Friday, April 27, 2007

North Korea Debriefing

We headed this morning to the headquarters of our affable tour partners for our pre-trip debriefing.

Simon's briefing was humorous and enjoyable.....our hotel is on an island in the middle of the city but we're not to LEAVE the little island...and the hotel staff is all gets odder and odder. It is apparently a 47 story hotel with elevators that take essentially 15 minutes to reach the higher floors but voila it has a revolving restaurant on top (I can't believe that the thing will work...but if they can build an atomic bomb perhaps they can accomplish a revolving restaurant). We are said to be able to SEND emails but not receive anything....and I doubt very very seriously if anything I might try and send will come this is a goodbye missive until we get back to Beijing on May 1st---at which point I will burn up the ether-waves of whatever they are.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

En Route to Beijing After 32 Years!

The wonderful thing about our flight was its pattern. I have expected to fly the usual great circle over the Aleutians, but had never flown out of Chicago. The route the almost entire distance was without many clouds...and again I am always surprised when people are glued the windows...for the sights below were quite astounding: we left Chicago almost DUE north of Lake Michigan, flew over Green Bay then woodsy Northern Wisconsin...Superior then to the right, Thunder Bay and its marvelous harbour to the left....north north north....the first snow appeared before Churchill then north north and more north...over the area called Keewatin, the Arctic Ocean, the Queen Charlotte Islands and then lo and behold about 100 miles from the actual north pole. I almost got snow blindness.

I can't help it when my fellow passengers prefer to read USA TODAY and give me ugly looks for the open shade (the first class section is 100% full).....then we are over the islands north of Siberia...then Siberia, the first town of any note being Ulan Ude on the Trans Siberian...then the vast eastern Gobi of Mongolia, then the rugged loess hills and the Great Wall stretching to about a flight!

Beijing Airport in the old days (32 years ago) was tiny and today of course it is mammoth, rather well functioning (lots of moving walkways...friendly and quick people doing health thence passport thence baggage checks...lines not too long (there were well over 300 people on my flight alone)...they obviously are getting themselves all prepped for the Olympics. A nice young woman named Kelsy (how Chinese is THAT?) meets me and we zoom in on the new expressway to the airport.

I might as well be in the suburbs of Montevideo/Milan/Moscow...nothing is remotely familiar...then a bit is and I am at the very agreeable Peninsula with a fabulous welcome, all kinds of products and, zounds, a very large Chanel shop in the main lobby. Things have changed!