Sadly we said good-by to our Panda research facilitators and climbed on our bus for the two hour drive to the Chengdu airport.
Our Earthwatch guide took us as far as the terminal doors, hugged us and pointed us in the direction for checking in. We were left to fend for ourselves. But we had no problem. Everything was in English. We handed in our passports in a pack to the ticketing agent who glanced at them carefully, then provided our seat numbers so we were pretty much together and off we went to our gate. It was about lunch time, so instead of going directly to our gate, we we made a detour to the cafeteria. Glenda and I headed to the buffet line while the others moved off for hamburgers. We watched what those ahead of us were doing, pointed to the hot food that we decided looked good and felt pretty proud of ourselves. The cashier simply showed us what we owed on the register. By now we were relatively good at figuring out our yuans and we paid up.
Lunch over, we headed for the gate and, as usual, it was at the far end of the terminal. Although we had checked our large suitcases, we were still lugging large handbags and back or shoulder packs stuffed with tourist books, Kindles, maps, and cameras and were very glad to reach our gate where we stretched out on seats and prepared to wile away two hours. We had no difficulty understanding when our flight was called and we settled into our seats on the Chinese airline for the almost three hour ride.
When we landed in Beijing, our Road Scholar guide Hue greeted us once again. Since we had flown in on a domestic flight, we had no problems at the airport and were soon on our bus to our hotel which seemed to be at the other end of this city of 22 million people. We were staying in the "Central Culture District" fairly close to Tiananmen Square which opened onto the Forbidden City.
Like Shanghai, the city's old streets and buildings were being torn down and concrete high rises were being built in their place. The only old alleys that are being maintained are those in 4 specific tourist areas. But there was something about the city, perhaps the architecture, the wide tree lined avenues, the modern stores, that I liked far better than the concrete blocks of Shanghai. In fact, all of us remarked on our response to what we considered a more livable city. I've been assured by others who have spent time there that there are many areas that appear like those of Shanghai but we did not see them. But there did not seems to be as much traffic and what there was was mainly cars. The interweaving bicycles, scooters, motorcycles and rickshaws and jitneys that had flowed through the streets in Shanghai and Xian seemed to be missing. It was more like a European city rather than one in the old Russian Communist block.