[Written on Saturday, July 31, shortly after our arrival in China]
Greetings from Beijing! This is a brief post: we have arrived, and are spending the night in a glassy highrise hotel overlooking a city that runs out to the horizon. “Today” is a confusing idea. I think the last time any of us slept would be Wednesday night, so it might still be Thursday. Definitely still Friday, since “this” morning we made it to the airport with plenty of time to board and experience a tarmac delay of 40 minutes. That left about 15 to get from Newark terminal A to terminal C, an aerobic experience but we did make it with a minute or so to spare.
From Newark we flew north over Greenland, over the north pole, and down across Siberia and the Risk territory of Irkutsk, then Mongolia, and, at last, China. On board we had our choice of 193 movies, so the first six hours passed very pleasantly. The route and timing meant that the sun did not set for the whole trip, so with twilight here we are wrapping up 36 hours of continuous daylight. With the international date line involved, we find ourselves 12 hours in the future, compared to your time. I think it’s officially Saturday, although this is a subject of lively debate.
So on the one hand, we are exhausted. On the other, Beijing is very dramatic, beginning with a swooping huge airline terminal that was more beautifully and totally modern than even Helsinki. We were met and helped by someone with a name tag, and became the sole occupants of a large van for an hour of driving into the city.
Although Beijing probably has a center, to us it’s one busy endless avenue after another, each lined with high rise buildings. We ate at a restaurant called “Fat Duck,” where you can guess the specialty. Across the street is an urban mall, and inside it there is very little to distinguish the place from an american mall, or probably an urban mall in every other place as well. The familiarity of all these cultural icons (Starbucks, McD’s, Papa John’s, etc.) is actually a bit disconcerting. It’s like your native culture is a hobby your practice at home, when you take a break from global capitalism. Tomorrow we will take the bullet train to Tianjin.