Thursday, January 13, 2005

January 13, 2005

***Click here to view the latest pictures from China. 8:14 AM We started the day by going to First Watch. I don’t know if Mark and Nick and Alan were quite as enthused as I was to be rolling out of bed at 5:30 AM. Over 100 men gathered for breakfast, Bible study and prayer. I shared a bit about our trip, then Skip Olson prayed for us. I told the men that we’re praying the prayer I’ve taken as my personal prayer for 2005: “Lord, do things we’re not used to.” That’s an easy prayer to pray when you are going to China for the first time. We’re also asking God to guide our steps, open the right doors, and lead us exactly where he wants us to go. Afterwards I photocopied our travel documents. Then back home for final packing. We’re carrying two bags each plus a carryon plus a couple of portable computers. The United Flight leaves Terminal 1 at O’Hare. It’s about 15 hours nonstop to Beijing. That’s 3 meals and 4 movies, I guess. Josh and Pat McGuin will be waiting for us at the other end. At the moment we’re sitting around the living room, killing time, waiting for Howard to pick us up in the church van. We have supplies to deliver to Josh, plus notes from friends, and so many people have asked us to say hi to Josh, I can’t remember them all. I think we’re packed and ready to go. I will add more notes later in the day or when we get to Beijing. 10:30 AM Snow and sleet started falling by the time we got to O’Hare Airport. When we checked in, Marlene arranged for Mark and Nick to have aisle seats so they would have more room to stretch out. Turned out to be a good idea. After passing through security, a quick stop at Starbucks. We arrived at the gate over an hour early. Reading, knitting, resting, waiting. On the way to the airport, Howard Duncan mentioned that his daughter Darlene left yesterday for a surgery rotation at Galmi Hospital in Niger. That’s a mission hospital operated by SIM. April Jahns spent several years there as a nurse. 11:45 AM On board. Cramped, crowded, tight. All that talk about United Airlines giving you more leg room hasn’t reached this plane yet. We’re way back on Row 35, deep in the Economy section. The flight is about 85% full. We’re flying a Boeing 777, with the seats arranged 2-5-2. Marlene and I have two seats on the left side of the aircraft, Alan is across the aisle, Nick is a few rows forward by an exit, with tons of room to stretch out. Mark is also a few rows forward in a different area. 12:23 PM Take off. Since Beijing is 14 hours ahead of Chicago, that means it’s 2:23 AM Friday. I’m wedged into a window seat. I’ve got long legs and my carry-on is under the seat in front of me so I can’t move a muscle. Going to be a long flight, I think. 12:35 AM No big screens in the plane, but there is a tiny screen in back of each seat. Push a button labeled “Map” and you can track a live map showing the flight as it progresses, including all sorts of info such as outside temp, time in Beijing, time to destination, miles traveled, and so on. Sort of addictive to watch the screen change every few seconds. At the moment we’re passing Milwaukee. 1 PM First movie–“The Notebook.” Marlene watches it. I read Time, Red Eye and Hemispheres (the UA magazine). 1:15 PM An attendant comes around with hot wipes. The map shows us heading toward Hudson Bay. That means we’re not flying over the Pacific, but instead we’re taking the polar route to China. 3:04 PM Lunch. Beef brisket, mashed potatoes, green peas, fruit, salad, a roll, spice cake. Up to walk around. Mark takes a few pictures. I offer Nick $50 for his seat. He laughed and said okay, but he’s bigger than me so that wouldn’t be fair. Alan and I talked to a guy from Pittsburgh who goes to China often to do business with some suppliers. He says he should visit Shanghai because it’s the most beautiful Chinese city he’s seen. He warned us to watch out for pickpockets on the street, said if you ride in a taxi, it’s best to keep your eyes closed because no one obeys the rules. He enjoys traveling to China, says we’ll have a great time. 3:43 PM Sunset as we fly north, heading toward total darkness. We’re near the top of Canada, 9 hours to Beijing. Passing the Queen Elizabeth Islands, past the Gulf of Boothia, Outside air tem: -83 F, flying at 34,000 feet. 5:06 PM Movie finished. Marlene knits a cap. The attendant stops to chat with her because she loves to knit. We’re flying near the North Pole, over the Arctic Ocean. Outside temp: -97 degrees F. 7 hours, 50 minutes and 3916 miles to go. Total darkness. 7 PM Just turned south toward Beijing. Tiny slice of light on the horizon. About halfway. This is the hardest part of the flight. 7:32 PM Snack time. The attendant brings around dried beef noodles in a plastic container and pecan cookies. She pours hot water on the dried noodles, we wait several minutes, then it’s ready to eat. Tasty. I’m reading “Blog” by Hugh Hewitt in which he argues that the advent of the weblog is comparable to the Protestant Reformation in its revolutionary impact on the way information is disseminated. Must be true because I’m writing this weblog right now. Alan just woke up, looked at me, said, “Shut up,” and then started laughing. An episode of “American Iron Chef” is on the screen. I watch for a while but never found out who won the battle. 7:48 PM Marlene leans over, put her head on my arm and says, “I’m glad we did this.” 8:38 PM Up and walking around. Cramped, tired, head messed up, groggy. Mark and Nick are up talking to each other. We’re flying over the frozen tundra of Siberia. 4½ hours to Beijing. Passing over the Aldan Plateau. 9:13 PM Siberia goes on forever. A vast expanse of white nothingness. No trees, no roads, no signs of life, just undulating waves of white, snow-covered terrain. We’re NE of Mongolia. On the screen I see the word “Irkutsk,” very cool since that’s one of the regions on the board game “Risk.” Frozen lakes, frozen land. No visible vegetation. No signs of civilization. Most remote region I’ve ever seen. Hard to imagine a more barren spot on earth. Just finished reading “Blog.” 10:01 PM Flying over rolling hills with a few roads, no trees, a town on the banks of a river. Still very barren. In southern Siberia. Reading John Piper’s “When I Don’t Desire God.” 10:28 PM Feeling rough now. Over Mongolia. Head hurts. Still crowded. No one has left the plane since we took off. Hard to rest, talk, think. Other than that, life is good. Feel like a zombie. 11:54 PM China at last. Final meal: ginger beef and rice. Fruit. Cookie. OJ. 1 hour to go. Feeling better. This has been an exhausting flight. Terrain brown, hilly, sandy, barren, no trees at all. We Should see the Great Wall before we land. (A few minutes later: The pilot announces we can see on the right side of the plane. We’re on the left side. Marlene saw it, I didn’t.)

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