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I always wanted to go to China. To be able to stand on top of the Great Wall or to walk through the Forbidden Palace were 2 goals that were high on my Bucket List. So when I finally got my first chance to go there, I was thrilled beyond words.
But, I still managed to write down a few as I took my 1st trip to Beijing.
I’ve always wanted to go see China. To see the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, but I’ve never had the opportunity to go until now. United’s Catering Division Food Presentation looks like my best chance of getting there.
China requires a written invitation in order to get a Entry Visa into their country. Originally the shoot was set for the middle of February and if we had flown there then, my passport would have been fine. But there has been a delay, which is causing me some passport/visa problems because my passport is due to expire in a couple of days. I need to get an extension.
Enter Expert Visa Services, a company that specializes in accelerating the passport process. I’ve downloaded the passport extension application form from the Internet, filled it out and turned the whole thing over to Expert Visa Services. With only a week left before my flight, I’m a bit nervous about whether I’m going to make the trip.
My passport with new extensions and a China Entry Visa finally came and I’m breathing a little easier. Now I have to change all my reservations, hotel, flights and especially seat assignments. The shoot is on the 7th. You lose a day in travel. That means I should leave Sunday, 5th of March. So back to Apollo I went to make changes. I also decided to tack on a couple of extra days to do some scenic shooting for United’s Slide Library. In my position I have the freedom to do that when I wish, which is one of the nice benefits of the job.
Spent most of the 2nd at work packing my camera equipment and lights into my LowePro and Tamrac bags. I normally travel alone, so I try to keep it as light as possible. Took Friday the 3rd off from work and I packed all of my clothes this morning.
A couple of United Catering personnel were also booked on my flight. Never having been to China and unfamiliar with the airport layout, having some familiar faces onboard the flight will make the arrival in Beijing a lot easier to face.
What can one say about 16 hours of flying. Twelve hours from (ORD) Chicago to (NRT) Narita, Japan. Hour and a half layover and another 4 hours from NRT to (PEK) Beijing, China. During the layover in NRT our group met up with more Catering people coming in from other Pacific area cities. Some of the employees brought along family members, after all, how many times does one get to fly into China.
Beijing Air Catering employees were waiting for us when we arrived in Beijing. There was a slight delay in the baggage area when my light stand bag didn’t show up. Twenty minutes later it was found at another baggage gate at the other end of the terminal.
Yeah, yeah, yeah . . . it happens to United employees too!
Sixteen hours flying! It’s 10 o’clock at night! I’m tried . . . but jetlag has set in so, I’m wide awake. We were all booked into the Holiday Inn – Lido, but I founding it hard to get some sleep tonight.
Beijing Air Catering Kitchen
We were picked up at 9 am this morning and driven to the flight kitchen. The catering team held a meeting while I was taken into the kitchen to set up my gear.
Setup was simple. Two Lumedyne lights with softboxes set on each side of a Food Cart turned on it’s side and covered with a Blue Cloth held with Clips. I metered my strobes and I was ready to shoot.
For the rest of the day ( in this case, two days ) I stood around and watched as Teri Fujiwara, Executive Chef Eric Kopelow, Assistant Kaye Whildin and the Beijing Air Catering chefs plate all the food that will be serviced on a future United Airlines food cycle out of Beijing. When they finished plating a meal, they would give it to me to photograph. A very long and boring process. By the way, these photos are seen by a variety of people from the executives to the chefs and flight attendants.
As boring as the day shoot is, the evenings can be quite entertaining because, after all, you’re with a bunch of chefs, and hitting the best restaurants in town always seems to be very high on their schedule. Which we did both nights.
Today was Menu Presentation day. That’s when all the Pacific area United honchos review the new meals. They discuss, review, taste and make suggestions about whether the new meals are what they think United’s customers will want to eat on flights out of Beijing.
But first, the day started with our group visiting the Forbidden Palace. We spent a couple of hours walking through that city, from one end to the other before heading back for the Menu presentation.
Normally I’m don’t have to be at the Menu Presentation because my work is usually done by then, but this afternoon will be a special one because after the presentation, Beijing Air Catering personnel will be driving us all out to the Great Wall.
And that’s what I came here to see
The Menu Presentation went on while I spent most of the time sitting out in the lobby reading a book. They finished around noon. There were the usual group photos in front of the Air Beijing Catering Company building, but once that was done, we all piled into the van, and off we went to the Great Wall.
There are several location where tourists can go and see the wall, and at that time, I had no idea which one we were on our way to, and I didn’t care. Sitting in the front seat of the van, I enjoyed watching the city, then the countryside go by and wonder how nice it would be to spend more time here photographing it all. Maybe on my next trip!
After a 45-minute drive, we hit the mountains and way off in the distance, I could see a line traversing the mountain top. The line would disappear as we drove through the mountain pass, then reappear even larger then before as we got closer and closer.
When we finally arrived, I looked up and all I could see was this small section, First View of the wall, and the cable car that would take us up to it. But to get to both you had to walk through a gauntlet of peddlers trying to hawk everything from hats, caps, T-shirts, silks and mats, and they were quite aggressive. ( Whatever you do, unless you’re going to buy something, KEEP MOVING, don’t stop, because if you do, those peddlers will circle like sharks and devour you. )
Finally . . .
I climbed it’s steps . . . . . .
I was impressed!
. . . and the ride back to the hotel was anticlimactic.
With my part of the Food Shoot finished, I set aside Friday to photograph the United Airlines station operations at the Beijing Airport. I really didn’t want to go because other members of our group were going to see the Summer Palace and I wanted to go with them. But duty calls.
Arrangements and appointments had been made and not showing up or canceling out would have been bad form. I had to go to the airport! (Damn it!)
I grabbed a shuttle and met Katherine Wang, my guide and interpreter, in the terminal. I thought that this part of the shoot would take all day, but I forgot that United has only one morning flight out of Beijing and once that is gone, there isn’t a whole lot of activity. I was finished and back in the hotel by noon.
Enough time to walk around the area and do some shopping.
All of the people in my group had flights out of Beijing for home this morning. I saw a few of them in the lobby and said my good-byes. Normally I travel alone, so you get use to the loneliness. But when I do travel with a group like this, and I spend a few days sight-seeing with them, to have to stand there and watch them all leave, only highlights the fact that you’re in a foreign country, all by yourself. So I said my good-byes quickly. I have two more days of shooting to do.
Katherine Wang and our driver picked me up at the hotel at 9am. We sat in the car and came up with a quick list of places that we would go to today. First on the list would be the Temple of Heaven. The Summer Palace would be next then back to Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City, climb up to Jung Sun Park and down to the Silk Market. A couple of these places were repeats from earlier tours in the week.
I decided this morning that I wanted to see more of the Great Wall, so Katherine Wang, her son and I drove to Badaling where I spent all of the morning photographing. We also ate lunch at a Kentucky Fried Chicken that was located at the foot of the wall.
At the base of the Great Wall of China!
You can love it, or hate it, but you can never deny that it has a very long reach.
This afternoon was spent photographing the side streets of Beijing. I quit around 4pm, calling it an early day because I’m tried and ready to go home.
Homeward bound and another 16 hours in the air.
I was in China for a week and for that whole time, my sleeping patterns were way off. Now that I’m home, it’s going to take me awhile before I can get a good nights sleep.
. . . and so it goes
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