January 3-4: Wichita-Chicago-Beijing

Friends and Family:

What I expect to follow is a series of rather brief, informal notes, hopefully prepared on a daily basis as time permits, coming out our January 2012 Bethel College Interterm experience in China.

The theme of this first-ever BC Interterm to the “Middle Kingdom” is a focus on the business and economic enviornment of this fast-developing country, with time taken to see some of its incomparable tourist attractions in and near Beijing, Shanghai and the lesser known sites of Puyang and Daming–locales where Mennonite missionaries served in the 1920- to about 1948 when they were expelled by China’s new communist government. Comments on my comments are always welcome at sgoering@juno.com I alone take full responsibility for any errors of fact, interpretation or judgment of which there will undoubtedly be some!

The substantive content of this Interterm experience is part of Bethel’s Cross Cultural Learning experiences and was developed by Dr. Allison McFarland, Chair of the Bethel’s Economics and Finance Department. The Bethel entourage included, in addition to Dr. McFarland, Bethel’s President Perry White and his wife, Dalene, Jake Goering of the North Newton Community, my wife, Shirley and me and Bethel students Dustin Abrahams, Sean Classen, Jordan Esau, Rachel Evans, Emily Harder, Kyle Howard, Jenae Janzen, Arthur Kauffman, Doug Kliewer, Abram Rodenberg, Matt Shelly and Paul Voran. Perhaps based on travel and living experience in China, Bethel had kindly invited Shirley and me to “facilitate” this initiative.

The adventure began early–seven of the 18 participants met at Bethel’s Fine Arts parking lot at 3:15 AM on January 3 where servant-oriented Dale Schrag and Allen Wedel waited to transport us to the Wichita airport. The weather was cool, clear and chilly–with temperatures in the upper ’20s. We met the other 11 particpants at the airport, with several of them accompanied by their perhaps slightly anxious parents!  Our flight aboard this Brazilian-made Embraer 145 aircraft was scheduled to last about 1 hour, 45 minutes. With a crystal clear morning sky, we were treated to a glorious sunrise–a pale blue sky above a crimson-ringed horizon!  We arrived at O’Hare 18 minutes early and faced a 4-hour layover before boarding United’s Flight 851 for the 13-hour nonstop polar route which would take us over Russian and Mongolian airspace before arriving in Beijing. Our plane was a newish, Boeing 777 aircraft, and today was at near capacity with some 250 fellow travelers. Some of us reflected in amazement at the technology embodied in this plane–a creation that could move almost 300 passengers and tons of luggage the 6,800 miles, nonstop, to Beijing at 35,000 feet with outside air temperatures of minus 65 degrees Fahrenheit! The weight of the jet fuel alone for this journey was more than 100 tons!

About 1.5 hours into the flight we were served a nice lunch with entree choices of beef or pork and a nice combination at drinks including red and white wine. At the 6-hour mark (about 3,300 miles into our journey) we were offered a snack featuring a smallish banana, a strawberry pasty and United’s ubiquitous “lemon cookie”–seemingly a perennial feature on all of United’s long-distance flights. About an hour out of Beijing, we were offered a quite passable breakfast with entree choices of noodles or pancakes.  Meanwhile we had crossed the International Date Line and, having “lost” 13 hours, found ourselves on Wednesday afternoon with touchdown almost precisely on-schedule at 3:40 PM at BCIA–Beijing Capital International Airport. The ultramodern Terminal 2 structure, completed in record time to accommodate the 2008 Beijing Olympics, featured the Chinese motif of a roof-line reminiscent of a sleeping dragon, while the roof of the adjacent parking lot was shaped like the shell of a turtle, a Chinese symbol of stability and longevity!

With safe arrival, and timely delivery, of all of our luggage to the baggage area, we cleared Chinese Health, Immigration and Customs procedures and entered the cavernous arrival area, then crowded with hundreds of people waiting to welcome some of the several thousand passengers that process through BCIA on a daily basis. There we me our “local guide” holding a “Bethel College” sign. Assigned by our Chiense travel agent, Tian Ping Internatonal Travel Service, to escort us through our several days in the Beijing area. “Bill” (Chinese name: Zhu Fu Zhu–“wealthy scholar Zhu”) was a jovial 40-year old who was known to us, having served one of “Shirley’s Groups” visits in past years. Aboard a large, newish, comfortable bus for the one hour plus travel time to our Rainbow Hotel, Bill provided an overview of Beijing–China’s capital that had grown from 2 million residents at the time of the founding of “New China” in 1949 to more than 20 million now!  He noted that private automobiles, now numbering 5 million, with a heavy complement of fancy Audis, BMWs, large Buicks and SUVs from Toyota, Land Rover and Nissan, were fast displacing the heavy, low-tech, revolutionary-era black bicycle (with brands like “Flying Pigeon” and “Forever”)! We traveled a beautifully, nicely-landscaped roadway to central Beijing, in the process crossing six ring roads that now encompass the city. The roadway was completed in less than 18 months to accommodate visitors, include a significant humbler of heads of state, to the 2008 Olympics.

Our Rainbow Hotel in Beijing’s “CBD”–Central Business Distinct–featured an expansive lobby, quite commendable service and rooms that, while some might consider a bit small, were clean, with comfortable twin beds, adequate furniture, and free internet services through a hardwire connection.  Rainbow would probably rank as a solid 3-star establishment–full satisfactory to our needs. With Shirley’s experienced assistance, check-in and room assignments went smoothly and all of us were assigned to the 12th and 13th floor. We were given an hour’s “down time” to freshen-up and appear in lobby at 7 PM.  Then it was back on our bus for a 30-minute trip across central Beijing to experience a “Peking Roast Duck” dinner. In fact, roast duck was only a modest, but tasty part of a multi-entree meal ranging from brazed cabbage to egg drop soup, and a final “dessert” featuring an array of sliced fresh fruits. By 9:30 PM were back at the hotel and then  put heads to pillows after being without “bed sleep” for well over 24 hours!

– S. Goering