Saturday, January 29, 2011

From the Narita Airport, to Beijing Airport, to the hotel....

So, we left the kids play room and headed to the gate to leave for Beijing... 
On the way there, I, hooray!, found a luggage cart for our backpacks ("Mom, this is getting really heavy..."  We found a seat looking out the window.  I went back towards the hallway for just a second, and Tavin had already made himself cute.  In the approximately 15 seconds I wasn't looking, he managed to get a chance to play some video game on a friendly Japanese teenager's iPad for a few minutes.  Just use this power... whatever it is for good.  Please.  At lease while I am alive.

So... back on the plane.  And some people had WAY over the allowed carry limit - and polite redirection ensued.  And I'm not talking maybe a roll-a-board, computer bag and then a purse - which used to be OK, but is now a no-no.  I mean a roll-a-board, a garment bag, a full shopping bag, and then a purse.  Anyway.  Tavin with 1 back pack each were wave aboard cheerily.  I'm glad someone had the energy to be cheery.

At this point, we had awoken at about 7:30 am, and left home at 10am. Our flight left at 12:55.  It was now 6:50 pm the next day local time  (or 1:50 am back at home).  Japan is +17 hours from Seattle (well also -7 hours, but you need to account for the international date line).  What it comes down to, is we had now been awake for 19 hours and Tavin was fading fast.  We made it onto the plane, and Tavin curled up into a little bed of a jacket and a blanket at my feet until they got ready to close the doors.  (Dirty looks from flight staff ensued, but lightened as I asked, "how much longer 'til I need to move him?"  Doors closed &  then he had to get back up into his seat.  Thankfully, Economy Plus was all but deserted, so I was able to lay Tavin out over 3 seats and he slept the rest of the way to Beijing.  I got some sleep to.

Beijing Capital Airport is HUGE!  No, I mean you can't see one end from the other huge.  You could park the planes INSIDE huge.  And deserted a 10pm.

So we were able to simply stroll up to immigration.  Only after walking past the infra-red monitor cameras.  Checking for feverish people is my guess.  Could it be used to check for tiny animal smugglers as well?  I mean it was right next to the quarantine desk so I'm betting it was for illness only.  But couldn't it work for tiny animal smuggling as well?  All in all though, I bet it would have been more effective if the girl at the monitors wasn't texting madly at the time... or the time when Alec came in a day later.
Stumbled onto the train to baggage claim.  I do believe there was some graft and/or super speedy inspection or "just get it done in time for the Olympics well fix it later... and never did" there.  It was hands down the shiveriest, most chuddery airport train ride I had ever taken.  Interestingly, airport staff sweeps the car as it lets passengers off from getting there from the main part of the airport, before letting us on to leave the satellite gates.  Pretty much the first control freaky think we saw.  So many more to follow.

Yay!  Our bags came off quickly - so yes they did get them checked through successfully.

And they didn't even bother with customs (this is the flight you want if you plan on smuggling anything to China.  There were customs officials there, they were just standing around chatting).

There was our ride.  One of those times when, while I know could have gotten our behinds to the hotel SOMEHOW, there would have been tears and headaches.  It turns out, almost no one who lives in Beijing knows where the darn thing is, it is so new, and built so far out at the edge of town.  But instead, (choruses of angels here) the hotel's "car" was there to whisk us to our destination.

So we were attached to our driver (yes - in China, apparently "sign holder" is a different job from "airport driver."   We were handed off to the driver by the sign holder guy.)

Anyway, we collapsed into the car - it had little bottles of water - I was SO thirsty!

We finally got to the SHINIEST hotel we have ever stayed in.  5 Star Hotel (wowee zowee... but more on the hyperbole of that later.)

There appeared to be a mix-up over whether we were paying for the car.  I'll decided to let Alec hash that one out tomorrow.
The desk agent wanted to discuss special promotions.  I told her my brain was broken and I'd get back to her.

Tavin and I made the room.  It has a HUGE glass wall into the bathroom.  
Tavin doing a little number....
Happily it has blinds if you are sharing the room.

Privacy Function

Other than that it had a nice big bed.  And we headed straight for that.  And fell into it.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fresh Start Detour!

I got a treat of a lifetime!  A 2.5 week tour through 2 major Asian cities:  Beijing & Tokyo.
Right here in the middle of it, I can already feel myself being overwhelmed.  

As a favor to myself - and to you all, I figure it makes the most sense to send this out as a serial, in little digestible chunks.  The set of blog posts are going to take much longer than the actual trip - but who has time to read pages and pages of 1 thing at a sitting these days.

And guess what - I don't forget the food.  And there are some good pictures too.  

The Beginning:

Day 1 (well it spools out... 
but we'll call the whole thing day 1)

Good Morning China.

We arrived here last night at about 11:00pm local time.  We landed at the airport right around 10pm, and my brain was approximately the consistency intelligent rice pudding (one that knows which way is down, and knows that it's in a bowl).  

The very best news - after a long series of trips where I've been delayed, late, reassigned, in danger of missing connections, this trip went like clockwork.  Every flight was on time, every layover was exactly what I expected.  

We were picked up by Super Shuttle, and dropped off at the Sea-Tac in excellent time.  The lines at the check-in counter were mercifully small, and since we had done our best to be excellent packers, we were well within the weight limit.  And they had no problem checking our bag all the way through to Beijing.

Tavin ready to head to Beijing

Our flight boarded, and took off from Sea-Tac pretty much, exactly on time.  Tavin and I had a pair of seat to our selves.  Tavin was bouncy with his pre-travel excitement, and managed to charm some serious play time out of the guy across the aisle with the coolest new fiddly toy around - Buckyballs - rare earth magnet spheres.  Between that and some serious video game time all went well.  Airplane food was... well... airplane food.

We arrived at Narita Airport just as the sun was preparing to go down so it shone in our windows in a chill and intensely bright fashion.  After walking off the plane and into Tavin's 1st Asian country we had about 2.5 hours to kill.    As we departed the plane and headed for International transfers, we looked for our flight information.  We were a little baffled as the screen of flights was small (about 2 TV screen worth),  though in English/roman letters as well as Kanji (Interesting note - the Japanese still use a version of "Pekin" for Beijing).  So I could easily see that my flight was not listed.  However, Narita is full of women dressed in a variety of uniforms holding signs and pieces of paper.  The information about my flight was not on the monitors, but with the woman standing next to the monitors.

So we went around the corner, and into a security screening.  Just like when you go to get on a plane (but we had just gotten off a plane!)  I guess when you have a variety of screening procedures feeding into your airport, you don't want to take a chance of feeding a risk factor into the rest of the air travel system.
       A few interesting notes - US screening arches are sensitive to RFID chips (beeps if you carry passports through), Japanese screening arches are not.  Their signs mention "acts of aggression" rather than "terrorism,"  and you get to keep your shoes on.  Apparently the Japanese have gotten tired of telling Americans they can leave their shoes on because we saw lots of people take their shoes off, but if you just watched - you could see that plenty of people left their shoes on, so we did too.

We also got to see the white gloves of the police in action.  As the "Express Access"  line emptied out, they let some people fill in that lane.  But they needed to fill in in both sides of the line.  The police officer directing the action was pointing people on their way with the white glove of authority - and he only had the one glove on.

Interestingly enough, the screeners, when dealing with the shoes of those strange Americans, also tend to wear cloth gloves - like the white gloves, but not bleached white. 

So we made it through the security screening to get back into the airport.

We had just eaten - which was just as well since I didn't really want to get any Yen if I could help it.  (Interesting note, except for the Duty Free shops, the stores and restaurants in the Airport still seemed to encourage the use of cash).

We wandered about in the airport, and did find the kids play area.  There was another family there, with grandfather, parents and a young elementary school boy (K or 1?) and a toddler little girl.  Tavin ran around in the small padded space leaping, sliding, and balancing on and rolling the large cylinder blocks - generally burning off steam, much to the delight of the younger Japanese boy.  The family finished their business in the family play area - and soon Tavin lost speed, so we packed up, and headed for our gate.

Just 1 more 3+ hour flight kiddo - you can do it!
(Tavin running out of Steam in Narita)