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[Note: this is being published serially after our return. The Great Firewall of China, plus spotty wi-fi, made doing this in real time impossible. The trip was June 24 to July 4, 2013.]

Soooo….. an adventure. Left Avoca at 6am Monday, June 24th for a 13 hour, 8500 mile flight. Flew business class, which was AWESOME. Leg room for days, your own pod that reclined to a bed, free movies, good food. And perks that aren’t apparent until later.

Let me tell you 'bout an upgraydde...

Let me tell you ’bout an upgraydde…

Also, it’s a BDP: big damn plane.


The flight over the Arctic Circle near the North Pole was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. You could see the curve of the earth. Brilliant, blinding sun. Sky of a blue so deep it was going black (pro tip: its called “space”)

The temp outside the plane was minus 74 degrees F, but because we were at 37,000 feet (7 miles up) there was less air and no clouds and so the window was hot to the touch. Pic is just south of the North Pole.

over the North Pole

over the North Pole. more or less

Here’s a rough Sketchbook using a Google Earth screen capture. (I’m doing everything on an iPad Mini)


Because we’re only a few days past solstice, and the tilt of the earth is at it’s most severe, we were never in darkness. The entire Arctic Circle is 24 hours of daylight right now. So we left Newark in daylight, went over the Arctic and came down through Russia, where it was dark when we left, but was light 10 hours later. Here’s a map of live world daylight patterns.

Flying over eastern Russia and Mongolia near the Urals was impressive.

eastern Russia near the Urals

eastern Russia near the Urals

Then we got to Beijing. The pollution is staggering. Think ‘thick brown fog with visibility for 800 feet – that you can taste’.

Note the brown instead of green and this is at 13,000 feet.

near Beijing

near Beijing, note the lack of big trees

We landed at 1p Tuesday, June 25th (1a on the east coast) for a 5p connecting flight to Zhangzhou.

Boarding wasn’t until 6, so we sat in a very surreal First Class lounge in the Beijing airport. Did you ever watch Gone With The Wind in Chinese while sleep deprived? It makes hallucinations seem normal.

This is exactly as weird as it seems.

This is exactly as weird as it seems.

We boarded the plane at 6p, sat on the tarmac until 10, got cancelled due to storms and pollution, got to a hotel that’s NOT the Crowne Plaza Zhengzhou we were supposed to stay in. It reeks of smoke and looks like a person(s) recently was murdered.

Its 1p Tuesday in PA as I type this (1a Wednesday the 26th in Beijing). It has been 54 hours since I woke up at 9a Sunday in PA. I’ve slept about 4 hours – 2 on the long flight over and 2 on the tarmac during the cancelled flight. I’m tired.


We slept for 5 hours, took a shower with no change of clothes, then got up for a return to trip to the airport.

This was described to me as “nice weather in Beijing”.

Outside the murder hotel; "nice weather"

Outside the murder hotel, legally billed as the FX; “nice weather”

The smoke: one guy said 98% of Chinese males smoke. The other guy vehemently disagreed and said it was 99. Not sure if they only meant males over 12. Kinda doubt it.

Also: traffic. I was warned that ‘you stop for traffic, traffic doesn’t stop for you’. So as I stepped outside to take the above shot, I was cautious about street traffic, but that was 20 feet away; a sidewalk separated us. Little did I know that people drive on the sidewalk. Specifically, our bus. It missed me by no more than 12 inches as it breezed past my nose as I walked out the front door. 5 seconds earlier and I was a Beijing corpse.

Pro tip: business/first class travel is expensive, but we’ve had extraordinary help by the United/Star Alliance/China Southern staff because of our status. Without them and Wilkes University’s AMAZING International Coordinator Xiaoqiao Zhang, we’d be lost in a Beijng shuffle.

So we’re going to try to catch an early flight out to Zhengzhou.

It’s been an experience.

More later.

[The whole series of blogs can be read here]