The trip from California to Beijing was a two day ordeal that included a night in Chicago before a thirteen hour flight from Chicago to Beijing. Chicago? A chance to see at least one of my kids? Hell, yes. So, after a lunch with youngest son we headed for O'Hare and a 13 hour plane ride? Most people shudder at the thought of thirteen hours in a plane - with good reason. But, THIS was a Bucket List trip thus; we upgraded to First Class (thank goodness for frequent flier miles!) And, Oh My Gosh, the secrets they keep. You can go online anywhere and get a look at the pods (here, let me help, First Class Pods) but what they don't tell you is you get to keep the pj's, slippers and toiletry bags and even the bedding, which includes sheets, pillows and blankets. And along with the personal Purser, free flowing wine, booze and beverages. . . they offer HAND DIPPED ice cream sundaes with Haagen Daz ice cream. It's possible they offer massage, manis and pedis as well, but it's a secret and I am now sworn to it.
So, thirteen hours later, we arrived in Beijing - and were met by our guide, John who informed us that the rest of the group would be arriving the next day. They were, he said, a group of 14 who all knew one another. This opened up many concerns we had not considered. Who were they? Where were they from? There were few western tourists in our hotel but there was a group of 14 Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters that had arrived - which, if they were our group would have made for some interesting group photos (See link) and as the only male, might've made Moondoggy feel uncomfortable. There was also a group from New Zealand - elderly, walker-pushing Kiwi's which would make for a slow trip. Judging by our itinerary there wasn't going to be much down time.
Imagine our relief when, the next morning we met our group and found they were a bunch of Kansas City Midwesterners. They claimed to by 70ish but I didn't buy it. Fact is, these people out energied me by a long shot. Among them, one of them was a travel agent (which was helpful), one retired dentist, one retired school secretary (and we all know they REALLY run the schools) and 2 retired teachers (a staple in any travel group). And as always, there was one who had a naughty streak and she toured the whole of China wearing heels. Betts, whom I often referred to as "Betts in Heels" was a retired ER nurse and she approached China like a crouching tiger. I saw this woman climb the Great Wall, navigate the uneven brick walkways and slick modern squares in heels and always with a smile. Seriously, these people were game for anything so I had put on my Big Girl Panties and go with the flow. Which brings me to my first observation: It is a wonder that the Chinese are not a dehydrated culture. On any given day, I consume a good gallon of water (I live in the desert). Our hotel room offered a complimentary 16 oz bottle of water every day - an amount I drink before coffee in the morning. They are very clear, DO NOT DRINK WATER FROM THE TAP thus; bottled water was a requirement and after your complimentary bottle, you can purchase from the mini bar another bottle at a cost of about $12 a bottle. Uhh, no. So our first mission was to find bottled water at what was a Chinese version of 7-11. A gallon of water cost $3 so I bought 3 and lugged them back to the room. And it's a good thing I did because the second surprise was that meals came with your choice of beer, wine or water. . . in a 6 oz glass. BUT JUST ONE GLASS. Asking for more totally threw the wait staff off their game - even when we were clearly willing to pay. It became our running joke - anything you want to drink is included.. . but just one glass.
I knew I was going to like this group after our first tour day in Beijing. We had walked the length of Tienanmen Square, explored the entire Forbidden City and walked along the Long Corridor (that's what it is called, really) of the Summer Palace, learned more Chinese History than was packed into an entire semester of school and walked a total of 7 miles by the end of the day (and all of it with Betts in heels). We had about an hour and half to rest up and get ready for a Peking Duck dinner. Most people would head back to their rooms but not this group. . .they headed to the bar. Yep, we all got along just fine.