Almost back to Sask time

I hope by tonight my sleep patterns will be somewhat more normal.  Friday and Saturday I was completely exhausted mid afternoon, but then by 10 or 11 pm, wide awake and unable to sleep until about 2 am.  I hope to get to bed tonight by 10 pm.  We’ll see.

My trip to Beijing was a whirlwind.  We were running for the entire time we were there, unless we were sleeping (and even there I was only getting about 6 hours a night).  We accomplished a great deal of work and were able to bring back several files that needed attention.  I was pleased with our progress.

I put up an album on flickr of my photos:  Beijing May 2012 with more photos than I’ll post here.

Some of the highlights:

Blue Castle International Apartment Complex
the complex where our office/apartment was, in the Central Business District of Beijing

We’d come out the security gate and try to get a taxi from this spot.

the Sanlitun market area
the Sanlitun market area

On our second night, we met a friend of my boss’ for supper, then took a turn through this market area.  There were several of these “street meat” tables.  Ick.  No refrigeration, etc.  I wouldn’t chance eating anything from them.

Chinese hot pot meal at Little Sheep
Chinese hot pot meal at Little Sheep

I had never had a hot pot meal before, but I really loved them!  All told, we had hot pot four times.  This Chinese one, two Japanese style and one Taiwanese style.  Very good, tasty and I’m assuming somewhat healthful.  You choose your broth/soup, then what meats and veggies you want with it.  Beef, lamb, etc.

Tienanman Square
Tienanman Square

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore the more popular/known areas and sights of Beijing.  We drove by here!  The taxi rides – that’s another adventure.  I was startled on our drive into the city from the airport.  First, we had to argue with the taxi drivers to take us because they thought my bag was too big.  Really?!  Without even trying, they assumed it would be too big.  It fit just fine into the trunk of the third guy.

Anyway, once we got into traffic, I realized that they are all either suicidal or homicidal.  The roads were in pretty good shape (better than Saskatchewan roads, that’s for sure!) and had lane markings, but they are more like suggestions, not actual lane boundaries.  All the drivers just straddle lanes, veer in and out, and if you want to get into the next lane, don’t shoulder check, just push/drive into where you want to go and miss the next car by millimeters.  Also, brakes are optional.  Why brake when you can just lay on the horn.  All our taxi rides were like this, so I was desensitized to it after a couple of rides.  (We took a LOT of taxis during our stay.)  We rode the subway once, and that, too was an adventure in personal space.

view of CBD, Beijing

In the Grand Hyatt hotel, on the 65th floor there is a bar we visited.  Spectacular view of the area!

"The Place" is another pedestrian market/shopping area near the Sanlitun area.
back near the Sanlitun area

That big thing that looks like the underside of a bridge is actually a HUGE LCD type screen.  It wasn’t lit up in the morning but in the late afternoon and evening/night it is all bright and crazy – ads, aquarium like screen saver, etc. etc.

looking for a taxi after a meeting (Starbucks is huge over there and we just came out of one)

One of my worries for the trip was food.  I’m a pretty picky eater, but I had no problems on the trip.

Western Pizza
we all went out one night for pizza. It was pretty good!

And drinks:

Fake Coke!
real Coke? Or fake? I think it was fake. It had absolutely no fizz/carbonation at all.

On our one little get away, Sunday morning we had a driver and headed out 1.5 hours north east of Beijing to a village called Huanghuachang.  This has one of the more original sections of the Great Wall.  They had added some infrastructure to the area since my boss had been there last.  Like this:

squat toilet
squat toilet

Not everywhere has western-style toilets.  I had seen this online before I went, so the many places that I encountered these, I wasn’t surprised.  It’s just like when you’re camping!  Just remember to bring your own t.p. or tissue and you’ll be fine.

the objective, that watch tower
that watch tower was our objective

The area had been made more tourist-friendly; in fact when we pulled into the parking lot(s), there were about a dozen tour buses already parked and it was before 9 a.m.  This area has a big reservoir and the Chinese government made a feature of it, adding a walking path around the lake and offering boat tours and rappelling down the face of it.  The extreme majority of visitors were Chinese, very few Westerners.  And they were all more or less not impressed with the Wall, they were all walking on the path, etc.

In speaking to our work colleagues, I was really surprised that the majority of them had never been to or wanted to visit the wall.  It’s pretty amazing, but they weren’t interested.

precarious footing
once we got up to start our walk on the wall

From how the government restructured the area, it was impossible to reach any section of the wall in this part.  We ended up deeking out behind one of the buildings, hiking/crawling through a quarry, then scaling a really steep and rough hill/mountain side to access the wall.  It was already 34°C at this point of the morning.  It was tough going.

that's where we're trying to go!
that’s where we’re headed!


and climbing
spectacular view!

It was so steep and the footing was really, really precarious.  While I loved the original state and rusticness of this part of the wall, it was really tough going.

and crumbly
our turn around point

In looking at the photos, it doesn’t seem like it was that much farther, but I just couldn’t do it.  In hindsight, it was pretty dangerous.

oh, it seems so close looking at the photos
almost made it

Compare the section we climbed to one of the more touristy/government “renovated” sections like this one.  I get that they want to make it more accessible, but I feel this takes away from the historical significance of it.

After our climb and descent, we stopped at one of the little village restaurant/courtyards for lunch and a cold drink.  (Oh, that’s another thing – the Chinese don’t drink cold drinks.  If you want cold beer, you have to ask.  If you want ice with your drink, you need to ask.  It’s not like we Westerners who love our cold bevvies.)

I don’t drink, but after that epic climb, this beer was very tasty.  The local beers are only 2% alcohol, so very light to our Western standards.  And at this place, it was cheaper than bottled water.

after the descent
YanJing beer FTW!

We also stopped at the Ming Tombs on our way back to the city.  It was very crowded, we were very hot and sweaty and tired.  We only saw a portion of it.  I would like to go to it again and see all of it next time.  (In particular, the stone animals.)  There’s more photos on the flickr link above of that part of our day.

We got back and did a few hours of work before heading out for supper with friends again.  I was at my computer by 7 am every day, we would work until about 7 pm, then head out for supper.  That took a few hours and most nights we didn’t get home/to bed until midnight.  So incredibly hectic pace.

On Tuesday, we worked until about 3 pm, then left for the airport.  We knew our flight was delayed because it had left 3 hours late from Canada.  What we didn’t know was that we’d miss our connection and would have to stay overnight in Toronto.

finally our plane is here
happy to see our plane arrive and being prepped for the flight back

We didn’t have optimal flight arrangements due to how late (in relation to our departure date) that we booked our flights.  We left Saskatoon on a turbo prop plane to Edmonton, switched to a jet to Vancouver.  When we got to Vancouver, our flight was taken over by Air China.  This was the first time my boss had flown Air China and it was pretty bad.  Very narrow and uncomfortable seats.  Very narrow aisles, the food wasn’t that great and they were a little laggy on giving beverages, etc.  Luckily I bought us each a couple of big water bottles, so we did okay on our own.  The flight was very crowded, and the onboard entertainment was crap.  I did enjoy the underbelly camera though.  One channel was a view of the ground from the belly of the plane and that was interesting.

I know that sounds all Negative Nancy, but it was a really unpleasant flight.  I couldn’t sleep at all, so from when I got up at home to when I finally got to sleep in China, I’d been awake 26 hours.

For the flight back, we knew we would be late getting away, but we had to leave for the airport at our previously planned time so we would avoid the rush hour traffic.  So we had a good three hours to burn at the airport.  Due to the ridiculous amount of flying he does, my boss has elite status with Air Canada, so we got to wait it out in the executive lounge.  That was quite nice.  We had a bit to eat, hydrated, hooked up to wifi (although we were still blocked by Chairman Mao from Facebook, all blogging platforms, etc. etc.).  Great people watching, too.

So finally it was time to line up to board and we were in the priority boarding line.  I was THRILLED when we checked in and got an upgrade to first/executive class.  I had quite been dreading the flight back, especially because it was an hour or two longer because we had to fly to Toronto, not Vancouver; then TO to Saskatoon.  Again due to late flight booking, we couldn’t get a flight to Vancouver.  Being able to ride first class made it so comfortable and easy.  Next time I will definitely pay the difference to get a first class ticket.  It’s worth it to be able to travel comfortably and have room to stretch out and sleep.  I slept about 6 hours on the flight, watched two movies, read my book, had passable meals, all the water I wanted (hot and cold!).  My favourite part was settling in and sipping champagne and orange juice in my sleeper bed while the peasants behind in the cattle car.

When we arrived in Toronto and cleared immigration and customs, we then found out that our flight was cancelled and we had to rebook on something in the morning.  The staff that was helping us said that about 4,000 passengers had been affected that day and had to find seats on flights the next day.  They had trouble finding us hotel rooms, as well.  The problem had been severe thunderstorms in the midwest US (Chicago, Philly hubs, NYC) and flight cancellations, etc.  It was a real mess.  So after we finally got shuttled to our hotel, had something to eat, I had four hours sleep before we had to head back to the airport.  When we checked in I found out that I didn’t have a seat on the flight and we had to wait until final boarding call to see if there was one for me.  Luckily there was, so we had a three hour direct flight from TO to Saskatoon.  Got home about noon on Wednesday.

And when I got home?  Those ungrateful hounds barely batted an eye.  Apollo didn’t even lift his head, just opened one eye.  I got a tail wag out of Ava, but probably because she figured she’d get a cookie out of it.

There’s no place like home!


6 thoughts on “Almost back to Sask time”

  1. Crazy whirlwind trip. Now you can relax, look back at the pictures, and let it really soak in. You’re kids had probably given up on you ever coming back 🙂

  2. Really enjoyed reading about your trip and seeing all of the photos. Quite the opportunity to see things but unfortunate that you didn’t have a day to explore. It must have been an extremely tiring trip and hope your sleep patterns will return to normal soon. Hope the Poopers are appreciating the fact that “Mom” is back home. Glad you returned home safely.

  3. Welcome home! Nothing like a first class bumpup- we did it to Florida one year when the kids were small. Great way to travel with toddlers.

    Too bad you didn’t get to do more touristing. Maybe the pooches would have been more excited to see you if you had brought them souvenirs.

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