Day 15: Beijing

April 25, 2010

Having finished most of our packing the previous night — successfully cramming everything into our two original suitcases and a couple of carry-ons to avoid the complication of purchasing a third bag — we awoke Sunday morning to make a final trip to nearby Wangfujing Street shopping district, find some breakfast, and spend our last handful of Yuan before returning to the Peninsula to check out.

One more delicious bakery meal

Breakfast was at a bakery in the food court of the Oriental Plaza Mall, home to many of our previous dining choices. After enjoying the blueberry, peach and raisin offerings, we strolled through a few more department stores and gift shops buying last-minute souvenirs.  Our last stop before heading back was McDonalds, where we bought two banana pies (and wondered if there were other flavors we were still missing…)

Success! Just as good as Sweet Taro pie

Upon returning to the hotel, we grabbed our bags, checked out, and hailed a taxi to Beijing’s Capital International Airport.  Forty-five minutes later, we arrived at Terminal 3 (built in 2008) which is one of the most ridiculously large airport terminals we’ve ever seen.  Turns out that is because Terminal 3 is the second-largest airport terminal in the world after one at Dubai International Airport.  (Thanks Wikipedia.)

Glimpse of the Central Chinese Television building en route to airport

After locating the Continental Airlines counter and enduring a few more slow-moving lines, we were informed our 3:45 PM flight to Newark was delayed and would probably take off sometime after 5 PM.  The agent offered to move our connecting flight to Monday morning in Newark, but after some quick deliberation, we decided to stick with our existing itinerary and take our chances with an more English-fluent agent after our arrival in the U.S.

Pondering the slow line and flight delays

After making our way through security and finding our gate, we browsed a couple gift shops where we discovered some of the most bold price inflation in the history of retail sales.  For example, at the Terracotta Warriors Museum in Xi’an, we could get a box of warrior statues for 10 Yuan.  At this gift shop, the price was 230! Even better, a larger statuette that sold for 20 Yuan in Xi’an was going for 670.  After the currency conversion, that’s $3 vs $100.

Hanging out at gate E12

In addition to the gift shops, we also looked for a place to grab a bite to eat and found only Pizza Hut. Probably due to a large influx of delayed travellers, our waiter told us they were out of pizza — really?!? — and we settled for pasta and waffle fries instead.  (It is also possible we fell victim to China’s new “out of pizza scam” as other customers began ordering pizza again shortly thereafter.)

Finally, the plane boarded and after waiting another 20 minutes on the tarmac thanks to the rain (obviously we were not getting out of China without a little more rain), we were on our way to Newark.

Five or six in-flight movies later, we arrived.  And they had good news for us – thanks to a Chinese tour group that was also on our connecting flight to Chicago, Continental had delayed the flight and we had plenty of time to pass through customs, re-do security (back to the no-shoes nonsense of American airports, sigh) and find our gate.

The final leg

The two-and-a-half hour flight to O’Hare was uneventful and we arrived with luggage in tow at 11 PM.  We knew we were back in Chicago when the taxi line was actually a line and it was barely cracking 40 degrees outside.  Welcome home!

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