The trip to China, December 2005

Robert Kern Curtis

The Meetings and Conferences

Wednesday, December 7, Morning
Bejing Mathematics Association

Wednesday, December 7, Afternoon
College of Mathematics, Bejing Normal University
Experimental Primary School of Bejing Normal University

Thursday, December 8, Morning
School of Mathematical Sciences, Peking University
Capital Woman Professors Association

Monday, December 12, Morning
Jiangsu Institute of Education, Nanjing

Monday, December 12, Afternoon
Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Wednesday, December 14, Morning
Mathematics & Science College, Shanghai Normal University

Wednesday, December 14, Afternoon
Shanghai Yan'an (upper) Middle School (grades 10, 11, 12)

Cultural Activities

Wednesday, December 7, Evening
Dinner followed by a theatrical performance "The Legend of Kung Fu"--the story is told through dance, acrobatics, and martial arts.

Thursday, December 8, Afternoon & Evening
Visit to The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square
Peking Duck dinner at the Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant

Friday, December 9, Morning
Visit to The Great Wall of China

Friday, December 9, Afternoon
Lunch at the Dayi Restaurant upstairs from the Friendship Store

Saturday, December 10
Fly on China East Airline to Nanjing

Sunday, December 11, Morning
Visit the Sacred Avenue of the Ming Tomb. Also visit the Memorial to Dr. Sun Yat-sen.
Lunch at a local restaurant

Sunday, December 11, Aftenoon
Visit the Zhonghua Men Gate in the Nanjing City Wall

Tuesday, December 13, Morning
Take the train from Nanjing to Shanghai

Tuesday, December 13, Evening
Dinner followed by a local acrobat show.

Thursday, December 15, Morning
Visit the Yu Garden and then tour the Shanghai Museum.

Thursday, December 15, Afternoon
Lunch followed by a visit to a Silk Rug Factory.
Visit to Shanghai's shopping district.

Thursday, December 15, Evening
A Farewell Banquet.

Travel (ugh)

On Sunday, December 4, 2005, my daughter, Phyllis, drove me to Newark Airport. We were in plenty of time, so we first waited in a very long line to check my baggage: one large suitcase. When we finally got to the clerk, she was very friendly but said that she had never heard of Dragon Air, the carrier for the last leg of our journey to Bejing. But she booked the baggage through anyway saying that she did not think their computer could read American Airlines boarding passes. (They couldn't, but just issued me a new one.) That chore done, Phyllis and I had lunch, scotch and hamburger, at TGIF. I also discovered that my Nikon camera was having trouble holding its batteries. It was, so we bought a different brand which seemed to work. Finally, Phyllis and I said good-bye and I headed off to my gate and the security check. Even without shoes and watch I set off the mangetometer. So I had to take off my belt and badge, etc. I finally made it through and my "carry on" did too.

I boarded the American Airlines Boeing 757 and had a seat at the window back pretty far in economy class. It was crowded and sandwiches were $5 each. I wound up buying a can of beer for $5 but no food. The movie was "A Beautiful Mind" -- the story of John Nash. I watched it and bought $2 headphones so I could hear it. There was a lot of static on the screens (as if a connector was loose) but I enjoyed the film. Six hours later, we arrived at Los Angeles Airport. I had to leave one terminal and walk to another for Cathay Pacific Airlines. I did so and found my gate after going through security wearing my shoes and belt and watch. And my carry-on was OK too. At the gate, I first met Bob Ackley who told me that he was from Tucson, Arizona. We had a wait and eventually more of the People to People group showed up. When we finally boarded the plane, a Boeing 747, I found that I was at the window again, but to my right was Allen of the group and to his right was a rather large gentleman who makes this trip quite often. It seems that Bob was in the seat directly behind me. We were three rather large men in these three little seats. Sardines.

We did not take off on time. A rather apologetic Captain came on the PA and explained that there was a miscount in the luggage and that security was requiring that all the luggage be removed from the plane and reloaded. Our departure was delayed an hour for this. There were rumors that our direct flight to Hong Kong was not going to be direct but was going to stop for refueling at Taipei. Indeed it was a fully loaded 747 and once we took off we found that we had serious head-winds. We flew up over the Bering Sea and then down over Japan and indeed we did stop at Taipei and spent an hour refueling. On this trip we had excellent food: dinner at about 4:30 am NY time and then about eight hours later breakfast. By the time we got to Hong Kong, our 14 hour trip from Los Angeles had taken us about 20 hours. We missed our connecting flights, etc.

At Hong Kong, my body passed security fine, but my carry-on did not! The first problem was a nail clipper which had a file attached. The file part had to be broken off. Then, too, there was a small xacto knife I had completely forgotten about which I had to surrender. Dragon Air got us on a new flight to Bejing. This was really excellent. An Airbus 330 with more room per seat, and a number of empty seats. They served us a hot lunch on this three hour flight and were very friendly and helpful. The stewardesses were also very pretty and very young looking. We arrived in Bejing many hours late, but found our luggage and were met by Bruce Ming, our guide and interpreter, and our bus. We took a significantly long bus ride to the Bejing Marriott Hotel West and tried to do all the business we had missed by being late on the bus. We were all exhausted and just barely made it to dinner at the hotel and went to bed. It was now December 6th in the evening.

Our next travel was on December 10th, from Bejing to Nanjing (literally "North Capital" to "South Capital"). This was on China East Airline and was an Airbus 300. Again, the food was good. The two hour trip was not too bad. We arrived at the Nanjing Hilton which was decorated for Christmas complete with a large model railway in the lobby.

Our next travel was by train in "soft" class. Railways in China have two classes, "soft" and "hard." It comes from soft seats and hard seats. For rail travel this ride was luxury. Very nice. There were two stops along the way. Until the first stop, we had the car to ourselves. And yes there were waitresses selling food and trinkets. We and our luggage arrived at our hotel, the Pudong Shangri La, happy and on time. ("Pu dong" means "river east." This is the big high-rise financial district of Shanghai, which was rice paddies ten years ago!)

Finally, on December 16th, we had to have our baggage in the hallway by 4:45 am! At 4:40 am, the wake-up call came, and began "Ni Hao." We left the hotel by 5:30 am with a bag of rolls and fruit for breakfast, and got to the airport with time to spare. Shanghai has a new 10 billion dollar airport, but this was the one place where we were bussed to the plane and had to walk across the tarmack and walk up the many steps to the plane's door. The flight would be on a Dragon Air Airbus 330 to Hong Kong. Security here and at Hong Kong was fine, but we could only check our baggage to Los Angeles, not to our final destinations. A couple of hours and a good breakfast later and we were in Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong we had a little waiting to do, but were able to board a Cathay Pacific Boeing 747 which was only about 2/3 filled and which left on time and had a good tail wind. After about 14 hours and two meals we were in Los Angeles. Now to get the luggage and wait in a very long line at a different terminal building to check it. While I was waiting in line to check the luggage, the security men with the explosive detectors came on duty, so when I finally got to check mine, I had to be checked by them and, yes, I checked positive for explosives. So this meant that they had to take everything out and check each item.... Another half hour or so spent on this. Finally, I was able to check the luggage and go on. Another big line to go through security. This was OK. Finally, I got to the gate and found they had changed the plane to a different gate. I got there and found that the plane had not arrived yet but was running about an hour late. This was to be an American Airlines Boeing 757. While waiting in Los Angles, Mr Richard Gelber, the father of two young men I had had in the Honor Society, came up to me! We were going to be on the same plane. He was trying to get to Miami, but the only way he could was to go to Newark and then go to Miami from there. He had flown 400,000 miles this year! He tried to get me promoted to first class, but did not succeed. The plane was packed and there were six others in line for an upgrade. When I finally boarded the plane and took my seat, I found that I was between two women for the ride home. Again I bought a beer and six hours later I was at Newark. After getting off the plane, I saw Phyllis waiting in line with the limo drivers with a welcome home sign for me! We joined up, got the luggage and came home.

The trip was great, but traveling economy class on very crowded planes was pure torture. I am grateful to have survived.