Friday, June 29, 2018

Kristin goes to Disneyland (Chinese style)

Just over two years ago I went to Disneyland for the first and so far only time (I mean specifically Disneyland, I had been to Disney World several times). Right after I went to Disneyland I learned that there was a new Disney park opening in Shanghai. I knew I was moving to Beijing and really hoped I’d be able to visit Disneyland in Shanghai. Then I found out a friend of mine was moving to Wuxi. The first thing I said to her after learning that Wuxi was only an hour from Shanghai was, “We could go to Disneyland together.” Well, things didn’t work out and I ended up leaving Beijing earlier than I expected and so I thought the Disneyland Shanghai dream was crushed. Guess what, it wasn’t. This week I got the chance to go to Disneyland Shangai with the aforementioned friend, L.
Late June in Shanghai is not exactly a cool season and so L and I had to manage our day very carefully. When we arrived at the park it was 98 or 99 degrees Fahrenheit (while I don’t remember which, at that point does it matter?) and the heat index was 118 degrees! The first part of our experience was a bit of a downer and little contradictory. We spent an hour sweltering in a security line while the PA system repeated the announcements over and over again. Each announcement ended with “have a magical day.” Needless to say I wasn’t feeling too magical. When we got to the front of the line we discovered the main thing they were checking for was outside food. In typical Chinese fashion, many people had brought food into the park (I can’t blame them, we’d considered the same thing. After all the prices are high!). There were so many packages of instant noodles as well as many other things. Two people just a bit in front of us appeared to have brought enough food to feed 10 or 15 people. The food just kept coming out of their bags like they belonged to Mary Poppins. L and I had small bags that were only given a cursory glance and then we were finished with security.

After an hour in an extremely hot line we sought out the air conditioning of the shops. Shanghai Disney Resort (the official name of the park) doesn’t have a Main Street, instead it has a Mickey Avenue. After walking into one of the stores we not only noticed the blessedly cool air conditioning, but we also discovered that the shops were actually all connected together on the inside. We decided to buy matching Mickey t-shirts which not only said Shanghai Disney Resort on the side, but also had a picture of the Shanghai Disney castle. They had fitting rooms and seeing as Chinese sizes are not the same as American sizes it was necessary to try shirts on, but I must tell you there isn’t much that is more disgusting than putting on a shirt that is drenched in sweat (don’t misunderstand me, I mean the shirt I wore into the park).

I thought it would be cool to wear our new shirts in our picture in the park so after we purchased them, we found a restroom (which also had refreshingly cool air conditioning) and changed. I’m so glad we did because the next thing we came across was the meet Mickey experience. (Which was thankfully also inside where it was air conditioned - are you starting to see an important theme to surviving an amusement park with a 118 heat index?) We got some awesome photos with Mickey Mouse! We were pleased that they didn’t rush you. They actually encourage a variety of poses with Mickey and took pictures of each person separately as well as both of us together. It was a pretty great start (plus since we were wearing fresh shirts we didn’t look bedraggled and overheated - well we weren’t overheated because we had a 40 minute wait inside the air conditioned building).

We spent the late morning and early afternoon seeking out the indoor options. We “became”Iron Man and fought off aliens, we toured the castle and saw the story of Sleeping Beauty come to life in a combination of video and animatronics, and we went to two life-action shows. The first show we went to was L’s favorite ( I think it may have been her favorite activity of the entire day). It was called the Frozen Sing-a-long, but it was actually so much more. When they opened the gate we found ourselves entering a giant theater that we estimated held over 1000 people. At the front was a stage where they performed a combination of life-action of video sequences. The really cool part though were the sides of the theater. The walls were incorporated into the action. They had a forest scene on them which was then enhanced with video projections. The best part was when Elsa was singing (don’t ask me what, I’ve never seen Frozen) and she would wave her hands and the ice would spread out along the wall of the theater. L really enjoyed singing along with them. I didn’t know the songs, but was pretty happy with how well I understood them (while L sang in English, everything was presented in Chinese).

The other show we went to was the one I really wanted to see. It was the Captain Jack Sparrow Stunt Show. While we enjoyed it and felt it was worth attending we did find ourselves off to a rough start. First, when they opened the outside gates we found ourselves not in a theater, but a large room with a balcony set and queues that you stood in a watched the program from. The acoustics in the room were pretty bad and as a result I could hardly understand one word. The action couldn’t been seen well because some of it was too low and some was simply at angles that couldn’t be observed from where we stood. Additionally, from what we could understand it was pretty cheesy, slapstick humor (not my favorite). Matter of fact there was one part where they even pulled one of the pirate’s britches down (he was wearing boxer-length tighty-whities that looked like the British Union Jack. Shortly after that they opened the doors to the theater and let everyone in. Unfortunately, this happened in a very Chinese fashion with a lot of mad scrambling and total lack of order or manners. Nonetheless we, and everyone else, quickly found seats and the show continued. Inside it continued with some more slapstick humor, but then the action began. This was the part L and I really enjoyed. They had some great stunts including a fight scene that was done in one of the indoor sky diving air tunnels (not really the right word, because the air blows upward). The actors would fight in the air and then jump up onto the ships mast and then dive back into the air (that was of course then pushing them up so they didn’t plummet). It was like nothing I had ever seen and I really enjoyed it.

At about 3:30 we started riding rides. The rides in Disneyland Shanghai are pretty cool and mostly very hi-tech. The first ride we rode was amazing! It was a Pirates of the Caribbean ride that started out like the ones in the states and then in turned you around backwards so that you were surprised as you entered this underwater scene. The boat moved into an area with a giant screen all around you and above you. You felt like you were under the water. Then it continued on it’s course and blended video, static props and animatronics in a seamless manner. Even though we rode the ride twice I struggle to describe it. My favorite part was a totally disorienting sensation of riding up out of the ocean and to the top of the sea. You feel like you’re really rising, and maybe you are, everything was a bit disconcerting. There was sound a vibrations in the seat of the boat and the second time we took the ride we both felt water droplets falling on us as we “rose out of the sea.” I took pictures and some video the first time we took the ride, but not only did they not capture the real essence all that well, but they didn’t even turn out very well. I guess you’ll just have to visit Shanghai and experience it for yourself. (If you ever get the opportunity, I highly recommend it. Our tickets were only 399 RMB which is about USD 63.)
One of the challenges with Shanghai Disney is that they don’t have all that many rides. Since the park is only two years old L thinks they simply opened with enough and will add more over time. She’s probably right because the park is huge! They definitely have enough space to add a lot more. As a result of them having only a few rides the lines grow very long and the fast passes are all distributed very quickly. By the time we got into the park and got our tickets (we had purchased them online, but you didn’t get the actual ticket until you redeemed the voucher along with your ID at turnstile) the Fast passes for the most popular rides were already completely distributed (you linked your ticket to the Disneyland App and then requested fast passes in the app - only 1 ever 2 hours). We were able to get a Fast pass for Peter Pan’s flight which meant our wait was only 5 minutes (maybe less), but the waits for rides were often 80-120 minutes or longer! The longest I saw (you could check wait times in the app, at the guest service centers or in front of the rides themselves) was 165 minutes. There was no way we were waiting in line for 2 hours and 45 minutes! My personal cut-off was one hour, but since L’s was 40 minutes we never waited longer than 40 minutes in line. This meant we had to not only watch the times, but be smart about our choices. I really wanted to ride Tron (there’s no Space Mountain here. The premiere roller coaster is Tron), but the line was usually 90 minutes of longer (I saw it get as long as 150 minutes). We decided that the evening show was at 8:30 and Tron was open until the park closed at 10 so we would watch the show from the Tomorrowland side of the castle and then hurry to Tron. We were clearly not the only people with this idea as there was a mob of people hurrying that way. We took a bit of a wrong turn, but quickly corrected and managed to wait in line for Tron for less than 25 minutes (I timed all our waits).
Tron was so cool and seemingly futuristic. You had to put your bag in a cart (that part was a little scary) and then the roller coaster “cars” were motorcycles. You leaned down over the handrails and the attendants pushed a harness over your back. It also clamped down on the back of your legs. There was a compartment that opened where you put your glasses (I’m glad I was wearing my contacts because I got to see everything) and then the ride started off. It went relatively slowly to a “launching area” where you then took off like a shot. The ride was incredibly smooth, but you were going so fast you couldn’t even perceive the fact that you were sometimes looking down onto the crowds below. It was awesome and absolutely my favorite ride (or activity) of the day. 
When the park closed at 10 pm we made our way to the metro (Disneyland has it’s own stop on a line that was built for the purpose of reaching the Disney Resort). We made it back to our hotel at about 11:30 pm. We’d left at 7:15 am, but so it was an exhausting, but excellent day.

The evening show included all kinds of graphics displayed on the castle along with music and fireworks. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A week in a small fishing village

Greetings from Sanya Phoenix International Airport. My flight is supposed to begin boarding in about 20 minutes, but I have a sinking suspicion it won’t depart on time. There were thunderstorms this afternoon and everything seems to be be backed up. Nonetheless, I fulfilled a more than decade-long dream of visiting Hainan Island (which is also Hainan Province). One of the things that I like to do is take advantage of all the interesting places my friends live (although I go to places where I don’t know anyone too).
Shortly before I departed the U.S. for China I messaged my friend A to tell her I was coming to visit. She replied that she wasn’t in Beijing like I thought she was, but was instead working in Sanya and I could visit her there. I was able to find some time in my travel schedule and this past Sunday evening I flew to Sanya. It turns out A was working in a small fishing village on the island of 西岛 (which means West Island) and I got to spend the week staying in this really cool renovated house. The old houses of West Island were built with coral and we stayed in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom house that had been completely renovated, but still retained much of its old-fashioned charm. 
I spent the week relaxing and wandering the village and surrounding areas. Each afternoon and evening we would eat with her employees (my friend is the operations manager for a company that is renovating building and even some boats on West Island). In the evenings A and I would take a walk and explore even more of the island together.
While, I enjoyed the opportunity to have not only authentic Chinese food, but local food, I must admit I struggled with it. While I love salmon (although I won’t touch Atlantic farm raised salmon) and halibut, I don’t care for other types of fish very much. I struggle with all the little bones and I hate getting them in my mouth. Every meal (except the last one today) had at least one type of fish. Some meals had two. Each meal also had a soup and a rather bland tasting rice porridge (a couple of different types). That having been said the meals did have some really good aspects. The cooks were magicians with vegetables. Some of the vegetable dishes had to most amazing taste. Today’s lunch was also exceptionally good. One of the chefs had made a pork dish that was out of this world. The pork was succulent and flavorful. When I arrived at lunch he asked me if I liked pork (I suspect he’d heard about my not liking fish because yesterday we’d had fish and fish balls for lunch. Dinner was only the lunch leftovers and there was only one leftover vegetable dish. It thus became very apparent what I wasn’t eating) and told me he’d made the pork himself. There was also a dish which he called tofu, but it was made with eggs rather than soybeans. He proudly told me he’d made the tofu himself. There is another “tofu” dish I’ve had in China called “Japanese tofu” which is also made with eggs, but he told me that this was different (honestly, I thought it was quite similar). Lunch also consisted of soup, rice porridge and two vegetable dishes. It was a final meal on the island.
I took a lot of pictures and even a short video. I’ll upload those and post this tomorrow from Beijing. I need to go and check the status on my flight to Beijing because we’re supposed to begin boarding any minute. I hope you enjoy the pictures from this week’s adventure.

Update: I didn’t manage to get this uploaded while I was in Beijing and then I stayed in Baotou with a friend of mine that didn’t have Internet. After that I spent three days in Shanghai (Shanghai Disneyland is a lot of fun!) and now I am in Wuxi. Hopefully, I will get posts written on those adventures in the future, but for now I hope you enjoyed reading about my week in a small fishing village.
 The chef.

 Water drops on the leaves of a banana tree 
 The kitchen of the house we stayed in. The wall on the left is the original wall made of coral. 

 These are the front doors (and the view inside of the living room)
 This is jackfruit. There’s a reason it’s sold cut up.
 We hiked up to the lighthouse on top of the only hill on the island (it was a pretty good hike, especially in the heat).

 Fresh coconut water (inside the fresh coconut)
 A banana tree!

This is a zongzi after you remove the coconut leaves it’s wrapped in and two peeled lychees

The Lychees in Sanya are fresh and large

 A zongzi wrapped in coconut leaves beside two lychees. One peeled and one not.
 Hainan is a tropical island in the extreme southern part of China. 

 A coconut that fell from the coconut tree. 
 This is from the fishing boat we took to the island. The people in the front work in the kitchen for the company my friend manages operations for.
These buildings are located on a completely artificial island. Apparently these are luxury condos and extremely expensive.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

An Odd Amusement Park

I first came to China in 2002. At that time many of the other people who came to China used China as a jumping off point to see other countries in Asia. I had a different idea. I wanted to explore China first. China is such a large country that it seemed like it was not only the most financially prudent choice, but just a good choice for understanding the country that I was living in. Thus, in my first three years in China I visited many parts of the country: Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang (a far western autonomous region inhabited largely by a Muslim people group called the Uighurs), Harbin and more. In those three years I did a pretty good job of seeing a lot of China. In the subsequent years I revisited a number or places and saw many additional places. However, there was one place I had never been that was a bit surprising; Tianjin. Tianjin is a large city very close to Beijing. Matter of fact from the Beijing South Railway station one can get to Beijing is a little over half an hour (the high speed rail didn’t exist back in the day, but as you most likely know, I spent a year and half recently living in Beijing). Thus, I decided to spend a few days in Tianjin last week.
First, let me state that I didn’t miss anything by not going to Tianjin. I must say I found Tianjin rather disappointing a boring. I also found its transportation system a bit frustrating. They have a city card which you can refill and use on buses and the subway. I tend to like these kinds of cards because it is very difficult to have exact change for the bus. Some buses in China have conductors who can make change but these are getting rarer and rarer. Most of the time it is necessary to put exact change into the box beside the driver. Thus, I decided to get a Tianjin city card. Well, that was easier said than done. The ticket seller at the railway station metro station didn’t sell city cards, but I found them at the metro station near my hotel. Later, when I tried to refill it, the station I was at couldn’t add money to my card. If you go to Tianjin I would say don’t bother with the card (in Beijing you can now not only buy the card at any station, but you can also buy it online as an app on your phone).
After a couple of days being disappointed with the sights in Tianjin I decided to go out to the Bianhai Aircraft Carrier. A few years ago I visited the USS Midway in San Diego and had an awesome time. The reviews online said that the Bianhai Aircraft Carrier was a former Soviet aircraft carrier and was definitely worth a visit. They also have a destroyer and a submarine, but fellow travelers had posted that they absolutely would not allow people without a Chinese ID card to visit the destroyer or submarine (when I bought my ticket the rules list was posted in English and it said the same thing). 
Thus, I set out to go to this aircraft carrier. I took the subway to another part of Tianjin and then took a long distance bus. When I got to the bus stop I was confused. There were several Chinese people who got off the bus with me and they were clearly confused as well. We saw an area near the bus stop that sort of looked like it was once an amusement park, but it was really run down an clearly closed. At this point I thought the nearly 2.5 hour trip I had taken had all been for naught. There was a Chinese man who instructed us to go into this vacant lot, but I could tell the others were equally confused. Then several drivers appeared as if from nowhere (actually I thinking they had been resting in the shade) and told us that the park was 4.5 km away and they would take us there for 20 yuan. Now 20 yuan is only about three US dollars, but it is definitely too much for a 4.5 km trip (not to mention the approximately 50 miles I had traveled to get to this point had only cost me 13 yuan). However, the other people agreed and the four of them set out together leaving me behind. I heard them say (in Chinese) that the foreigner didn’t understand. I told them I understood, but there were already four people (the max allowed, excluding the driver) and I felt 20 yuan was too much for one person. I then stood there rather undecided about what to do. I checked with my phone and saw that 4.5 km was 2.8 miles. I thought about walking it, but not only was I wearing flip flops, but it was also really hot out. I started walking and thought better of it and thus I was standing around rather undecided. Another driver told me there was a show starting at noon (it was 11:40) and that the park had a lot of fun things to do. Thus, I decided to pay the 20 yuan to get there. 
When I arrived I found two things 1) There was very little English in the park (and a lot of Russian) and 2) there weren’t very many people there. Matter of fact it turns out that there was much more than just an aircraft carrier. There were multiple shows, dancing and a “little Russia” street. Probably the most surprising discovery was that so many of the people working there were white (and I presume Russia, but it’s dangerous to make assumptions). I saw a signboard outside the park which said there was show called Aircraft Storm at 12, another show at 2 pm and and third show at 3 pm. Inside the park though I couldn’t find the show. All I found was music playing through loud speakers and a lot of empty areas (it was a weekday before school let out though). Finally, I decided to give up and just go visit the aircraft carrier.
As I was approaching the aircraft carrier I saw this tall white woman whom I had seen dancing staring at me. At first I thought she was going to approach me, then I thought she wasn’t, then she in fact did approach me. She said one word that I didn’t understand (I’m guessing it was a Russian word) and then she said, “English?” I nodded. She then asked, “Do you speak English?”
“Yes. I speak English.” She then proceeded to ask me where I was from and tell me that the park usually only got Chinese visitors. She told me there was show over there (pointing beside the aircraft carrier) that had already started at noon, but maybe I could watch from outside the stadium. Then she realized the gates were still open and said since there weren’t many visitors that it looked like I could get in. She informed me that the show involved knives and was really interesting. At 2 pm she told me she and the others would be dancing on board the ship and at 3 there would be a car show. 
I went into the show beside the ship and found the most interesting show I’ve ever seen. The storyline was pretty simple there were bad guys trying to take over this ship and they had taken the admiral hostage (this had already happened by the time I arrived). Good guys were trying to take back the ship. They were performing on the water between the ship and the stage. They had built some stages out in the water and attached to the arena. They also drove every kind of water craft imaginable: jet skis, hover boats, speed boats, etc. The show involved cool explosions, mock fighting (well timed to the sound track), repelling down the side of the ship, fake gun shots and more. It was really awesome and I wish they had had another showing so I could have seen it again, this time from the beginning (I missed about the first 10 minutes).
After the show I toured the aircraft carrier. It was a bit strange. First, it definitely wasn’t as well kept up as the USS Midway. Second, it seemed that they had what must have been fake pieces on board. There was a helicopter that said US Army on the side, but I can’t imagine the Chinese had procured a real US Army helicopter. They also had what looked reminiscent of a F118 Nighthawk (beside the supposedly American helicopter), but it didn’t look real at all. Additionally, I couldn’t find anything that could have been much of a flight-line. One of the issues the USS Midway had had was changing technology had dictated the need for longer and longer flight-lines. The USS Midway added onto the deck to accommodate this need, but eventually that wasn’t enough and she was retired. This ship had a steeply angled bow and just didn’t look like it had enough space to have had much of a flight-line. Then again, since the signs were all written only in Chinese (except for the headings), I’m sure there was a lot of information I missed. 
I finished my self-guided tour of the ship in perfect timing to get a front-row seat to the dance performance. It was not at all what I expected. There were signs advertising it as a cultural experience. I don’t know what kind of culture they were trying to go for; much of the performance made me thing of Vegas (although I’ve never been to Los Vegas and am basing that statement on what I’ve seen on T.V.). However, in between some of the very Vegas-esque performances were performances by two clowns (a male and a female). The show was very interesting, but it was an odd juxtaposition. 
The dancing ended in perfect timing to go to the car show which ended up being my favorite part of the day. The car show was a stunt show and they had all kinds of cool stunt driving plus other special effects including a motorcycle that appeared to flip over (they green-screened a plastic piece used to rotate the car), more shooting and explosions. They also split a car in half and had two cars drive on two wheels each. It was really cool. The guy playing the stunt director was either an American or a really good actor because he had a perfect American accent and the show was done in an interesting blend of English and Chinese.
After the performance, like everything else in the park they had an opportunity for you to pay to to get your picture taken. It appeared they were using the caucasians like animals in a zoo to attract attention and get people to pay for pictures. This was further demonstrated by the last event I attended there: the float parade. Everyone in the parade was Caucasian and they appeared to be the same people I had seen at the different shows throughout the day. The dancers appeared to be happy performing in the parade, but everyone else looked pretty sour. The parade reminded me of a sad, depressing version of a Disneyland (or world) parade.
After the parade it was time to head back to Tianjin. I looked up on my Didi (the Chinese version of Uber) how much it would cost to take a Didi back to Tianjin and saw an estimate of 120 yuan. The estimates are notoriously low so I figured it would be more like 130 (or possibly even more), but decided that that was still a better approach to returning rather than trying to take the bus (which ended service at 6 pm. It was about 4 at this time). I got out to the parking lot and tried to request a Didi. Meanwhile, the drivers are offering to drive me back to the bus. I told them I didn’t want to go to the bus, but wanted to go all the way back to the city. I also told them I was calling a Didi. Well, they told me no Didi would come there and sure enough no one answered my request. By this point, they had all taken other passengers and departed. I looked at my map and it showed me a bus that I could either take to the bus I had taken out there or to a subway station. According to my map it was only 0.8 miles away. I decided I could walk that. Unfortunately, there was construction going on and the walk was much longer (and the real roads didn’t match my map). I finally made it out to the main road and was walking to the bus stop when a really taxi honked at me and stopped beside me. I got in and asked him to take me to the subway station. He asked me if I was going back to the city and I said yes. He asked where and I told him. He said he’d drive me. I told him it would be too expensive. He told me to name my price so I intentionally picked a price I knew was too low: 100 yuan. He of course said that was too low and offered to take me for 150 yuan. I told him that was too high and then he said he’d take me to my hotel for 130 yuan. Based on my Didi inquiry, I decided that was a fair price and accepted.

The man drove like a mad man and kept trying to pick up additional fares at bus stops (if he had succeeded I decided I would only give him 100 yuan and argue with him about it if necessary). As we were driving he got several calls from his daughter. Something was clearly wrong and he kept telling her to go to her mother, but for some reason she couldn’t. Then when were back in Tianjin proper, but not yet at my hotel he suddenly stopped the car! He stopped in a tunnel and told me to get out and take another taxi! I was furious. I’ve heard of things like that happening in China, but never with the driver stopping in a tunnel. I refused to get out. He told me he’d give me cut the bill down to 110 to take another taxi, but I didn’t know how much further it was. I continued to refuse to get out. I also refused to give him 110 yuan. At this point he was mad! He said he’d find me another taxi and he got out and told me to get out. This time I did get out. He flagged down a driver who for some reason refused to take me. He then flagged down another taxi. He gave the man 20 yuan and the man agreed to drive me to my hotel. I then gave him 110 yuan and he yelled at me to give him another 20 because he’d already given the guy 20 yuan. I gave him the money and got into the new taxi. This driver turned on the meter and found my hotel on his cellphone (he didn’t know how to get there). When we got there the meter was at a little over 11 yuan, but he made no motions to give me any change. I decided, “whatever” and told him simply the other driver had already paid him. He concurred and I got out. It was a strange end to a strange day, but I not only got back safely, but it still only cost me 130 yuan (about $20.30) which was reasonable and was a lot faster and more comfortable than taking the bus.
 Me at the park entrance 
Aircraft Storm show

 The dancers and the clowns 

 The park was odd and had random things like this statue of that famous V-E (or was it V-J) day kiss.

 The float parade (their name, not mine)

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The best long-distant trip I’ve ever had

Even if you’ve never met me, you know that I like to travel and travel quite a bit. If you know me, you know this is especially true. Thus when I describe my recent trip as the best trip I’ve ever taken you know it must have been good.
My trip started pretty normally, or at least as normally as a trip that requires your alarm to ring at 4:15 in the morning can. My uncle picked me up and took me to the airport. I had no wait to drop my luggage off and then I headed through security. There was a bit of a line at security, but with my TSA precheck status, it wasn’t bad and I didn’t have to take off my shoes or my zip up hoodie, I got to go through the x-ray machine rather than the body scanner and thus, even with a short line I was through security in about five minutes (the non-precheck line was much longer). My flight to Seattle was a little boring, especially because the woman next to me spoke very little English, just Spanish and Spanish is a language I don’t speak (that surprises a lot of people). I arrived in Seattle and was double checking seats for my flight from Seattle to Seoul-Incheon. Because my surgery last spring resulted in my taking three trips between China and the U.S. last year I earned silver medallion status on Delta. With silver medallion status you can upgrade to first class on U.S. flights and you can upgrade to comfort+ on both domestic and international flights. You cannot upgrade to Delta One which is the International first class. Unfortunately, there weren’t any comfort plus seats available on either my flight to Seattle or my flight to Seoul. There had been only one first class seat available for an upgrade on my flight to Seattle and I had been number six on the upgrade list. Thus, as I arrived in Seattle and was double checking the available seats I was saddened. My silver medallion status was not prospering me at all.
I didn’t have a very long layover in Seattle and so by the time I got to the general vicinity of the gate it was only a few minutes before they started boarding. Before I found my actual gate I heard an announcement that started with needed to check the passports of the following passengers. I listened carefully even though my documents had been checked at the Anchorage airport. That was then followed up with an announcement that they needed to see a list of people to give them new boarding passes. I heard “Kristine Cannon.” Well, I thought, “I bet that’s me. So many people misread my name. I hope they’re upgrading me to comfort+.” When I found the right gate (I went towards the wrong one at first) there was already a line to speak to the gate agents. As I was waiting in line they started the boarding process. I was getting more and more nervous because they were getting closer and closer to zone one and that was my last remaining perk of having medallion status. The family directly in front of me had all kinds of problems including their names not being on the passenger list (they had both American and Korean passports and there was a lot of confusion). The agent had them step aside and someone else help them and so I thought, “finally. I’ll just barely get this boarding pass and make it to board with zone one.” Unfortunately, a couple who were boarding triggered some sort of problem and as the agent was working with them to fix the problem they began to call zone one. Now, I was frustrated and nervously tapping my passport on the counter. The agent finished with the couple and when I told him I’d been called for a new boarding pass he told me that they had needed room in the back of the plane (coach) and so I had been upgraded. He gave me a new boarding pass which had my zone now listed as SKY. As I walked away, I was looking at the boarding pass over and over thinking, “I think I’ve been upgraded to Delta One.” Since my zone was upgraded to SKY I could bypass the zone one people boarding and jump in the sky priority lane. I got on the plane and was quickly scanning it. My new seat was 9B. Sure enough 9B was the last seat in the middle  of the Delta One section (the section was configured 1 -2- 1). There was a row 10 for the outside seats, but not the middle seats. Now I was excited!
There are four things that determine how good a flight is: the plane facilities - seats, restrooms, video equipment; the flight itself - turbulence, circling the airport in a holding pattern, rerouting due to weather, etc.; service; and your seat mate. On this flight I hit the trifecta (or whatever you would call four things aligning rather than just three). Delta One was awesome in both service and facilities. I had a seat that reclined into a bed. They also provided not only real pillows and blankets, but also slippers and an entire toiletry kit complete with real toothpaste (Crest Complete), socks, hand lotion, lip balm, socks and more. Additionally, there was a bottle of water waiting at my seat and flight attendants came around offering champagne and orange juice in real glasses. The purser, Domingo, came and introduced himself to everyone individually and told us to let him know if we needed anything. Things were definitely off to a good start.
A few minutes later the woman sitting beside me (which really means on the other side of my little table area) arrived. She was speaking on the phone and I could tell from her conversation that she had also been upgraded so I made a comment about it. She then started talking about me to the person she was on the phone with and the next thing I hear is, “he wants tos ay hi.” All of the sudden the phone of a stranger is being held up to my ear and I find myself saying hi to someone I’ve never met on the phone of someone I’ve never met. The person on the other end of the phone starts asking me all kinds of questions about where I was from and why I was going to Korea (in case there’s any confusion I wasn’t going to Korea, just transferring there). He told me he’d been to Korea and China many times. It was a little odd and I had trouble getting him off the phone. Finally he told me to take care of his wife and I said goodbye. Now, this might seem rather intrusive and I must admit it was definitely strange, but it was the beginning of a great seat mate relationship. My seat mate was a Korean woman who had met her Danish husband on a plane to Korea. They were friends for a long time (they met nine years before they married) and when they did marry her husband ended up having to give up his Danish citizenship (he was a U.S. green card holder) in order for his wife to get a U.S. green card (she’s still a Korean citizen). We had a great time sharing the first class experience together. We took pictures for each other and just enjoyed the overall experience. Our meals were amazing. Before take-off they brought a multi-page menu and we got to select from a Korean menu with a main-course of bimbimbap or a western menu with a variety of entrees including leg of lamb, salmon and a cedar plank and more. I chose the bibimbap and my neighbor chose the salmon which came with potatoes and asparagus. Dinner was served with table cloths, read silverware (mine also came with Korean style chopsticks which are a little different from Chinese ones and felt just a touch odd), and of course real glasses. The flight attendant made sure I knew how to eat the bibimbap (it’s a dish I’ve actually had many times, but it was nice to know that they want to make sure I knew how to eat it). After I had finished eating, I was ready to sleep, but they came by with a desert cart. The menu listed the desert options as ice cream sundaes with a variety of toppings, a lemon tart or cheese plate. My seatmate and I both decided we wanted the lemon tart, but unfortunately, sitting at the back of the section, they were out before either flight attendant got to us (I was served from one aisle and she was served from the other). One of the flight attendants apologized telling us that they had had lots of waste and so they had reduced the number of tarts they carried and now it seems everyone wants it. I got an ice cream sundae instead.
After I finished eating, I turned my seat into a bed and fell asleep quite quickly. It was a pretty comfortable way to sleep and reminded me of sleeping on a train (mostly the feel as we passed through some gentle turbulence - the actual facilities were much, much nicer than anything I’ve ever experienced on a train). I slept pretty well for a few hours, but then I was awake and didn’t sleep again during the flight. They served a second, smaller meal shortly before landing. The Korean option was beef bulgogi, which is another dish I really like, but I chose the frittata with holindaise. It was delicious!
When we arrived in Seoul I was still tired, but felt much better than I usually do after a 12 hour flight.  I have been to the Seoul airport many times, and was confused because things seemed similar, but there were some differences that left me questioning my memory until I learned I was in the brand new (opened January 18, 2018) terminal 2. The last time I was in the Seoul-Incheon airport (See my favorite airport) I had found this really cool cultural experience where foreigners could make a traditional Korean craft. I looked online hoping to find this experience in terminal two and discovered they had a location very close to were I was sitting. I went and made a traditional fan and did a picture where you scratch off the black covering to revel a gold color underneath. While I was making my crafts I also had a wonderful conversation with a young woman who worked there (and wore a traditional Korean dress). I got to learn Korean history and have a pleasant conversation while also listening to live music that was playing just outside the door. The woman at the cultural exchange center, told me that they had another branch in terminal 2 that was bigger and even had Korean clothes you could try on. I didn’t go there, but I did stop briefly at the napping area she told me about (It was pretty nice with little beds in partitioned cubicles in an area with reduced lighting). My layover in Seoul was only about 2.5 hours so it was quickly time for me to head to my final flight.
My last flight allows for a potential future trip that is even better (nonetheless this trip was pretty awesome). I unfortunately had the middle seat, but thankfully this flight was only a little over 1.5 hours. This time I was on Korean Air and I have to admit I was pretty amazed by all the service they had on such a short flight. There were no choices, but they served an entire dinner (not even remotely as good as my first class dinner) and offered duty free shopping.
When we landed in Beijing I discovered they had changed the immigration procedures since I last arrived in Beijing (last February). As we were headed towards immigration they directed all of the foreigners to these machines where we had to scan our passports and be fingerprinted. I’d never been fingerprinted in China before and found this machine really frustrating. Not only did I’d have poor English, but I struggled to get it to read my fingerprints, especially for the four fingers of my right hand (you scanned the four left fingers, then four right fingers and then both thumbs). After that the machine spit out a receipt which you took to the same counters as before. They had added glass around the counters and an automated system which gave you directions for having your picture taken (I had trouble finding the camera though because it was in a different place than before). YOu also had to be fingerprinted again here. I don’t understand why I had to be fingerprinted twice in less than ten minutes, but such are things in China. After that, my passport was stamped, I was able to quickly get my luggage and was amazed to realize I was on the airport express train within an hour of my flight’s touchdown in Beijing (a fact made even more amazing by the fact that we taxied to the gate for about 15 minutes).
I didn’t bring a computer with me and I can’t seem to get edit or add captions to the photos, but here ware some pictures from my trip.
 Me laying down in Delta One.
 Hot nuts before our meal.
 First course
 Main course
  Here comes the desert cart.
 My ice cream sundae. I chose caramel sauce (and no whip cream)
My frittata was delicious!
 The seat across the aisle from me.
 The bathroom in Seoul had a child seat in the stall.
 The signs in the bathroom stall
 My meal on the flight to Beijing was just not comparable to my meals in Delta One.
They had individually packaged pieces of pineapple.