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Taking advantage of American’s introductory fares to PVG and the study period at the end of my semester at school, I planned

a roundtrip BOS-PVG. While I was tempted to do a pure (or near pure) mileage run, never having been to China before I decided to make it a more leisurely trip. My friend Chris (who lives in LAX) wanted to go too and take advantage of the 1.0 EQM fares to complete a PLAT challenge. I used eVIPS to upgrade both of us roundtrip, so it was J all the way. Both flights also were equipped with suites, in case anyone was wondering. I have uploaded pictures from the trip on Web Shots and you can view them there. Thursday, May 4, 2006 (BOS-DCA-ORD-PVG) I took a 6:00am flight out of BOS-DCA on an RJ. Uneventful and made it to DCA with plenty of time to spare. In DCA, made a quick stop at the AC and then went to my gate to get on my flight to ORD. Flight left on time and was served the continental breakfast; it arrived ORD, where I would meet up with Chris, on-time. Chris was in the AC when I got there so met him then we proceeded over the FL lounge. This is one of my favorite lounges in the system because of the offerings (though they could do with a few more computers). We left the lounge at about 10:15am to board the flight (leaving at 11:05am) but it wasn’t boarding, though from the mass of people at the gate it seemed as if boarding was imminent. I had been checking the flight’s on-time performance for the past few days and knew that it had been getting into PVG later than expected because of winds (which was of concern because we were making a connection to PEK). Anyhow, the GA kept on pushing the time back and finally we left at about 12:30pm; the problem was some combination of an electrical problem and a computer glitch. Once onboard, service was good and we flew the polar route, though it was cloudy underneath for most of the flight. I had my laptop so didn’t watch any of the on board entertainment but I did notice the Chinese language selection. As for the food, there were three meal services: the main one served right after takeoff, a mid-flight snack, and a prelanding lunch service. I didn’t go hungry at all on the 13+ hour flight so it seemed fine to me. Check my photos for images of the J-Class menus. Friday, May 5, 2006 (PVG-PEK) We landed at PVG about 4:00pm (105 minutes late) and I was thankful I had booked the 6:45pm departure to PEK on Air China-CA) rather than the 4:00pm China Eastern (MU) flight. Neither of us had checked our bags so we easily got through customs and straight through baggage claim to go back and check-in for our CA flight. I had booked all of our tickets electronically using after searching Flyer Talk and must admit was slightly concerned about whether we would have tickets or not after arriving at Pudong. After leaving the secured area from baggage claim we took the escalators back upstairs to the ticketing level to find our check-in to PEK. We found the appropriate area to check-in for our flight but after standing in line for 10 minutes were told by the agent that we needed to go to the CA ticketing desk, which was located further down in the terminal. We went over there, gave them our boarding

passports and then she finally gave us our paper tickets and told us to go back and checkin. After heading back over to the check-in desk we were told we had to check both of our bags (a minor annoyance) and then were given our boarding passes. At security we had to show them both our paper tickets and the boarding passes (major redundancy for what I thought were e-tickets) and then made our way to our gate. There were some other Americans on our flight, part of a tour group I think, and the plane boarded on time. They didn’t use a jet way but instead put us on a bus and then drove us out to the plane. The weather was fine, so no big deal here. Once the plane was ready to go they announced that we were going to be held because of air traffic control and we left about 30 minutes later (delaying our arrival in PEK from 8:55pm to 9:30pm). This flight was also uneventful, though we were served a meal in Y of either rice/noodles and beef; the plane was a 737-800. By the time we arrived in PEK and had claimed our bags it was nearing 10:00pm and as we were to be picked up by a car service from the St. Regis Beijing that I had booked with my reservation, I had hoped they would wait for us. They did indeed, and had a sign right after leaving the baggage claim area. It was about 30 minutes from the airport to the hotel (with no traffic) and we were both exhausted by the time we arrived. The check-in desk was waiting with my room keys and welcomed us enthusiastically. We had been upgraded to Diplomat Deluxe Room (thanks to my SPG Gold) and were greeted at the room by our butler (who we did not use at all throughout the stay). Both of us showered and then we were off to bed, exhausted from a long day of travel. Saturday, May 6, 2006 (PEK) We had breakfast by 8:00am in the buffet downstairs (also part of the roommate, and a great value I might add). This was one of the best buffet breakfasts I had ever eaten at and they had so many different items to choose from. After breakfast we headed downtown and to Tiananmen Square, Mao’s Body, the Monument to the People, and the Museums. There was a long line to view Mao’s body but it moved quickly; it was amazing to see the reverence with which so many Chinese (including the children) view their former leader. Tiananmen Square was quite breathtaking (both in size and in knowing what happened here). As a side note, I heard a rumor from a friend that if you search for “Tiananmen Square” on Google in China that nothing would come up, but I tried and it brought up everything about the massacre (including photos). Back to the trip, we also went inside the museums on the East Side of the Square and they were less than spectacular, with the coolest part being the semi-life like wax statutes of famous people (including Mao, Yao, Einstein, and the like). A little after noon we headed back to the hotel to get some lunch and then we were off to the Silk Market to check out the shopping scene. I was expecting it to be an actual market (outdoors with stalls, or something similar to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul), but it was actually more like a shopping mall. It was very organized and had just about anything you could imagine in copied form. We had a list from friends and relatives of what to get them but we wouldn’t buy it all now of course, as we wanted to check prices.

I felt pretty good after my first few bargaining attempts (some Lacoste shirts for $10 each), but also realized that if I wanted to try harder I could definitely get things much cheaper. We spent about an hour at the Silk Market and then went back to the hotel (after stopping at the fake Starbucks on the way). From the hotel we took a cab to the Heavenly Palace, which was quite nice. It was a Saturday and there were lots of people all around. The grounds were quite nice, and I would definitely recommend getting the Audio Tour if you forget your guide book. It’s only $5 (plus a deposit) and it gives a nice insight into the meanings of many of the buildings. Also, similar to the guide in the Forbidden City, the electronic guide works with wireless sensors throughout the grounds that automatically plays selections as you approach the relevant building and highlights your position on the map. From the Heavenly Palace we went to the San Li Tun market. It was very, very similar to Silk Market, but slightly smaller. IMO, there is no need to visit both, but some say you can find better bargains at the San Li Tun. We then went back to the hotel and enjoyed the Happy Hour (which is available to all guests of the hotel) and both ended up falling asleep early. Before we went to bed though, I did go down to the hotel’s concierge (which doubles as a Gray Line Travel Agent) to book our tour to the Great Wall at Si Ma Tai for the next morning with guide and driver. Total cost for both of us and admission, car, driver, and guide was Y1600. Sunday, May 7, 2006 We were up early so we could have breakfast before leaving at 8:00am for the three hour drive to Si Ma Tai. The Great Wall was by far the number one attraction I had wanted to see and I really wanted to get out of town and avoid Badaling and Mutianyu, and see the wall in its unrestored form. En route, we stopped at a copper art factory and it reminded me of when I was in Ireland and we stopped on the way to Derry at the Beleek Factory or on the way to Waterford at the crystal factory; see how the stuff is made on a small tour, then led to the purchase room and “encouraged” to buy. There were some neat Christmas ornaments that I ended up buying for my mom and grandma, but most of the other stuff was just okay. After leaving the factory, which was about halfway on the drive to the Great Wall, we continued on up into the foothills. Our guide gave us a lot of history about the area and we were able to ask her all the questions we had about China and Chinese culture. It was especially interesting to see how she views world events like Iraq, North Korea, Iran, etc. and to learn about her lifestyle in Beijing. We finally arrived at Si Ma Tai at about 11:30am and took the cable car up to the hike starting point. There were not many people here at all, and the cable cars were almost entirely empty. It’s a bit of a steep hike/walk from where you get off the cable car to the actual wall and all along the way you will be followed by local “farmers” who try and sell you souvenirs. Once you reach the wall, the only word to describe it is --spectacular. You’re on the top of a ridge, on the crumbling Great Wall, and can see for miles around the valleys and hills.

We spent about an hour up top, taking photos, and hiked a fair amount of the length to where the road has been blocked. We had the souvenir-hawking farmers tailing us the whole way, trying to take our photos and sell us stuff, but once we kept ignoring them for about 30 minutes they finally gave up and went back down the mountain. After seeing Si Ma Tai I would also like to see the other portions of the wall, as everyone I talked to up top said that Mutianyu actually has pretty scenery (though also more tourists). We were done with the wall by about 1:30pm and then prepared for the long ride back to Beijing. We opted not to eat at the Wall and instead were going to have an early dinner. Arriving back in Beijing at about 4:00pm, we again went to the Silk Market to do some heavier shopping. I had researched online some more regarding prices and also consolidated our lists. I was able to get the shirts down to about $4.00 each and some luggage/backpacks in the $10-$20 range (so that we could hold all of our booty). I also found some Diesel, Nike, and Lacoste shoes for $10-$15 a pair, North face windbreaker style jackets for $10-$15, and ties for $1 each. Like I said before, the prices could probably have gone even lower but I don’t speak Chinese at all, nor did I have enough motivation to haggle harder over a buck or two per shirt. As anyone who has been to the Silk Market says, do be sure to check the quality and style of shirts (i.e. make sure the buttons are all on fairly good and that zippers work). An uneventful night and again early to bed. Last night in the St. Regis as we would be moving to the Great Wall Sheraton on Monday. Monday, May 8, 2006 Up early to head the Forbidden City right when it opened. Breakfast at the hotel again and it was good, like before. The Forbidden City was very cool, though I did find it quite redundant after a while. Don’t get me wrong, it truly is impressive and grand in stature, it just looks the same to me after a while once you walk through courtyard after courtyard and see somewhat the same thing. I did enjoy the Imperial Garden at the back and found the audio tour (same type as in the Heavenly Palace) quite useful. We spent a little less than two hours at the Forbidden City and then headed out the back entrance to walk around Beijing some more. We stopped outside the “new Forbidden City” which is not far from the original one, and since you can’t go inside (because many leaders still live there now) you can’t see that much, but it looks cool also; it will be interesting when they eventually do open that up to see how grand it is, though I don’t expect that for at least 50-100 years. We walked around some more and saw a lot of the old courtyard/row houses that are quickly being demolished to make way for new building. Then we took a cab ride back to the hotel to pack up and get ready to move over to the Great Wall Sheraton. We had a quick lunch at Subway (right across from the St. Regis) and a Starbucks (I needed my midday coffee jolt) before taking a Cab over to the Sheraton. Unfortunately, when we

checked in and lugged all our luggage over we forgot our passports in the safe at the St. Regis, but luckily the Sheraton still allowed us to check-in. So after we brought all the bags up to the room, we had to take a bag back over to the St. Regis and retrieve our passports. Chris did that well I was making arrangements with the business center at the St. Regis residence club to have a FedEx pickup. I ended up not doing the FedEx because of the cost (they don’t allow Int’l Saver shipping, so it was going to cost arm and a leg to mail some stuff back). In the afternoon we mulled around the area by the St. Regis again and then made another trip to the Silk Market as we had received e-mails from friends who wanted more stuff. We then set out to find the King Duck restaurant which many people we had spoken to had raved about for the Peking duck meal. It is located down the main street the St. Regis is off of, towards the Forbidden City. As for the meal, it was excellent! Three types of duck prepared (my favorite was the little duck fajita-type things), all carved right in front of you. I definitely recommend this place for a good duck meal and the prices were reasonable too. After dinner I headed back to the Sheraton but Chris still had to do more shopping at the Silk Market for his sisters. Didn’t do too much that evening but went to bed early since we had to be up at 4:00am to go to the airport. I walked around little bit outside the Sheraton but there wasn’t much going on and didn’t see really any restaurants or anything (though there may have been some inside the Lufthansa Center). Tuesday, May 9, 2006 (PEK-URC) We were up at 4:00am today to head to the airport by 5:00am for our 7:55am flight to Urumqi (correct Chinese pronunciation Ur-um-moochi). We had a lot of bags (and well exceeded the 20-kg per person weight limit for checked baggage that all of the Chinese airlines we flew on had) and I was concerned about the weight, but couldn’t really do anything about it at this point. When we got to the airport we had to wait for the ticket office of Hainan Airlines to open so we searched in vain for somewhere with coffee. Chris ended up breaking down and spending Y70 on a “double espresso” which ended up being terrible. After getting the tickets we went to the check-in area and were greeted by a man who “wanted to help us” check-in. I am always skeptical of people like this and turned the guy who tried a similar thing in Beijing away, but we had a lot of baggage now, so we allowed him to help. He took us to the shortest line and then spoke to the agent on our behalf. He then loaded our bags up on the conveyor built, she tagged them, gave us our boarding passes and passports and then we were off. Our “helper” took us over toward security and as we were about to head through the security area I gave him Y20 for his trouble (figuring that would be plenty). He had a blank look on his face and I thought that maybe he didn’t expect money and really was just helpful, but then he began to say “600 Yuan” and put out his hand, as if he as expecting payment. In broken English he told us that our luggage was overweight and he saved us “a lot of money” and that he wanted Y600 in payment. While I was find with giving the guy a few dollars for helping us bridge the language gap with the ticket agent, there was no way I was going to hand over the equivalent of $75 to some guy who we had no idea what he actually did – if anything at all. We made it clear that he wasn’t getting any more money from us, but he

kept insisting and so we just moved off to the security check. He started to follow us but once we were past the rope, he stopped pursuing. We had to wait about an hour for our flight, which was on-time and we again boarded by bus. It was a rainy morning in Beijing but was uneventful on the takeoff. The flight was also pretty boring (though quite long at four hours), and we again got served a meal. I did think it was somewhat funny that we got served noodles, rice, and beef again even though it was clearly a morning flight. Nonetheless, the food was decent by airline standards and filled me up enough until we go tot Urumqi. After landing in URC, we did get to deplane by jet-bridge, and to our relief, all of our luggage was there fully intact. We were in the taxi and on the way to the Xianjiang Grand Hotel (formerly the Holiday Inn Urumqi) by 1:00pm. It took about 45 minutes to make it to the hotel (traffic and single lane roads) and was quite an uncomfortable ride because we had all of our luggage jammed inside the tiny cab. After getting to the hotel and checking in I immediately went to the travel agency to setup our tour for the next day. We came to Urumqi not for the city itself, but instead to see Heavenly Lake (Tianchi), located about 70 miles from the city center. Well off the beaten track for most Americans who come to China, it was supposed to be spectacular and a nice contrast to the hustle and bustle of Beijing. We setup our tour with the travel agency that would take us from the hotel to the lake the following morning then back to the airport for our flight to Xi’an that afternoon. We paid about Y800 for the driver, guide, and airport transfer as well as admissions to the park and lunch at a restaurant up there. For the rest of the afternoon we walked around Urumqi and checked out some of the local shopping. It was fascinating to see this view of China which was so much less touristy than Beijing. There were some neat food markets serving some very interesting dishes, but not being the adventurous type with my stomach, I ended up eating at the hotel’s buffet restaurant instead. We repacked all our bags in the evening so we didn’t have to do it the next day, and then got to bed early. Wednesday, May 10, 2006 (URC-XIY) We were ready to leave the hotel at 8:00am and our guide and driver were waiting downstairs. It’s about a two-hour drive from Urumqi to Heavenly Lake (mostly on the highway, but a little in the mountains) and the semi-arid scenery is generally uneventful. As you approach the mountains, the views of the snow covered peaks are nice. After arriving at Tianchi, we had to park the car in the lower parking lot and then take either a cable car or a bus up to the top of the mountain. We opted for the cable car on the way up, and there were nice views of the valley. When you arrive at the upper station you get off and then have the option of either taking a golf cart or walking to the actual lake. Each of these things cost money (cable car, golf cart, bus, etc), but the price is only Y10-Y15, so its negligible.

We took the golf cart also and were finally at the lake by about 10:30am. As you can see from the pictures, the lake is surrounded by snow capped peaks and when we got there was basically deserted. It’s an extremely photogenic body of water and reminded me almost of Lake Tahoe (though much smaller) or somewhere in alpine Switzerland. It was a chilly day and the guide told us that most tourists don’t come here until later in the summer when the weather warms up. Around the lake (and actually on the drive up) there are small settlements of Kazakh yurts that you can stay in for a few dollars per night. If I were to come back, I may try one of these, but I also tend to like running water and soft beds  We hiked a little bit around the lake and then decided that we wanted to go over to a temple to the goddess of the lake, which is apparently relatively popular for local pilgrimages. It was about a 45-minute walk from where we started along a boardwalk path that stretches along the lake’s edge; there was still snow on the path itself. The temple was truly amazing, breathtaking really for the view it had of the lake and the surrounding mountains. Moreover, we got to light incense and participate in a miniceremony, led by monks who were very happy to have foreign visitors. Following the ceremony we had our futures foretold and then rushed back to the boat to take it back to the main dock rather than hiking back. After returning to the main part of the lake, our guide led us to a small restaurant in the woods for our lunch before we would depart for the airport. I had no idea what we would be eating (but figured it would include noodles and rice accompanied by something else). We did indeed have the noodles, along with some vegetables (celery and some other stuff), and roasted lamb, both with the noodles and on skewers. The meal was excellent and quite welcome after doing the morning hike. Soon after lunch, we trekked back down the mountain (this time taking the bus rather than the cable car) and began the drive back to the Urumqi airport to catch our flight to Xi’an. When we arrived at the airport and unloaded our massive amounts of luggage, our guide was very excited to go in with us. She had apparently never been to the airport before, let along flown on a plane (both of which seem to be relatively common among many Chinese who we talked to). Even though we knew that we had to go through the double ticketing process which we had to endure in PEK and PVG, she began to lead us over to security. She was extremely nice and well-intentioned, she just had no idea what was going on in the airport (having never been before) and didn’t understand about needing to get the boarding pass and check our luggage. It was actually quite humorous to see her wandering around the airport after people told her to go one place after another. Anyhow, as she was doing this, Chris and I were checking in and dealing with our luggage, as the agent slapped us with a Y600 fee for the overweight bags. At first we thought we didn’t have enough money and the ATMs in the airport only accepted Chinese bankcards so we were SOL, but luckily I was able to find Y400 in my bag and we barely made the luggage fee (but had no money for our taxi once we go to Xi’an). At that point we just wanted to get to Xi’an where we could find an ATM that would work and then

deal with the money situation. So, we bid farewell to our guide and made it through security and sat down, penniless (or rather Yuan-less) in the airport waiting for the flight to depart. The flight was uneventful and Hainan Airlines again had good service and dinner. We arrived to a rainy Xi’an and tried to use the ATMs at the airport there and they weren’t working there ether. So now seriously no money of the cab ride (a hefty Y120-Y150 from the airport), and we began to get worried. Luckily we found a representative from the hotel at the airport desk and he arranged a cab for us on behalf of the hotel. We sandwiched in the cab for the 45 minute drive to the hotel, still without money to pay for the cab, thinking I would run in and use the ATM in the hotel quickly and get money to pay the driver. Alas, the hotel ATM also did not produce money, which was starting to get quite annoying considering that the ATMs worked perfectly in Beijing, and we both had plenty of money in our accounts (we even tried withdrawing lower amounts and still no luck). So, after all the luggage was unloaded and I had checked-in, here comes the driver wanting payment. Luckily, one of the Chinese speaking employees interpreted for us (as the driver spoke no English) and we eventually asked the driver to wait for 30 minutes while we tired to sort out the money thing. At first he kept grabbing at my passport (which he wanted as collateral) but eventually relented when we told him we would pay him Y200 if he would wait and gave him our room number. What was the most frustrating of this whole situation is that the entire front desk staff of the Sheraton is standing right there, staring at what is happening, but doesn’t offer anything. You’d think that they would just suggest paying it out of petty cash to the driver and then bill it to my room, or try and mitigate it somehow, but they did nothing. It really pissed me off because as a guest, an elite member, and staying at a Sheraton, I expect that the staff would at least try to help in some way. So after temporarily dispensing with the driver, Chris and I dash up to the room and immediately call the banks to get it figured out. No luck on that end as they show no holds or other strange activity on my account and say that my entire balance is available. Now its been more than 30 minutes and we still have no money, so I make one last ditch effort at the ATM and try withdrawing a mere Y200 (barely more than the international and service fees the bank was going to charge me for the withdrawal) and low and behold it works! At least I could pay the driver, even though when I went back and tried to do it again, it wouldn’t let me. The driver taken care of we spent more time on the phone with the bank trying to figure out what was going on. Finally, the bank agent mentioned that both of our accounts had been trying to withdraw from savings accounts. To make a long story short, the Chinese bank by default tries to withdraw from your savings account (if it doesn’t give you an option to choose between checking and savings) and in this case, since neither one of us had more than a few dollars in each of our savings accounts, the transaction was invalid. Finally, we both transferred ample funds from our checking to our savings and PRESTO! the ATM works magic and we have money again. After this we could get to sleep (finally) and prepare to see the Terracotta Warriors the next morning. Do make sure when traveling to China that you do have a savings account tied to your checking and that the account has enough money in it to cover withdrawals, as we had to learn it the hard way!

Thursday, May 11, 2006 (XIY-CTU) We had breakfast in the hotel (not included in the room rate), and it was decent, but very similar to that in a Western hotel. After breakfast we arranged through the hotel, a driver to the Terracotta warriors; we wanted to get it done in the morning since we had an evening flight to Chengdu, and the XIY airport is a good drive from the city center. It took about 45 minutes to get from the hotel to the Terracotta warriors and the entire facility is quite developed. I guess I had envisioned a relatively primitive tent or building, but they have a museum, concessions, restaurants, that overall contribute to a very nice and modern experience. It is a bit of a hike from the parking lot to the actual entrance (probably about 10-15 minute walk) but it wasn’t that busy so it was fine. We paid our entrance fees and then went into the complex. Obviously the thing we wanted to see the most were the biggest pits full of the thousands of warriors. We had a little bit of trouble finding it and instead went into the museum first, and then the medium sized pit first. When we finally got to the main pit, I have to say I was quite disappointed with the attraction. People herald the terracotta warriors as the “8th wonder of the world” but it just seemed pretty ordinary to me. I mean, sure its impressive the detail that went into them and the fact that they were all arranged and built so long ago (plus that they have been preserved for so long), but I think people had over hyped it for me, and since this was the only reason we came to Xi’an, I was disappointed. While I would say to go see it, I would only do so if you can build it into your travel plans and wouldn’t make a trip there just to see the warriors. After staying for about an hour, we found our driver and made it back to the hotel, the trip again taking about 45 minutes. We went up to our room and got all the bags downstairs and had the hotel hold them for us while we took a taxi inside the city walls to check out downtown Xi’an and get some lunch. Downtown Xi’an (right by the pagoda) had a very upper-class feel to it compared to Urumqi (And even some parts of Beijing) and we took a look around some of the malls and shops. It was very clean and seemed quite modern. We took lunch at KFC (old reliable!) before looking around some more and then finally heading back to the hotel at about 5:00pm as the driver was meeting us to take us to the airport at 5:30pm (for a 7:45pm flight to Chengdu-CTU). The Xi’an airport was very similar to the other airports and I can’t really remember anything distinctive about it, other than having a beer at one of the little bars. Our flight to Chengdu left on-time and we arrived at CTU by about 9:00pm. Our bags again came out quite quickly (I am very impressed by this) and as we left the airport it was by far the busiest and most crowded greeting area (after baggage claim) that we had experienced. There was a gauntlet of people yelling and watching with video cameras and we figured it was just a popular flight (since it was a larger plane). As we got out to the taxi area we looked back about 100 yards to the terminal exit (by the crowd) and saw that it was now moving and there was lots of yelling and screaming as someone was rushed to a black sedan. We guessed it must have been a celebrity of some sorts because the crowd was mainly made of young, teenage girls – perhaps the N*Sync of China?

Anyhow, leaving the madness of the airport behind, we got a cab and drove into the city to the Sheraton Chengdu Lido Hotel. It took about half an hour to get there and since it was later at night there was little traffic. I could tell that Chengdu was quite nice (as I had read) and I was anxious to see it in the day time. The hotel was located in the business area of the city, close to a stadium of sorts. After we arrived we were escorted upstairs to the Executive check-in by the front desk staff (they had upgraded us to the Executive Floor). The hotel was quite nice and the executive lounge was at the top of the hotel, with seemingly nice views of the city. Check-in was quick and we were soon in our room. Both of us were hungry and so we ordered room service (salad and pizza) and hit the hay, as we had to be up at 7:00am to make it to the panda bear reserve during feeding time. Friday, May 12, 2006 (CTU-PVG) Saturday, May 13, 2006 (PVG) Sunday, May 14, 2006 (PVG-ORD-LAX-JFK)