By 10:30 am the next day we were in the air and on our way to Beijing. This ANA flight was very much like our flight to Japan, with the same good food and entertainment, only much shorter. Three hours and one timezone later, we arrived in Beijing at 2:30 p.m. - China time.
The first thing we noticed as we descended into Beijing was that the ground was white. Yep, there was a blanket of snow as far as the eye could see - which was not very far, as the air was a dense grey smoggy, foggy soup. We didn't see very many large buildings on our approach - in fact, we didn't see very many buildings of any kind at all. The only roads we could see looked almost completely deserted. From our vantage point it looked like we had failed to make it to the metropolitan Beijing we were expected and instead were going to touch down in the middle of an empty field.
But of course we landed at Beijing airport on a proper runway amidst the bleak grey skies that we would come to know and love, or at least get used to, over course of the next few weeks. After picking up our luggage - which arrived on the carousel mere moments after we got to baggage claim - we made our way out of the baggage claim area. Amidst the throngs of people waiting for their parties to emerge, a sign held up above the crowd immediately caught our eye. It read "Nancy Lau - Brian Ishko". Under the sign we found the friendly face of Zeng Chi, Nancy's uncle's cousin, who was there to pick us up and take us to our apartment.
We managed to cram our copious amount of luggage into his hatchback and we were on our way. Nancy chatted in Mandarin with Zeng Chi, becoming acquainted with this long-lost relative, while Bryan watched the outskirts of Beijing rush by. It's been two weeks since we arrived and the ovverriding thing that he remembers about the ride into Beijing that day was - grey. Grey sky, grey road, grey air, grey buildings, grey everything. Everything looked considerably bleaker than even a decaying rust belt town on a grey winter's day in America. Despite the grey, our emotions were still riding high as we started breathing the air and taking in the sights of China.
Thus we had our first introduction to Beijing traffic. On the highways leading into Beijing the traffic was light but erratic, with some cars travelling 40 mph faster than others, and many cars weaving in and out as they pass through. When we got close to the city, we turned onto a city expressway and the full traffic experience of Beijing came into view. People everywhere - in cars, on bicycles, on mopeds, on scooters, on foot, on buses - people and vehicles all moving in the same general direction but without any apparent rhyme or reason to the flow. Large concrete buildings of various types passed by, with many large billboards containing company names or advertisements in Chinese and broken English. In the 10 or 15 mile stretch between the airport and our apartment, we didn't encounter a single traffic light.
We were met at our apartment by Gao Xiansheng (Mr. Gao) and his daughter, Gao Jie. After a look at our new digs, we were escorted by them on a brief tour of the neighborhood. We were shown how to get to the main road, and where to find a good grocery store, at which we stocked up on a few items that we would need for the first few days. We had decided to eat only home-cooked food for the first few days at least, so that we could ensure that our food was well cooked. We wanted a few days to acclimate our systems to the inevitable bacteria of our new home in a controlled environment before braving any restaurants.
We have from the very start found Gao Xiansheng and Gao Jie to be extremely helpful and generous with their time in helping us acclimate to our new home. We have been quite literally taken aback by the level of hospitality and care that these complete strangers have provided for us right off the bat. This leads us to an observation on the Chinese: they are extremely, EXTREMELY nice and generous with friends and family. As a result we have had a very positive experience here in our first few weeks, and feel that we have already made some good friends.
Bryan Ischo and Nancy Lau - 02.03.2001
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