China, Day One

This morning the alarm chimed at 4:50am Eastern Standard Time. I woke up Crystal and we left the Rock Rose Hotel (Nick and Tammy’s house and my former residence) headed for Orlando International Airport. Having only slept a few hours we were both sleepy but I was eager to get the traveling over with as well as my business meetings and sightseeing started. Crystal on the other hand did not want me to leave regardless of the fact that I’d only be gone for less than a week. After pulling up to terminal B and gathered my luggage together, We said goodbye and I headed inside the door.

No matter what time I arrive at the airport it is always busy. I could have been there at 5:30am and I would’ve run into the same slow downs as I did this morning. This time, though, I thought I was prepared. I would do something to speed up the process and allow myself that extra half hour of sleep — check in online the day before I depart. Lesson 1: Checking in prior to leaving the house does not do anything to speed up the check in process at the departure window. I still stood in line for a good while and still had to present my flight information — the same flight information I would have to present if I did not check in. Somehow I thought in my mind that I would bypass the long line and simply check my baggage. I was wrong. The advantage, looking back now, is in the seat selection. When I booked the flight in December seats in the last row and nearest the lavatory were magically assigned to me. Luckily, I changed the longest leg of my journey to a seat that had no other people in the row hoping for the best that seats 33 A, B, and C would be solely mine.

I got through the security check with no trouble at all and then had a choice to make — left or right. Half of the gates were on one side and the other half on the other. Lesson 2: the printout from the online check in process does not give me a boarding gate number. Unfortunately, when I checked my baggage I had neglected to get the gate number. I chose the right train and after exiting was faced with another choose-my-own-adventure. Left, right, or straight ahead. The departure screens show one flight at 7:35 and it’s to St. Louis. I must be in the wrong place, I thought. In fact, none of the departing flights to Chicago O’Hare were even listed. The screens only showed flights to Midway. How could this be? So by this time I’m calculating my odds. One in two that I get the first part right and now one in three I get the second part correct as well… a total of one in six. As a teenager, I was pretty handy at picking the win-a-free Sprite bottle caps from the 20 oz. bottles and those odds were also one in six — I might have something going here. That sounds ridiculous, but these are my thoughts as I walk straight ahead through the concourse foyer. Down through the tunnel I see some encouraging signs with US Airways and United gates. I walk towards the end of the terminal and there’s my gate. What’re the chances? One in six. I was right. Still with ample time I wanted to figure out how I didn’t know what gate I was supposed to go to and how difficult must it be to find the gate you’re looking for anyways. Why didn’t the departure information relay the correct information? Knowing I am in the right place, I did a little research. A little I say because as soon as I saw the crossaint stand I got distracted, stood in line, and decided figuring it all out really wasn’t that important.

The relatively short flight aboard an Airbus A320 from MCO to ORD was full, but went quickly. The layover was only 45 minutes if we arrived on time. Did we? Yes and no. The plane landed on time but then the arrival gate was taken by another plane that failed to depart on time. We sat on a piece of holdover tarmac for about 15 minutes and I purposefully choose not to look at the clock knowing I will soon become irritated. Naturally, I’m concerned because if I miss my flight I will be delayed until the next morning or perhaps have to take a different journey to Hong Kong. Neither of which appealed to me. In Chicago, the temperature was hovering around 9 degrees Fahrenheit and I certainly wasn’t dressed for that kind of weather. In fact, I had two sweatshirts — one of which was in my checked baggage. Furthermore, the coldest weather I had ever been in was probably somewhere in the high teens and even then I had a proper winter jacket and some long underwear.

If I had to take a different flight I wouldn’t be able to communicate the problem to my Chinese guide who would be picking me up from the airport on Sunday. Not only that but my luggage would probably be lost. All this worrying for absolutely nothing. After getting into concourse B I look up and my next flight is right across the hallway and will be boarding for another 20 minutes. Just enough time to call my mother, Crystal, and Kari to tell them I will soon be in China.

I’ve had mixed emotions about this leg of the trip. At around 16 hours, it is the longest flight on which I have ever embarked. On the other hand, I’m interested to see how my body will react to the time change and overall length of travel. Additionally, I’m excited about flying on a Boeing 747-400 because it’s been a really long time since I had been on one before. The last time the only thing I can remember was walking up around first class and up towards the cockpit after being invited to visit the control room by the captain. I was probably five years old and this was well before any security restrictions mandated no one be allowed in front of the cockpit door. I’ve mentioned in previous posts how I find it remarkable what I remember as a child. Ninety nine percent of things I probably forget but I remember seeing the curvature of the inside of the plane as I walked aimlessly, and also what it looked like out from the cockpit to see the sun beating down on the sea of clouds beneath us. I also remember getting some wings from the copilot. Anyways, I digress.

From Chicago we headed north through Canada at a bearing that took us about 70 miles east of the North Pole. As I type right now the current ground speed is approximately 570 miles per hour at a cruise altitude of 35,000 feet. The outside air temperature is minus 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I find it really fun that below me in a polar ice cap and that I will actually travel over the Arctic Sea. From the North Pole (my current location) the plane will head south over mainland China onward to the final destination: Hong Kong. My journey doesn’t end there, though. After being received by Joe, my guide, at the airport, I will travel into mainland China to the industrial city of Shenzhen. It’s here where I will spend the majority of my time in business meetings with Chinese factories that are eager to have my business.

I mentioned before about the seat selection being the only advantage I found by checking in online. As I got onto the plane, there was a woman sitting in the exact seat I was supposed to have. When I walked and stopped at the row she left. Three seats were all mine.

As it turns out, my seat is about a close as you can get to business class without actually having a business class ticket. It’s really nice to see the gentlement in front and to the right of me laying completely flat in a large, comfortable leather throne. I only say throne because I’m jealous.

With about 7 or 8 hours left to go, I figured now is as good a time as any to start typing. I made it through one and half books (granted the half was an audiobook), a nap here and there, and I’m feeling very productive. So productive in fact that I think there’s Arrested Development in my very near future. More to come soon.

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