Last week I was in China for work. Here’s the first in a series of posts that didn’t quite make it up in real time.

This is my third time to China in the past year, but only my first time doing it via a “normal” route. The first time was by going east from Chicago for work in Europe then continuing onward to the Far East and eastward still across the Pacific home. That was awful. Destroyed me. This past summer because of scheduling conflicts I had to take some godforsaken cattle-hauler out of LA at midnight. How pleased was I to be booked on a direct, non-stop flight from Chicago to Beijing this time!

You know, it still sucked. No matter how you slice it, 14 hours on an airplane is just brutal. And it does not help that United personnel appear to be defending their 2004 title of World’s Snippiest Flight Crews. Man, those people are just bitter. If they were half as chipper as their discount-fare faux persona Ted it would be bearable, but as it is now you feel like you’re imposing on the airline itself just occupying a seat that needs to be served a cold beverage.

Chinese law requires the occupants of inbound airplanes to be disinfected just prior to landing by flight attendants who run up and down the aisles with something like a cannister of Right Guard. But it ain’t deodorant. I don’t know what it is, or what exactly it does, but it is an endearing little welcome ritual. Like we’re being perfumed for entry into the presence of royalty or something.

More endearing still, in an odd way, is the mural of the Great Wall painted behind the stalls of the passport control agents that greet you upon arrival. Is it me or is the depiction of a massive rampart meant to keep foreigners out of your country (and ineffectually at that!) the best welcome mat for visitors? Welcome to China … it could be worse.

And the construction cranes! I have never seen quite so many in such density. Yes, I’ve heard that something like 60% of the world’s cranes are in Shanghai right now, but I figured that was exaggeration — probably is. But the Beijing airport is a veritable forest o’ cranes. Perhaps this is where they grow them? Perhaps they are prepping a new terminal for the Airbus A380 flying casino/health club/theater/plane?

One last thing before I nod off. The greeting of guests by name as they walk in the door of the hotel and the escorting of these guests straight to their rooms without stopping at the front desk and the checking in of these guests in the room itself — yes, all that, I love it. Wish all hotels would do that.