As part of the 1-year anniversary of my trip to China in 2014, I’ve decided to repost my travel blogs from the trip. It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year…enjoy!

Originally posted 19/06/14 on TravelPod.

When I was presented with the prospect of going to China 6 months ago, I jumped at the chance. The idea of traveling half way around the world appealed to me – and doing it with a group of students was right up my alley. Being a teacher and former tour guide, the trip to China would be a great opportunity to share my love of travel and help instill a thirst for adventure in those going on the trip.

But first, we had to actually GET to China…

The scene at Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport was what you would expect when a group of students is leaving on a trip halfway around the world – excitement, trepidation, and even a tear or two. U.S. Customs were a breeze, and we made it to our gate with time to spare. Knowing the flight from Montreal to Detroit was only two hours, there wasn’t really much time to really get comfortable on the plane. It was a no-frills flight – no meals, in-flight entertainment, or space to move around (we were only 4 people per row – 2 x 2). The small size of our plane allowed for a bit more turbulence than usual, but nothing out of the ordinary. A small delay due to weather in Detroit was the only hiccup along the way.

Upon arriving in Detroit, we all headed straight towards the food court to have lunch. Most of us had either McDonald’s or Taco Bell, knowing full well it would be one of the last times we could dine on”Western” fast food for the next two weeks….

When boarding our flight from Detroit to Beijing, we all understood that we are now in for a marathon, not a sprint. The 777 we were on reflected the trip ahead: 9 seats per row, over 280 passengers on board, three full meals to be served, and an in-flight entertainment menu which reads like a fully loaded Apple TV. The food was excellent, everyone in our group was really able to get to know each other, and getting up to move around the airplane was quite easy. In fact, the flight was so smooth that it hardly felt like you were 36,000 feet up at all.

But 13 hours is a long time to be in an airplane! I’ve flown to Europe a few times, which takes about six hours, but nothing ever prepared me for the length of this globetrotting flight that took us halfway around the world! We travelled over the Arctic Circle, which was cool in itself (pun intended), and, having only watched animated kids’ films for the last few years, I can proudly admit that I was able to catch up on my movies – I watched a total of six films in all, from Monument’s Men to the  Robocop reboot. You may ask how that’s possible, and I have a very easy explanation: I did not sleep the entire flight. I can easily say that I was happy to disembark the plane by the time we reached Beijing!

After clearing customs and retrieving our luggage, we were greeted by Gloria our chaperone & tour guide, made our way to our tour bus (which only sits about 30 people, and made the 45-minute drive to our hotel for a quick shower before we went out for dinner at a “Chinese” buffet, which in reality was more of a feeble, Far-Eastern attempt at an American Buffet.

It was clear that we were no longer in North America. Customs at the airport seemed intimidating, perhaps the remnants of a preconceived notion of the fact that we were now entering a communist country. Then, as soon as we boarded our bus and headed for the hotel, things really hit home, as the signage everywhere was in Chinese. Even the architecture we drove by was unlike anything I’ve seen before. I kinda felt like Rocky Balboa going to Russia to face Ivan Drago in Rocky IV!

Another fact that really hit home happened at dinner – there were no utensils available, only chopsticks! I can say I successfully learned how to use them tonight. Opting to try some of the “Chinese” food, my taste buds were in for a culture shock: the smells, textures, and tastes of the foods I tried were nothing like the “Chinese” food we were used to back home. But, this unknown “x-factor” was why I had signed up for the trip in the first place and was able to easily stomach my meal that evening…..

By the time we reached the hotel to end our day, I had realized that we had been up for over 26 hours straight. Surprisingly, everyone was in a great mood, but very tired. The extra firm king-sized bed in my room could have been a pile of rocks for all I cared. I was exhausted.

Exhausted – but happy.

We were in China.