Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

Travel: Memories of Beijing, China

© 2010, 2022 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

It was December 2010, and I'd been home from Europe 12 whole days, which was just enough time to unpack, do laundry, rest, and recover from the 5-hour time change. Now, it was time to head off again, in the other direction, for two weeks in the Chinese capital Beijing. Although I'd been to several of the Chinese Special Administrative Regions—Hong Kong (twice, once when it was still British) and Macao (once, when it was still Portuguese)—this was my first time to the mainland.

The Unplanned Routing to Beijing

I'd planned to fly Business Class from Washington Dulles International (IAD) via Tokyo, but the price was very high. However, if I flew with Air Canada via Toronto, the price was almost halved. Unfortunately, my flight to Toronto was delayed once, then twice, then a third and fourth time as a host of mechanics swarmed over the small Embraer jet. After a delay of more than two hours, the flight was cancelled, and I would miss my connection to Beijing. So, I was rebooked, on United Airline's direct flight to Tokyo, which continued on to Beijing. The ironic thing was that was the flight I initially wanted to take!

We landed at Beijing City International Airport (PEK) in light fog well ahead of schedule. The terminal was quite new and rather interesting, architecture-wise. After a long walk, I reached immigration, where after a cursory check of my visa I was passed through. It was another long walk to the baggage area and just as I arrived, bags from my flight started coming out. I stopped off at a tourist office desk to get a city map and information about a cash machine and taxi service. Customs was a formality, and at a money-exchange desk, I changed US$200 cash into Yuan (CNY).

I went outside to the taxi line where it was below freezing. I drew a young guy who apparently wanted to drive in the Indianapolis 500, and he showed me his "skills" on the way to my hotel. Throughout the 30-minute ride, I doubt we stayed in the same lane more than 15 seconds (I kid you not), and he was tailgating cars at 120 kph! To make it interesting, I couldn't find the piece of my seatbelt to clip my harness in. I found it best not to look at the road ahead and to sit back and think happy thoughts, like, "Is my will up to date?"

We arrived at my hotel/convention center around 11 pm, local time, where three young desk assistants eagerly awaited me. Between their minimal English, we managed, and I was given the key to Room 1603, a so-called luxury apartment on the top floor. My home for the next two weeks was a large apartment with a bedroom, a bathroom, a large lounge/dining room, and kitchen with all the appliances, a bit of glassware, but no cookware. There was also a large glassed-in balcony. Breakfast was included as was internet access, and all for about US$72/night, a very good price.

A Look at Some Sites

[Next day] Breakfast was served from 6:30–9:30 each morning, and I went down at 6:45. There were a couple of other early birds. I showed my room key and made the rounds to check out the buffet offerings. It was quite a bit like breakfast buffets I'd visited in Japan and Korea: a generic Asian section involving salad and dressing, and various other "local stuff," and the Western part with bacon, eggs, sausage, and toast. There was also a Chinese section with fried rice and various kinds of noodles. The day broke while I ate, and I had my first glimpse of China.

Around 9 o'clock, I phoned my local contact, Li Ning, who had offered to drive me around the city. (He was head of the Chinese delegation to one of the committees in which I participate.) At 10 am, he and his wife arrived, and we drove by the Olympic village, through Tiananmen Square, and then to a large shopping district where we walked through local markets, department stores, and the country's biggest bookstore. Along the way, we stopped off for lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Then it was on to a large supermarket to lay in a few supplies for my kitchen.

[Next day] I worked some hours to prepare for my up-coming conference, which then ran for three days.

Off to the Great Wall

[Next day] The day after my conference ended, I booked a tour. Our minibus pulled out at 9:15 and we were on our way out of the city to the Ming Tombs. Our guide was a young Chinese woman named Pan Jiao with an English name of Sally, and thus we became "Sally's Group," and followed our fearless leader and her yellow flag. It was quite cold out with a strong wind. We were a small group with people from the UK, the Netherlands, and the US. We stopped at a jade carving place with the requisite (enormous) showroom where we were all encouraged to buy. The pieces ranged from the very small to the truly gigantic, with none of them being cheap. We lunched in the attached restaurant.

We drove quite some distance along the bottom of a very old valley and, finally, started to see glimpses of the famous Great Wall, and very great it surely was. We parked at the base of the mountain. To get near the top we each sat in a sled-like device and were pulled up 20 people at a time, through a tunnel and then out in the vicious cold wind. At the end, we were right next to the base of a section of wall, where the really serious work began. The goal was to hike/climb to the top-most point, which didn't seem all that far away. And, horizontally speaking, it wasn't. But the vertical climb was a different matter, especially as we not only had to go up but over each rise, we seemed to go way down again. I decided to concentrate on the walk rather than take pictures and video, and to do those on the way back. The wall is one heck of a structure and was built over a 2,000+-year period. Although it was supposed to keep out the Mongol hoards, I kept asking myself why the Mongols would want to attack over those mountains anyway even if no wall existed. (I think it was built simply as a way to keep unemployment down!) Although the whole walk was very steep, I did okay on the sections that had steps. At least they were level, and I could rest occasionally. However, some parts were just flat stones at a steep angle, and coming down those was difficult. The surrounding countryside was harsh, almost semi-desert. I had dressed warmly with a knitted cap and windproof hood over that, plus gloves. However, each time I took my gloves off to take pictures or video, my hands got cold very quickly.

Back to Work

[Next day] After eight hours of solid sleep, I was awake around 6 am. I felt like I'd recently hiked a section of the Great Wall! However, a hot shower helped loosen me up. I went down for breakfast around 7 o'clock. Back in my room, I sipped coffee and worked some more on this diary before preparing to attend a conference.

At 8:30, I went down to the meeting room floor where I registered for the 1-day "2010 Conference on Document Information Processing." My colleague Li Ning was the organizer, and he welcomed attendees, then a number of Chinese dignitaries each spoke. About 150 people attended. At the first break, we went out into the cold for group photos, and then had tea/coffee. We reconvened soon after 10:30, and I was the first of the keynote speakers. I gave two presentations, which ran for 40 minutes total. After each sentence, I paused while my English was translated to Chinese. And this process was repeated for the other English presentation. For the presentations done in Chinese, I donned my headset to get the English translation, which was simultaneous; that is, the speaker did not pause. Two women sat in a booth at the back where they took turns translating, changing every 10 minutes or so. (I chatted with them later, and complemented them on the great job they did, especially given the technical nature of the topic.)

Lunch was a Chinese buffet served in the hotel dining room. I met some of the delegates, quite a few of whom were young graduate students. I was approached by one of the administrators and asked to fill in a form with information including my passport number. It turned out that I was being paid an honorarium of 2,000 Yuan ($300) for speaking, and I needed to sign for it. I did so, and in return, I received a plain brown envelope that was stapled shut. I decided it wouldn't be polite to open and to count it, so I stuck it in my pocket until day's end. (It did indeed contain twenty 100-Yuan bills.)

Most of the afternoon presentations were in Chinese, as was each corresponding slide show. Speakers had been asked to submit their papers and slide decks in advance, and these were distributed in both paper and DVD form. Cameramen took stills and video of much of the presentations. It was all very professionally done. Throughout, waiters came by each table to top up our cups of green tea.

Visiting the Nationalities Museum

[Next day] I rugged up against the elements and left my hotel at 10:40. In 10 minutes, I was near the Olympic Park main stadium that the world had come to know as the Bird's Nest. I was headed for the China Nationalities Museum, a showcase for the 56 nationalities that live in China. (The groups range from fewer than 10,000 members to many millions.) The open-air museum/park was right on the other side of the fence next to me, but it took some time to find the entrance. After a long walk, I came to an entrance, but it was locked tight. Don't you just hate that when that happens! I asked a woman passing by if she spoke English. She didn't, but when I pointed to the entrance, she seemed to understand and very confidently pointed me in the right direction. So back I went the way I had just come, and there in an obscure spot was the ticket booth and entrance.

The park covers more than 100 acres and is split into two parts, one of which is closed in winter. So, I paid my 60 Yuan and entered the half that was open. For the whole three hours I was there, I didn't see any other staff, and only a handful of visitors came through. The gardens were dead or dormant, the numerous water-based parts had been drained, and the large stream/lake was frozen. In all, it looked pretty drab and uninviting. However, I soldiered on shooting a few photos and some video. The land of the Dong was especially interesting with respect to its buildings and an impressive wooden bridge. Apparently, in high season, the place is full of performers in ethnic costume, but that was not the case now. However, I heard some music and followed that to the Tu village where a group of teenage boys and girls danced around a pole that was attached to strings of brightly colored flags. Some dancers wore costumes, and I stayed, watched, and shot video. The buildings were also colorful and interesting. In the Tibetan area, I chatted with a young woman who had a souvenir shop. Her English was decent, and she wasn't at all pushy, and we negotiated over the price for a pashmina, some scatter-cushion covers, and a wall hanging.

Having had a large breakfast, I hadn't planned to eat lunch, but as I exited the park, I spied a McDonalds and thought I should at least look in and see how it was done in China. No surprise, it was pretty much like home, but with a few twists. I ordered a small burger, French fries, Coke, and four chicken nuggets for the grand total of $3.50, and I went upstairs to eat with the locals. At the table next to me, a 5-year-old girl patiently practiced writing Chinese characters in a workbook under the direction of her mother. English-language Christmas music was playing, and I got my fill of Elvis and Mariah Carey, and decided to leave after the music tape started repeating. The 40-minute break had been most welcome not to mention nice and warm.

As I went outside, I spied a huge sign on the wall that said, "Chinatown." What a treat thought I at having located THE Chinatown of Beijing! It turned out to be a shopping center, and I went inside to see how the locals shopped. The ground level extended a great distance and contained stores selling mostly shoes and clothing with all stores looking very western. I rode the escalator upstairs to a huge place that was half department store and half supermarket. I grabbed a shopping cart and tried to blend in with the locals although I did happen to notice that none of them was tall, carrying camera gear, or looked much like me. I browsed up and down many aisles and noted how many things were quite cheap. Many things looked familiar, but the Chinese writing gave no clue as to the contents. Those Chinese have names for everything! (In fact, many signs and product packaging had English writing as well as Chinese, which made it easier for me to read some details.) I topped up my emergency rations with some peanut chocolate bars, cherry-flavored fruit rolls, and potato chips. Chips came in many flavors including sweet and sour fish soup, cucumber, and Mexican; I kid you not!

By the time I got back to my room, it was 4:15, and I was ready for a rest. The Great Wall expedition was catching up with my body. Much of my laundry was dry, and my bedding had been changed in my absence as I'd left the "change me" card on the bed. I watched a bit of TV, sorted through my new photos, and worked on this diary. For supper, I delved into my emergency rations. Then it was on to a long soak in a hot bath before bed. I put out the lights quite early.

Tiananmen Square and Olympic Park

[Next day] I had nearly 10 hours sleep, which was great. Around 7:30 am, I went down to breakfast where I had a fried egg with fried noodles. I'd half made the transition to a Chinese breakfast! Back in my room, I sipped a cup of Twinning's finest English breakfast tea while catching up with some world news.

At 10 o'clock, Chinese colleague Allison phoned me from the hotel lobby, so I packed my gear and headed downstairs. She'd hired a car and driver for the day, so she could show me around. It was bitterly cold out (-2C). We drove to Tiananmen Square, the world's largest square. It was built after the Chinese Revolution and occupies the space between the main South gate of the city and the main North gate, just on the edge of the Forbidden City. The driver dropped us in front of the People's Congress building. We crossed the street and went through a security checkpoint into the square where we went to Chairman Mao's mausoleum, but it was closed on Mondays. Don't you just hate that when that happens! We walked all around the square and looked at the elaborate gates and the buildings that housed them. On the north side, we went through three sets of city gates and their accompanying plazas. In one, we watched groups of soldiers engaged in some marching drills. Whenever I took off a glove for more than 30 seconds to take pictures or video, my fingers took some massaging to get warm again.

An hour exposed to the elements was more than enough, so Allison phoned the driver to meet us, and we headed out of the downtown area for lunch. I had expressed a preference for Szechuan cuisine, so we headed to a restaurant specializing in that. It was a very nicely appointed place. The best way to describe it would be "nouveau Chinese," with very nice modern furniture and décor, but a strong hint of traditional Chinese style. I sensed it was upscale, but it didn't exude an exclusive feeling, and prices were quite reasonable. We looked over the menu, which had lots of pictures and English descriptions. We shared a variety of dishes with meats, vegetables, rice, and noodles, along with oolong tea. It was great, and I ate quite a bit more than I needed. A colleague of Allison's, Pine, joined us for lunch, as did our driver.

After lunch, Allison went off to work while Pine became my guide. We drove to the Olympic Park, where the driver dropped us near the main Bird's Nest stadium. We got admission tickets and went inside for a look around. The 80,000-seat stadium was functional as well as a piece of art. During the games, an athletic track went around the ground while the inside space served as a soccer field, among other things. However, now, it was covered in man-made snow, which was being produced by a number of machines. A large crew was setting up for a Snow Festival. There were small and large ice-skating rinks, a castle, and various buildings for kids to visit, and a large space for families to play in the snow. We climbed a lot of stairs to the upper deck and walked around to view the arena from several angles.

After a short walk around the plaza, we headed to the Blue Cube, a large cube-like building that housed the water sports. It contains a large swimming area with wave pool, and many people were swimming there. The public can also use the practice pool, and a number of people were swimming laps. The main pool is only used for competitions and is next to the diving pool. Out front, Pine and I parted company and I walked the short distance to my hotel. Given the cold, I was very happy to be back indoors for the night. By the time I sat down in my room to sip a café au lait, it was 4:30. It had been a busy day, and as an honored guest, I hadn't been allowed to pay for anything.

I certainly didn't need to eat for the rest of the day, but that didn't stop me from snacking. I spent the evening watching TV, listening to some music albums, and playing games on my laptop. Lights out at 9:30.

Summer Palace, Forbidden City, and Temple of Heaven

[Next day] My alarm went off at 7 am, by which time I'd had a very good sleep. For the first time, I forewent the buffet breakfast choosing instead to drink tea in my room and snack on my emergency rations. At 8:20, the phone rang to let me know that my tour bus was minutes away from the hotel.

Once again, it was freezing outside although the sun was shining brightly. The Chinese tour guide, "Helen," welcomed me aboard her bus. There were five tourists: a couple of Chinese men, a young Portuguese couple who had been in Macao for a conference, and me. First stop was the summer palace, a place where emperors "escaped" the Forbidden City from spring to late summer. It consisted of some 600 acres three quarters being a man-made lake the soil and mud from which had been used to build a very large hill. The lake was frozen over, and the wind started to blow. I looked around a few buildings, but when I heard music and singing, I made my way up a hill to locate the source. I found a very enthusiastic group of pensioners and others singing from songbooks. A choir performed, and a number of musicians played wind instruments and drums. I captured a whole song on video. An elderly man approached me and asked me where I was from, shook my hand vigorously, and welcomed me to China and Beijing. Next stop was a pearl store, which had a lot of very nice pearls mounted in a variety of settings. We watched a guide open a freshwater oyster, which contained 20–30 small pearls. Those too small to use in jewelry are ground into powder, which is used in hand and face cream, among other things. Upstairs was a restaurant at which we ate lunch.

After lunch, we drove to the Forbidden City where the extended families of 20+ royal dynasties lived for some hundreds of years, and which was off-limits to all others. A series of very large and elaborate gates lead to the inner sanctums. There are more than 8,000 rooms! I shot some video, but each gate or door led to an even bigger and fancier set of rooms and courtyards that it really was too much. Very quickly, I had overdosed. It certainly was impressive, however. It has only been open to the public for 20+ years.

Next was a silk factory and that's where I got very close to spending some serious money. We watched silk being spun from cocoons, each one containing more than a kilometer of thread. I looked over some pure silk bed "blankets," and was on the verge of buying one, but thought that would need a zip-off cover. And, of course, what else to use but one made of silk. I saw exactly the one I wanted, but once I saw the cost and that of two pillowcases, I swallowed hard. It came to more than $700! As a consolation prize, I bought a nice silk scarf.

Then, it was on to the Temple of Heaven, a place that was visited twice each year by the emperor who took part in major ceremonies to pray for a good harvest and on the winter solstice to pray for a good next season. Nearby was a teahouse, and we dropped in for a tea ceremony. The hostess explained the process and prepared five different teas for us to taste. I particularly liked the leechee and rose petal. The staff tried hard to sell us all kinds of tea and tea-related utensils, but the prices were quite high.

Our guide left us then and the driver took us back to our respective hotels. I was last, and we took more than 45 minutes to get there through slow traffic. We kept off the main highways, which moved even slower. I gave the driver a small tip, which made him smile and give me a big handshake.

I was happy to be back in my room with the heat turned way up. The first thing I did was to boil the electric kettle and make a large bowl of vegetable soup. I watched some TV while snacking, and then brought this diary up to date. Lights out early.

Travel Day!

[Next day] After another 10 hours of sleep, I was up and at it! I went down for breakfast, picking up a copy of the English-language China Daily newspaper at the front desk. I took my time reading that while I ate. As I had covered all the sites I'd planned, and it was very cold out again, I decided to stay indoors for the day and work and play as the mood took me. For the first hour, I pulled together all my hand-written notes from the last 10 days, and updated my work and play action lists, so I could see just what it was I needed to do and in what order. After that, I paused for a cup of tea.

For my final breakfast, I had noodles and stir-fried egg. I figured that if I'd stayed another day, I might have "gone native" and started eating breakfast with chopsticks. Sacre bleu!

While eating, I scanned through some articles in the China Daily, and came across the following text in relation to American diplomacy: "Historians know well that the US has never been half as idealistic as it likes to see itself; … The spirit invoked by the Statue of Liberty, embracing the poor and huddled masses, still shines brighter than all the lights in New York City, but somewhere during the transition from an ordinary nation to an overextended military power, the US lost touch with its better angels and set itself on the road to being the new Rome." Hmm, some food for thought. "Bloody Communist propaganda," you say. But no, it was written by one Phillip J. Cunningham, a visiting fellow at Cornell University, New York.

At 11:30, I was on my way to the airport. It was clear that the driver was passed his racing prime. He didn't speed, he didn't tailgate, and for the most part, he drove quite safely. It truly was a miracle. And he adjusted the seat in front of me to give me maximum legroom. En-route, he even managed to stay in the same lane for minutes at a time. Out on the highway, I noticed a very strange phenomenon; numerous drivers were actually using their indicators to change lanes, although some of them were halfway into the adjacent lane when they turned theirs on. The sun shone brightly through the thin layer of smog, and we were at the airport in 30 minutes. I'd expected it to take at least an hour.

What to do with my 6:45 hours before departure? As it happened, the Air Canada check-in desk didn't open until three hours before flight time (at 3:45), and their customer service agent didn't arrive until 2 pm. And I couldn't get through to the business lounge until I'd checked in. I secured a luggage cart and proceeded to walk around the cavernous terminal looking for a place to "set up shop" for an extended period. I didn't need much, just a comfortable chair with a table and a power outlet (and maybe a hot tub, massage, and café au lait machine). Along the way, I found that the terminal provided free wifi internet access, but that required registration. I did so by scanning my passport in a machine, which then printed out my access username and password. I took an elevator up to a dining section in the hopes of finding a table at which to work, but found myself in an upscale restaurant area with lots of private dining and meeting rooms. So, I switched to the fast-food section on the other side of the terminal where I spied an electrical outlet near a spare table in Burger King's spacious eating area. I was operational in minutes.

After three hours of writing and editing, I packed my gear and headed to the check-in area and, lo and behold, it was open for business earlier than I expected. Check in went smoothly and quickly although I had visions of my return leg having been cancelled after the carrier and route change on the way out. I went through document control and then onto a train that took me to a satellite terminal. There, I went through passport control, security, and customs. My carrier, Air Canada, had reciprocal business lounge rights with Air China, and their lounge was close by. It was very large and nicely appointed with deep leather chairs all over the place along with quite a few sleeping rooms. I setup my computer at a table and sipped a cold glass of pink grapefruit juice. All the food on offer was awfully tempting, but I declined. It was a big step up from Burger King! I had about 1:45 hours before boarding time, so I worked on some documents I'd been writing. I made great progress.

At 5:45, I left the lounge to find a place to spend the last of my Yuan. In a duty-free shop, I spied some blocks of Milka chocolate with hazelnut. At 44 Yuan each they were no bargain, but my chocolate level was low. At the register, I managed to come up with only 85 Yuan, but the assistant accepted a US dollar bill to cover the difference.

I arrived at Gate E10 a few minutes before the scheduled boarding time, where I struck up a conversation with a Quebecois from Montreal. Soon afterward, we boarded Flight AC32, a nice new Boeing 777. There was no separate First Class, just a large Executive First Business section, which contained some 44 suites. I took up residence in Suite 4K, a starboard window in a 1x2x1 configuration. Each suite was angled at 45 degrees with the window suites pointed into the aisle. Each suite was appointed with all the facilities one might expect.

Once we pushed back from the gate, the pilot announced that flying time to Toronto would be 12½ hours, and that in Toronto it was -6C with light snow. We waited in line for takeoff for some time. Soon after we were airborne, the drinks service arrived followed by mixed nuts and a hot towel, much like on United's flights. I studied the menu making the hard choices. There was dinner, a mid-flight snack, and breakfast.

The appetizer was gravlax tartare timbale with marinated cucumber. What the heck is gravlax you may well ask. I did. (It's salmon.) That was accompanied by a green salad. The main course was a choice of beef, chicken, fish, or a Chinese pork dish. I went with the pan-fried breast of chicken in thyme jus with wild rice and Mediterranean vegetables, and boy was it good. I followed that with Camembert, cheddar, and Gouda cheese with water crackers and a good-sized glass of Portuguese port. Two nice tall cups of decaffeinated coffee chased it all down. Being somewhat disciplined I declined the chocolate lava cake and ice cream.

While I ate, I watched George Clooney in "The American." Although the story was rather slow, it was okay. By the time that ended, it was 10 pm, Beijing time, and we were 1,600 miles into the trip with 5,300 to go. We were flying at 33,000 feet at a ground speed of 583 mph. The outside temperature was a cool -61.6C. I set up my bed, put in my earplugs, and closed my eyes. After a while, I went off to sleep.

Some five hours later, I awoke feeling almost rested. It was 3:30 am Friday, Beijing time, and I set my clock back 13 hours, to 2:30 pm Thursday. According to the in-flight route map, we'd flown northeast from Beijing into Russia (north of North Korea), over the Sea of Okhotsk, the Arctic Circle, the North Bering Sea, just touching northern Alaska near Barrow. Then it was on to Yellowknife, North West Territories; Churchill, Manitoba (the polar bear capital of the world); and down to Toronto, Ontario. We had 2,000 miles to go in four hours. I sat back and watched "Takers" starring Matt Dillon.

As it was 6:30 am back in Beijing, our final meal was breakfast, even though it was 5:30 pm in Toronto. First up was a fruit plate, croissant with strawberry jam, and strong coffee. Then came an omelet with sausage, tomato, fried potatoes, and a floret of broccoli. After my sleep and movie, I really needed a big meal, not! But then it would also be my supper.

I filled in my customs form. Those nosey Canadians wanted to know if I was bringing in any firearms or other weapons, such as a switchblade, Mace, or pepper spray. (Does a Chinese-made AK47 count, I wondered. Probably.) As the form was bilingual, I had a little French lesson.

Overnight in Toronto

As we approached Toronto, I sang along and tapped my feet to the 70's channel on XM radio: Blood, Sweat, and Tears; Chicago; John Denver; and so on. We had a textbook landing and soon I was through immigration and customs waiting for my luggage. Along the way, I rode a 300 meter-long, and very fast-moving, sidewalk. I phoned my hotel for a pickup, which took 30 minutes to arrive. It was very cold out with light snow on the ground. I was in my room by 8:30, and after a nice hot shower, I handled email until lights out at 10 o'clock.

[Next day] After four hours of sleep in a very comfortable bed, I was wide-awake. I ate the last of my emergency food and then watched TV. By 5 am I was checked out and waiting for the 5:20 airport shuttle. Seven other guests rode with me to Lester B. Pearson International airport (YYZ), named for Canada's 14th Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

Despite the early hour, the airport was quite busy. I checked in and pre-cleared US immigration and customs. On the way to my gate, I stopped off for a piping hot chai tea latte. At the gate, I chatted with some fellow passengers. Later, a passenger came on the PA system to announce that his wife was having a birthday and he'd like to sing "Happy Birthday" to her publicly. Of course, we all sang along. They had just gotten married and were headed to Vietnam for their honeymoon.

Our originally scheduled plane had been replaced by a bigger one, so I got a seat with more legroom. Don't you just love that when that happens! I was first aboard the Embraer 170 jet and settled into Seat 3A. We pushed back from the gate and taxied over to a concrete apron where something happened that I'd not experienced in all my years of flying. Our plane was de-iced. Two large trucks pulled up, one by each wing, and a large cherry-picker platform raised up from which each operator hosed down a wing and then coated it with some bright lime-green liquid. The whole process took 30 minutes. The 90-minute flight down to IAD was smooth and uneventful, and we landed around 10 am to find light snow on the ground. After a short wait for my luggage and a taxi ride, it was good to be home.