restaurant nearby and grab a meal before departing for China.
Hardly any interstate flights offer food anymore, at least for free, and the cost of the sandwiches they offer far outweighs the value of the meal. This has been a boon for all the food sellers located in airports around the country, as travelers rush to grab a meal between flights. Unfortunately, food found in airport midways is not much better in most cases.
However, I found a small restaurant with a sit-down area and a respectable menu and entered behind a pair of middle-aged ladies whose overheard conversation included comments about the tour to China. The restaurant was quite crowded at the time, but the lady who appeared to seat the two in front of me noted that a table was just clearing and would be ready for them in a couple of minutes.
As the two chatted and waited for their table, I commented, “So, you’re both on the tour to China?”
“Yes,” responded one. “You, too?”
“Yes,” I replied. “I was wondering. The restaurant is quite full and we don’t have a lot of time before our flight, would you be terribly inconvenienced if I joined you at your table for lunch?”
They looked at each other and spoke almost simultaneously. “Why, no, of course not. We’d love to have the company. Since we’re all going to be seeing each other for the next two weeks anyway, it will give us a chance to get acquainted.”
Very shortly, we were ushered to our table and our lunch was filled with mundane food and small talk. I was glad that we had sufficient time for a glass of wine following the meal.
Leaving the restaurant, we proceeded to walk the quarter-mile to our departure gate, me with my small carry-on and both ladies with rather large purses and rolling carry-ons. Is it just me or do women really always pack more than men when going on trips?
As we neared the departure gate, we could hear the announcement for boarding. I was at least impressed by the efficiency of the tour planners in scheduling the flights so that the tour group wouldn’t be caught waiting in airports for extended periods of time.
Knowing that the jump from Seattle to Beijing would be almost twelve hours, I had upgraded my seating to business class. Since my expenses were being covered, I wasn’t about to spend twelve excruciating hours with my knees in my chest.
As always, I boarded behind almost everyone else and settled in.
As the 747 lumbered its way to thirty-six thousand feet, I extracted a Benedryl from my case, downed it with a swig from the bottled water I had brought aboard, and waited for it to take effect and help me to sleep for the majority of the trip. Since I had been traveling most of the day already, my fatigue would be helpful in securing a lengthy nap, which would also allow me to arrive in Beijing pretty well refreshed and alert.
We would be arriving in Beijing at 2300 hours local time. By the time we collected our luggage, cleared customs, and reached our hotel, it was likely to be 0200 hours local. Fortunately, our tour planner had taken this into consideration as well and no activities were planned before noon of our first day, sufficient time to get over the time difference and recover from a long flight. Those who could, would undoubtedly be up earlier and out for breakfast for a quick look around. Since most of the flight had been a sleep-over for me, I fully expected to be up a bit earlier.
It was a mostly tired group that waited to be checked into the Park Plaza Beijing Wangfujing hotel in the wee hours of the morning, but the reception staff were extremely polite and accommodating as well as highly efficient in getting everyone to their assigned rooms.
L.T. had been insistent on booking me as a single occupant, knowing that my work there would require some privacy during certain periods. It would not pay to have to be constantly explaining to a nosy roommate if I needed to be somewhere other than where the tour itinerary wanted me to be.
So it was that I settled into a very westernized room on the seventh floor of an excellent hotel just a short distance from the famous — or infamous — Tiananmen Square.
I immediately set about putting my packed clothes into the closet and dresser and arranged my toiletries in the bathroom, ready for an early rise and brief exploration.
Despite having slept for most of the flight over the Pacific, meeting schedules and moving through multiple modes of transportation can leave one physically and mentally exhausted, so I had little trouble falling into a comfortable slumber once again, after setting the alarm for 0730.
I actually awoke slightly before the alarm was set to go off, the light streaming through the spacious windows of the room and the muffled sounds of the city seven stories below helping to arouse me.
Beijing is a city that greets the day early, with the blare of auto horns and the rattle of bicycle bells. I didn’t know there were that many bicycles in the whole world! Even at this hour, the streets were filled with cars and bikes and people rushing to somewhere.
I scratched and rubbed all the usual places, forcing sleep from my body and headed to the bathroom to shower and shave, eager to get to the street and mingle.
It’s amazing how easy it is to find a MacDonalds in Beijing and I decided to breakfast on a sausage and egg sandwich and copious amounts of coffee, a large cup of which I carried with me as I walked the streets in the neighborhood of the hotel and took in the local sights.
Even today, when the city smog was at a reasonably tolerable level, a light haze hung over everything.
I arrived back at the hotel about half an hour before the time at which our group was to meet in the capacious lobby and secured a map of the city from the concierge. It was time to find out where the acupuncture parlor frequented by Yeung was located. I had three days to complete my plans.