Well we made it!
My biggest and most pleasant surprise about the trip itself was the behavior of my girls. I couldn't have asked for any better. Now I don't mean to sound like a bragging mama here, but the were so good, several flight attendants even commented on them.
We left home at 500 am and boarded a 700 am flight to Chicago. I had noticed in the United magazine a map of O'Hare airport and it listed a separate terminal for International Flights, so after we got off the plane we headed on over there, dragging all 6 of carryon's (this included my laptop, camcorder, digital camera and 4 other fairly heavy bags) Once we got there I began looking on the television monitors for our flight information. UA 851 to Beijing wasn't listed, so I asked a woman at the information booth about it. She informed me if my flight info wasn't there it was because my flight was in a different terminal. It turn's out it was in the one from where we'd just landed....... oh joy, lets drag all this stuff back. At this point the girls were complaining a bit and we had to take several rest stops, but once we got back into the correct terminal I could rent on of those carts (you aren't allowed to take them from terminal to terminal, however, when we go home I don't care what the rules are, I'm going to take one anyway!) The carts freed up everyone and we were able to walk the terminal comfortably while we waited on our flight.
In Tulsa they had told me that there was 1 person in our center block of five seats in addition to us, as it turned out, the flight was completely booked. In fact in typical airline fashion it was over booked and they were looking for volunteers to take a later flight. Apparently there were two tour groups that had booked all the remaining seats. These two groups were Chinese teenagers, needless to say the flight was quite interesting. The kids were always up seat hopping and every time the seat belt sign would come on the stewardesses would have to tell them very sternly to sit down. I guess they really drove them nuts (it could also be why they though my girls were so good too) We had two young pretty girls sitting next to us and there were always several young boys over there flirting with them. The girl who sat right next to us was very good and patient with Charlie. She's let Charlie mess with her gameboy and other things she had and she didn't seem to mind it when Charlie fell asleep on her.
My girls probably slept for a total of about 2 hours. They probably would have slept more if they could have stretched out. Our only "bad" time on the flight was right at the end and the girls woke up and both wanted to sit on mama's lap. Julie cried for about 5 minutes, but she finally stopped and was happy again. Make that "not crying", happy isn't an emotion I should probably use here, she was just quiet.
We landed in Beijing 14 hours after leaving Chicago, our flight was about an hour late due to taking off 30 minutes late and we ran into some very strong head winds. We weren't the last off the plane but we were the last to clear customs. In additon to our 6 heavy carryon's we had 6 mega heavy suitcases and 1 large box containing our bike cart. It took 3 of the luggage carts to get our stuff. There were some "grandparent" looking tourists standing around the baggage claim area and two of the grandpa's helped me push the carts through customs. Once we cleared customes there were representatives from the school there to meet us.
Leanne and our boss Miss Ma greeted us and ushered us to a waiting taxi/van. We took the luggage to the train station and consigned it to go on ahead to Jinzhou. Leanne told me the train we were taking the next day only stopped in Jinzhou for about 2 minutes and we wouldn't have time to unload all the luggage, so it was taking the night train and would be at the station when we got there. It took about an hour to do this and most of our time was spent standing around in the parking lot while Miss Ma took care of the arrangements. Charlie and Julie both were starting to get a little antsy at this point. I did however discover a "chineseisn" and that's if a child falls, everyone around will rush to help the child up. Charlie was running around in typical Charlie fashion when she fell, she was behind me at the time and I didn't see her, but a lady came running over to help her up. Oh boy there are going to be many people doing this as Charlie runs all the time and is constantly falling. Miss Ma and Leanne both have been surprised at how tough she is. They are comparing Charlie to Lara McClure. (Lara McClure is Lisa's daughter and they just returned to the US after living here in Jinzhou for two years).
We then took another taxi to our hotel. Miss Ma and Leanne wanted to take us to dinner after letting us rest for an hour, but I told them if my daughter's laid down they would be out for the night and we really weren't hungry. Leanne suggested we just go now, again I tried to beg off, but when Miss Ma told me "it's Charlie's birthday" I thought perhaps I should go. We ate at the restaurant in the guest house. We were led to a private dining room which was great, that way I didn't have to expect perfect behavior out of the girls. Miss Ma ordered several dishes and they were served in Chinese fashion, on a lazy susan. You just take a little and put it on your plate. We weren't really all that hungry and the girls didn't eat very much, Charlie really prefered running around going under the table playing peek a boo with Miss Ma and Leanne. Much to my surprise my favorite dish served was fish. It came out and still had part of the head and fins still on it and looked pretty funky with a red sauce on it. So I first gave Julie a bite of it and she said it was really good, so I tried it. It was wonderful! After the main dinner was served, Miss Ma got up to go check on something, when she returned the waitress came in with a birthday cake for Charlie. It had Happy Birthday written in Chinese on it, I was really touched by their thoughtfulness. Three candles were lit, the lights turned out and we sang Happy Birthday to Charlie.
We finally got back to our room at about 9:00 and crashed. Julie slept through the night but Charlie was up at 1:30 for the duration. I was soooooo tired. Finally at 3:00 I gave up and got up and gave her a bath thinking it would relax her. It did a little, and I was able to coax her back to bed to snuggle and tell stories, but we never did go back to sleep. Julie woke up around 430 and we started our first day in China.