This morning was the first time on our trip where we did not need to be at the hotel lobby at 8:30 to get on a tour bus. Instead, today was Checkout Day for Beijing ... suitcases in the hallway at 11:00 and checkout at 11:30.
We are definitely glad to have come to China several days early so as to get used to the time zone, just be tourists, and get the general hang of how to take care of yourself and get things done here.
We now know that food you buy at the grocery store is incredibly inexpensive (to our standards.) We've gotten bottled water for 2 to 5 yuan (so around 25-75 cents US) and a can of Coke is 5 yuan. A McDonald's double cheeseburger is just 6 yuan, and it is very good. Nestle makes little containers of ice cream here - about a pint (one of those Ben & Jerry's) - and it is also just 6 yuan. And what we would recognize as "juice boxes" of milk go for just 2 yuan. There's always a corner store or supermarket nearby, and you just watch the cash register to figure out how much to pay. Plus, it's a whole lot of fun to see how people shop!
Most of the other families in our group came in a day behind us, and a few only arrived last night! The folks who landed in Beijing last night were given the fast tour of Tiananmen and the Forbidden City (leave at 8, back by 11), which seems crazy to us now that we have experienced Beijing traffic (takes no weekend breaks) and know firsthand just how long it takes simply to walk straight through, stopping for nothing. And then to head straight out to the airport? They are really going to be dragging tomorrow...
The smog in Beijing has steadily worsened since we arrived. This morning was really awful -- leaden gray sky with a glowing red sun. Yesterday, we couldn't see the mountains from several kilometers out during our Great Wall trip. Today, it was difficult to see to the end of the block. Even now - 9 pm - my throat is still achy, and all I did outside was to walk to McD's to get some Chicken McNuggets for Ann's lunch, plus get on and off the bus to the airport, and take the bus to the airplane.
Our flight (Shenzhen Airlines) was scheduled to leave Beijing at 1:50 pm, but when we checked in, we found out they were pulling the departure time forward! So from check-in we had only 30 minutes before boarding. We hustled out to the gate (lower level) and waited just a short while before a (not air conditioned) bus pulled up and over 100 people piled on board. We drove several miles, crossing one main runway and tunneling under another, before pulling up to our bird, parked the furthest out on the tarmac. We scrambled out of the bus and climbed aboard, and waited. About 15 minutes later another bus pulled up, and several dozen more people climbed the stairs into our aircraft. In all, we didn't get off the ground until about 1:40.
Our flight took 3 hours. We climbed up above the smog after about 20 minutes, but it was easily another 75 minutes before we reached the edge of the smog... it seems to be trapped over Northern China for now, but next week you folks in America may have some interesting weather... We dodged thunderstorms for a while before landing in our new base of operations for the next week, Nanning.
Coming through the clouds over Guangxi Province (where we are now) and seeing forests, lush farm fields, and wide-open space was an amazing shift from the dry, urban landscape we had gotten used to. The drive from the airport into the city was traffic-free, and both the airport and city of Nanning are CLEAN - meticulously groomed, polished, and unlittered.
Looking out our 9th-floor window, we have a panorama view of the skyline. Seeing blue sky - and even some of the sunset - was a pleasant switch from the week so far! The hotel seems very nice, and they even have a computer here in the room we can use, unlimited, for just 20 yuan per day (so our concerns about not being able to post frequently are now relieved.)
Tomorrow morning at 10:30 we sit down with our coordinator here to fill out paperwork, and at 3:00 we are scheduled to get our little girl! Even though we are exhausted (in fact we haven't been up this late since we landed in Beijing), we wonder just how much sleep we are actually going to achieve tonight.
Everything changes tomorrow. We will have a lot to talk about!