Beijing, 2007

I attended and presented at the International Thermal Spray Conference in Beijing, China. Here is my journal and photos from the trip.

May 11, 2007 1:02pm PDT

Last night was a pain. I decided that it would be better for me stay in Albuquerque for the night rather than try to wake everyone up in time for my flight. With the little one’s broken arm, it was going to make for an unpleasant morning otherwise. The family and I went to dinner at Texas Roadhouse in Albuquerque and then dropped me off at the Best Western near the airport at around midnight. I sent all my dirty clothes home with the family and got ready for bed. Around 12:30, I realized that I had left my flash drive (with my presentation and all my other work) in the fifth pocket of my dirty jeans. A frantic call and she drove back and dropped it off. I felt pretty bad as they had made it quite a ways home when they had to turn around because of me. I technically have it on my computer and emailed to myself, but there is no guarantee that I will be able to extract it in China, based on the power system (220V, 50Hz) and other things. I’m not sure I will even have internet access.

Today did not start out too much better. After staying up til 1:30 or so, I ended up waking up at 4:00 to get ready. At 5:00, I was on the Best Western shuttle to the airport. At the airport, the woman at the ticket counter informed me that I would get my boarding pass for Air China in San Francisco. I didn’t think too much of it, as I have never traveled internationally, and had no idea what to expect. Next, the plane was delayed due to the fog in San Francisco. I think all said and done, it was only a half hour late. I slept and read Modern Casting for most of the flight.

When I arrived in San Francisco, I learned that a) the airport signs are entirely misleading. To get to the international terminals (according to the signs), I had to exit security. Not having a boarding pass meant I had to do this anyway. I got in line at the Air China ticketing line at 10:40, and someone started actually checking us in around 11:40. I did run into another Hokie, class of ’04, who was wearing a VT sweater and hat. I chatted with him for a few minutes, which helped to lower my blood pressure. After that, I met a group out of the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga and talked with them for a few. As it turns out, one guy in that group (18 people), worked with ceramics in aerospace applications. He also worked for the company that developed the ceramic ‘self-cleaning’ enamel that is on all Maytag, Whirlpool, etc appliances. Magic Chef was the name of the original company, I think.

San Francisco airport is one of those that totally sold out to T-Mobile. No internet without their prepaid card. Boo that. So far, I haven’t seen any of San Francisco due to the haze and low clouds. I was hoping to at least see the Golden Gate Bridge from the plane, but no dice.

The plane is here, but not scheduled to board for like another hour and a half. It’s a Boeing 747-400, and I think that makes it the biggest plane I’ve ever been on. I snapped a few photos, which I will probably include in the post on my webpage.

May 12, 2007 at 21:34 China Time

I am currently in the Crown Plaza Hotel. This isn’t where I’m supposed to be, but a $100, unlicensed cab fair took me here instead of the other Crown Plaza Hotel, which is a block away from the Beijing Continental Grand Hotel.

I walked around a bit tonight to get my bearings. I think I can get a real taxi from the hotel here to my real hotel, provided they haven’t canceled my reservation when I did not show up tonight.

Things are weird here. Kids are out playing on the sidewalk (young kids) even at 11 at night, no parents in sight. Cabs (as I learned) drive where ever they want, including sidewalks, through red lights, shoulders, and opposing traffic. Many people here speak some English, and many are anxious to practice. Quite a few people have asked me which state I am from and so on. Some have also offered “massage” services, which I’m pretty sure aren’t massages.

Overall, Beijing is a clean city, there is very little trash laying around, and people are walking and biking around constantly. There is a McDonald’s just around the corner, and giant electric billboards all over the place.

Anyway, I am going to save my battery for a bit, as I do not have an adapter for 230V 50Hz to recharge my laptop.

May 13, 2007

Finally, I’m where I’m supposed to be. It’s nice to see people wearing ITSC ’07 badges and lanyards.

This morning, I woke up early, 5 am local time, and went for a walk around town again to get my bearings. I walked around the Forbidden City (I did not go in), and past a bunch of other buildings of importance. I can’t remember how to spell them, but they are ones we hear of back in the US. It was good to get out and walk. I managed to pick up some Gatorade for 3RMB instead of the 32RMB my hotel wants. It sure was nice to drink something cold.

I met a student at a nearby university who was studying English and Calligraphy, and she talked to me for quite a few, to practice her English. Her studio was across the street from my hotel, so I met her professor, and bought a cool painting of the great wall on silk, for like 100RMB (less than $20). They also wrote my name on a sheet of rice paper and gave it to me as well. They were both anxious to speak in English, and were constantly verifying words with me. In the end, they translated the hotel name for me, so that I could give it to the cab driver (a real cab driver this time).

Overall, things are looking up. I think it will be much more expensive than I thought, but I think I will have a good time now that I am where I am supposed to be. Now that I am where I am supposed to be, I should probably start singing Alice’s Restaurant and walk out haha. Speaking of which, I couldn’t get “Comin’ Into Los Angeles” out of my head as I went through customs. I was trying so hard not to sing it, as I’m sure the prisons here are unpleasant.

May 14, 2007

I gave my presentation today. There was one question which I was unable to answer at the time, but now that I think about it, it wasn’t a hard question. I’ll have to catch up to the guy who asked it over the next few days, because I have a good answer now.

May 15, 2007

It has been a while since my last post. I will later fill in the gaps with emails that I have sent out to my family.

The flight out was not quite as bad as I thought it might be. I spent most of it asleep and only read part of a QST in-flight. There was three really bad movies on, two in Chinese, and Happy Feet. Between movies, they would show our current location, speed, and outside temperature for a few minutes in both English and Chinese. We were served two in-flight meals, and now that I have had airplane food, I do not feel that I was missing anything all those years. I had “fish” and “beef noodles”, and was a little skeptical as to what everything else was on my tray. Never the less, I saved the roll looking things for when I did not have food. We were also given three forms on the plane; two customs forms and a quarantine form (in the event we were sick). I reluctantly checked that I had been coughing, as everyone on the plane knew that, and I’d rather be accused of coughing than lying.

When I arrived at the Beijing International Airport, I left the plane down a set of stairs that dumped me onto the runway. We then ran in to the baggage claim, then through quarantine. Nobody cared about my slight cough, and I had nothing to declare at customs, so both of these were relatively simple.

I had, however, lost the name of my hotel. I knew that the last night, I would stay at the Crown Plaza hotel, but I did not know that there was two Crown Plaza hotels in Beijing. I went up to an internet lounge, paid 80RMB, and tried to get access. However, my laptop did not want to recognize the internet there. I knew that the Crown Plaza was only a short walk from the hotel I was supposed to be in, and I had seen photos of both online. I slipped some of my cash in my shoe and began to look for a cab.

This was my mistake. A man approaches me in a taxi uniform. I gave him the name Crown Plaza, and he nods and types out 10 on his cell phone. Sweet, I thought. That’s pretty cheap. Then he asks me for the address. I don’t know it, so he calls his friend. The next thing I knew, I was going what felt like 100 mph, over medians, curbs, sidewalks, bike lanes, opposing traffic through redlights, past police, and so on. I had made the stupid mistake of getting in an unlicensed cab, one of the things I was warned not to do in China. At one point, we bumped a guy on a bike- not hard, but he did fall off, to which my driver beeped the horn and kept driving. Then suddenly we stop. He says “wallet, give me your money, or I leave you here” I open it up and he takes the stack of RMB I had in the wallet. Then off we go again. Thankfully, I kept most of my cash in my shoe instead of in my wallet.

Finally, we arrive at the Crown Plaza Hotel. He drops me off and chirps out. I walk in, and they’ve never heard of me. No reservations. This is when I learned that there are two Crown Plaza hotels. They have a room available for 1400RMB, + 15% surcharge, if I want it. At first, I say no and walk down the street a ways with my stuff. After a quick realization that Beijing is way bigger than I imagined, I decided this was a losing battle. I went back, paid an arm and a leg, and agreed to spend the night. I paid extra for internet and then went to sleep.

May 16, 2007 17:27pm China Time

Today represented the last day of presentations at the conference. This time tomorrow evening, I will be on my flight back to the United States.

I woke up around 4am this morning and got showered and dressed. Because the talk I really wanted to see was canceled this morning, I decided that I would tour the town early in the morning. I hit up the hotel for some more money, then had them translate directions to the cab driver. I told him I wanted to go to Tiananmen Square.

I toured around Tiananmen Square, walked around the plaza and saw all sorts of neat government buildings. I have a Beijing map, and I will at least keep the names consistent with the photos when I post those on my website. I went as far as the entrance to the Forbidden City, but did not go in. I could not tell if they would allow me to bring a camera, and from the looks of things, not. Therefore, I had no where to put my camera, and wasn’t going to go into the Forbidden City.

Walking around was good. Between the government buildings and Tiananmen Square was like six lanes of traffic in each direction, so I was happy to find the underground tunnels that you walk through to get to the other side. I wasn’t going to try to cross that mess. After a few hours, the American tourists began to show up. Haha, everyone was still in bed when I was doing most of my sight seeing.

I managed to snap quite a few photos of my tour, score a book of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung’s quotes, a pack of playing cards, a few pins for my collection, and a Red Army hat. I even tried my hand at bargaining, as the quote book was going for 150RMB, and I was like no way, and the guy said “You give price” and I said 50. He said 100, and I said 75. Sold. It’s a pretty neat book, and it’s obvious the people here love him, even though he’s been dead for quite some time- I guess a real hero to these people.

I had lunch at a small noodle shop in town. Everywhere here provides much more food than one person could eat in a day. I am not sure what meat was with the noodles, but it was good. The 7-Up and Pepsi were not. They were fountain drinks, and I think fountain drinks made with the local water taste especially funny. Oh well. I then hit up a few more small shops for some souvenirs, and caught a cab back to the hotel in time for the next conference session.

At the conference, I met a representative from Sulzer-Metco who gave me a few suggestions to try for our spraying- a different anode/cathode pair has worked well for him when he sprayed yttria with the SG-100. I also met a Spanish PhD student who is making hydroxyapetite grafts by free-standing plasma spray, among other methods.

After the last presentation, I dropped off my laptop bag in my room and headed out in search of food. I wanted something “American” again and went with KFC. It wasn’t too bad. I had a “New Orleans” Chicken Sandwich, some nuggets and some sort of mango soda. The whole thing with “New Orleans” throws me off, as anytime we would expect to see “Buffalo” they have “New Orleans.” I’ve seen it several times describing chicken. There was also some nasty vegetable mix that came with my meal. It had corn, peas, carrots and green peppers, along with some sort of sauce. It was not tasty. Also, I had “Sweet Chili” sauce to dip my nuggets in, which was actually pretty good.

Once I finished KFC, I went back across to the North Star shopping tower and looked around some more. I guess my first time in there, I did not realize it was five stories high. I went through all five stories, found my son a present, and wandered around a bit more. I picked up a M&M blizzard at Dairy Queen, which of all the American food I’ve tried here, this was the only one that was exactly like the US.

Another thing that is amazing to me is what parts of the culture bleed through the globalization that exists in this country. For instance, there is a KFC, Dairy Queen, McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Domino’s within walking distance of this hotel. Yet a tour around Domino’s shows things like the sign that reads ‘Slice of the Day: Tuna Fish’ and the Pizza Hut shows ‘New York Style Pizza’ with corn as a topping. At first, this looks strange to us. We know better than to put these things on Pizza! Yet, why? Corn is a perfectly good vegetable. Tuna fish is a perfectly good (cheap) meat. Are olives and anchovies more weird? The fact of the matter is that pizza was never part of their culture, and it has been part of ours. Therefore, they’ve made pizza to fit their culture a little more, even though it is part of the giant Pizza Hut or Domino’s chain, which we would think would call for identical ingredients worldwide. This isn’t the case, however. Furthermore, the pizzas shown have almost no cheese. Nobody eats cheese in China.

Another thing that is huge out here is a Dove Chocolate. Everywhere sells Dove bars, even the hotel minibars. Coke is much bigger than Pepsi out here, though I think everything other than bottles tastes weird. They have some vitamin water that is supposed to be like Powerade, and it is extremely thirst quenching. I’m sure it translates to Propel or Powerade or one of those (I’ll look when I’m stateside again). I keep drinking the peach flavored ones- not because they are particularly good, but they are incredibly thirst quenching.

The Hall of Great People:

The Monument of the Peoples’ Heroes

National Museum of China

Tiananmen Square

May 17, 2007

This marks my last day in China. After realizing my flight was at 15:20, I decided to do some more sight-seeing before checking out of the hotel at noon. I had the hotel staff write Temple of the Heavens on a card in Chinese so that I could give that to my taxi driver to get there and back. 30 RMB later, and I’m on my way.

The Temple of the Heavens had several neat buildings, as well as many, many acres of trees, nice paths for walking, and all sorts of gardens. Some people bought the equivalent of a season pass so that they could jog there every morning. There were plenty of people jogging, walking, dancing, and exercising with various techniques. I spent like 15 RMB to get a ticket and made sure to snap many photos.

The only disappointment with the Temple of the Heavens was that the Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest (I believe) is pretty much the landmark for this site, and it was being renovated. I really wanted to go into it, but no dice. I did walk down the Long Corridor, and past several other landmark features of this site.

Imperial Hall of Heaven:

The Fasting Palace:

After my walk around here, I left, crossed the street and ate breakfast at a little bakery. I had biscuits covered in cheese and GREEN CHILE! I couldn’t believe there was green chile in China. I also ate a slice of chocolate cake (yeah, breakfast of champions) and soon found a cab back to the hotel.

Packing up at the hotel was an interesting time. I was happy to be headed back to the United States, but in some ways, I was sad the adventure was over. It had been a mixed bag, a new culture that was so strange and different from my own- yet I missed my own culture. I missed the personal space, the individual freedom, and the ability to go places where there was NOBODY. I think Beijing has like 13.7 million people, so there aren’t many places like that. No wonder the gardens and the Temple of the Heavens were so popular- at least there you could see more than buildings and people!

The infrastructure was neat to see as well:

I arrived at the airport and got checked in. Soon after checking in, I found out that my flight had been delayed four hours. With the extra time, I shopped in the duty-free shops, read a book on Eli Whitney, which I will hopefully review for the SIA at some point, read a QST and slept. I had a hamburger at one of the restaurants in the airport and then eventually boarded the plane.

I slept most of the plane ride back. I was awake long enough to see that we were traveling at 691 mph at one point, and long enough to see that nobody is awake. When there was only about two hours left until our arrival, people began to wake up. I chatted with the girl in a seat near me. Her name was Nova and she was from Washington, but had been studying Chinese in China for the last three years. Pleasant enough person, and once everyone woke up, she was pretty talkative, which was a welcome change from my week of almost no English communication.

We arrived in San Francisco, and I cleaned up a bit. I had like two hours until my flight back to Albuquerque. I spent this time working on my gunshot residue paper, calling Dave Carroll to find out where they were, and getting a sub from Subway at the airport. It felt good to be back in the United States.

The flight from San Francisco consisted of more gunshot residue work on my laptop, it was relatively uneventful. There was a drunk couple behind me who were acting crazy every time the plane made any unexpected movement. Also, one of the stewardesses was a black girl from somewhere down south. She cracked me up, she had lots of good lines and funny things to say. My favorite part was that she informed us that the cabin lights were going to be dimmed, so to hit the overhead light. As soon as she finished saying that, someone accidentally hit the call button instead and she says “That’s not the light button.”

My baggage showed up in Albuquerque, so all was well. The family was there to pick me up, as my son had a doctor’s appointment the next morning, and it made more sense to spend the night in Albuquerque. Back to the Howard Johnson we’d stayed at before. The trip was over.

Reflection- May 26, 2007

Sometimes we take things for granted, forget how lucky we have it here in the United States. My time in China was not miserable, but I really did miss the US. Most people had a roof over their heads, were safe from violent crime, had jobs, etc. On the other hand, it seemed as though most people were contend with far less than we would be in the United States. People didn’t have houses, or even large apartments. I did not manage to learn any Chinese while I was there.

After having spent some time there, I can see how communism fits their country well. The USSR began to fall apart as the average man saw he could do less work and receive the same benefits- there was no incentive to be extra productive. In the US, we would feel the same way. However, China’s culture has always been more about “the whole” over “the individual” and so you saw people working extra hard. A work crew tore out a sidewalk and replaced it with a new sidewalk for an entire block, and they were done with it in a day. Most people worked over 12 hours a day. People in the US say they are working late if they say at work until 5:15pm.

My experience in China will be something that sticks with me for the rest of my life. I will not soon forget the short time I spent there.