Sunday, January 23, 2011

Flight to Shanghai

I left from Cedar Rapids early in the morning on January 21st so I could catch a direct flight to Shanghai from Chicago. I was understandably not looking forward to the 14+ hour flight because I like legroom and I can't sleep on planes. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I realized the plane was not fully booked and in addition to my window seat, I also had use of the seat (and legroom) of the spot right next to me.

The plane took off at 11:30 a.m. CST, headed due north. From Wisconsin on, it was snow-covered ground as far as the eye could see. Canada was a desolate, frozen tundra (as if you needed reminding, eh?). It gradually grew darker as we flew farther north into the Arctic. The North Pole was pitch black (at 4:00 p.m.); the only light coming from the full moon. I could tell there was still a lot of ice in the polar ice caps, which is good news for the polar bears (and elves). I occupied my time watching movies and TV shows on the personal seat-back screens and my iPad, so I was never too bored.

Suddenly, we were no longer flying north, but south, without ever changing direction. Finally, we were over land once again, this time over an area, popular with Soviet dissidents, known as Siberia. I could see Russia from my seat. You betcha! Unsurprisingly, it looked a lot like Canada: lots of snow, some lakes and rivers and thick forests scattered about. The ground became a bit more interesting a few hours later over the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. Contrary to popular belief, deserts can have snow cover, as the Gobi did. It also had a lot of exposed barren areas interspersed with mountains.

Over China, I kept my eye out for the Great Wall. Unfortunately, I never spotted the thing, athough purportedly visible from space. I later read that the Wall is no more visible from space than a human hair is visible from across a wide river. Leaving the countryside, we were now flying over large expanses of developed areas and had traded snow cover for smog cover.

After flying 7050 miles, we finally arrived in Shanghai at 1:21 a.m. CST (3:21 p.m. local China time). As with most travelers to China, I was impressed by the shiny and new Shanghai Pudong International Airport (even though by this point I had just seen the arrivals gate and baggage claim). After going through customs, I was greeted at the airport by Bill Shen, the driver for the USDA office, who drove me to my boss' home so I could stay with him and his family for a few days before heading to Beijing.

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