First impressions: Beijing is big, proud and smoggy

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I'm here in Beijing after a 14-hour flight from Chicago, the first of 10 days taking a closer look at Chinese agriculture with the Illinois Farm Bureau annual market study tour. We're here with several farmers along with staff members from IFB and Ohio Farm Bureau . And we're all dragging just a bit (okay, a lot) from the jet lag.

My first impression of Beijing came about an hour before we touched down. A flight attendant told us about the new airport terminal where we would land, built by the Chinese government at a cost of $4 billion in just four years — one of many architectural jewels built for the 2008 Olympics.

"It's the world's largest airport terminal,•bCrLf he said proudly. "And what is the U.S. budget deficit, around $1 trillion? Thank you for shopping at Wal-Mart!•bCrLf he added. Come to think of it, a lot of stuff we buy at Wal-Mart is made in China.

We could see sunlight through the jet windows for nearly the entire trip, passing over the North Pole to get here. But it seemed overcast once we landed until we realized that Beijing was covered by smog. One of our guides who had been here several times said she'd never seen a sunny day in Beijing. They could use some ethanol to clear the air here.

Our local guide told us Beijing was a big city, with 19 million people. Then she told us it was not the largest city in China — that title goes to Shanghai with around 22 million people. At 1.3 billion population, around 22% of the world's humanity lives in China.

After check in we ate our first meal: Braised fish lips with shredded chicken, steamed mandarin fish, stir fried cuttle fish "kong po•bCrLf style, sautéed Hong Kong kale with black mushroom sauce, deep fried pork ribs, fried egg noodles, and for desert, hot red bean cream with dumplings followed by a fruit platter. Mmmmm!

If you think China is not marketing and service oriented these days, think again. The food was delicious, but more memorable was the chef's appearance at our table afterwards. He spoke fluent English and wanted to be sure we liked the meal. Our waitresses then handed out evaluation cards so we could rate the food and service.

You don't see that kind of thing in many of the high-class U.S. hotels.

Tomorrow we're headed to the U.S. Embassy for a country briefing, followed by a presentation on rural development by professor Laping Wu at the ChinaAgriculturalUniversity. Check back for my report. If you have visited China and want to share your stories — what made it memorable — write to me in the box below.

再见现在 (good-bye for now)
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