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Beijing, Xi'an and Chengdu

Beijing, Xi'an and Chengdu
via JAL and Korean First Class
October 2017

Mrs. SFO777 and I are off today to Beijing, well actually Tokyo and then Seoul and then Beijing.  I'm using the return part of my cheapo Seoul-JFK AA First ticket and I was able to find an award seat on the same flights for Mrs. SFO777.  We're meeting SFO777jr and the future Mrs. SFO777jr in Seoul later tonight when they arrive on the Singapore Airlines LAX-Seoul nonstop.   North on the 405 to LAX.

And the ominous air quality warning...

With the Departures level all congested, the Arrivals level was a lot faster.

Give this guy an A+ for creativity for both sunny relaxation area and eye shade.

Meanwhile, up on the departures level.

And to the far A counters.

Unfortunately, JAL does not participate in PreCheck, so we were relegated to regular security.  After discovering that the south TBIT security entrance was closed, we headed downstairs to the little used "secret" TSA checkpoint where there were only a handful of pax in line.

Upstairs from security, we were in the T4/TBIT connector.

And a few minutes later in the Qantas First Class Lounge.

While Mrs. SFO777 chilled, I headed over to the One World Business Class Lounge to find a colleague and guest her into the Qantas Lounge.  On the way, the line to get into the Korean Lounge.   Wow.  It ain't that great folks.  LOL.

The One World Business Class Lounge, to which I was denied entry by the resident dragon with an attitude who claimed that since "Japan Airlines only pays for one lounge entrance and you've already used your one entrance in the Qantas Lounge."   I asked her to page my colleague which she said she would "after I've process the other passengers who are waiting"  In the meantime, I called my colleague and waited.  Although apparently I drifted too far towards the lounge as the dragon barked at me "You are not allowed in the lounge.  Please step back."  Charming.  

Said dragon.

Meanwhile back at the Qantas Lounge, the more personable Qantas dragon had to call Qantas to get permission since she was on Qatar, which the JAL rep on the other end of the line mistook as "guitar".  "What do you mean they have a guitar.  Is he playing the guitar?"  LOL.

At around T-45, we headed for our Gate 130.

Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita
Japan Airlines JL 61
777-300ER (77W)
1:20pm-4:55pm
October 11, 2017
Suites 2DG
 

When the gate agent announced pre-boarding for families with children, we figured general boarding would follow promptly.  So we joined the queue.

Then boarding stopped due to "time for additional fueling".   Pity those poor familes with children that are apparently now at risk on board a plane being fueled.

At last, we had taken on enough fuel and another agent starting boarding First Class.   OK, this is nice... A jetbridge just for First Class, or so it seemed until it became the jetbridge for the entire plane.

Our comfortable 8 seat First Class cabin.

It soon became apparent that 1L was being used for everyone.  During a break in the herd, I asked one of the FAs why everyone was boarding thru the F cabin.  She apologized and said that there was a problem with the 2L jetbridge and they decided to board everyone thru 1L rather than wait for maintenance.  

JAL cost cutting became more evident with pre-departure champagne.   Our flight attendant came around with a tray of half glasses or champagne or juice.  The half glass was all that was offered.  When I inquired as to whether the champagne was Salon, our FA confessed and apologized that it was not Salon, but they will be serving Salon once we're in the air.   I inquire as to what champagne is was only to get this amusing "It is a less expensive champagne... but from the same region"  LOL.

All First Class passengers were given Complimentary wifi passes, although speed was terrible and wifi pretty much useless.

The JAL amenity kit.

Meh.

Am I the only one that thinks that this perennial JAL feature is a little tacky?

The lav although to be fair, it was pre-departure and the towels, flower and toothbrush kit and mouthwash had not been set up.

Today's Wine List and still one of the strangest acronyms in the airline business.  BEDD.  Apparently it stands for something like Bed, Entertainment, Dining. Delight.   Yikes.

All in all, reasonably respectable.

Showtime, JAL style.

And as promised, the good stuff.

And today's amuse bouche, cream cheese on mushroom and chicken.

And a pass of the JL snack basket.

Our neighboor in 2K.  Whoa, TMI.

We both decided on the western menu today since the menu sounded more interesting than the Japanese option.   The Green Pistachio (is there any other color?) and Black Truffle Mousse.  Very strange.

The Tuna Pastrami with Tapenade Cream tasted as bad as it looked.

Mrs. SFO777 started with the Lamb Salad with Sautéed Portobello Mushroom, Goat Cheese and Raspberry Vinaigrette.  She reported "strange" and not very good.

I opted for the Sautéed Foie Gras & Brioche French Toast in Port Wine Sauce.

It was actually quite good with a beautiful presentation.  It could have been a little warmer.  Also, a Sauterne might have been nice. Just saying. 

For my main, I went with the Sautéed Sea Bass with Cashew Nuts and Brown Butter.

It was a little dry and not that good.   Love the Sharpie stripes on the lemon though.  :)

Mrs. SFO777 chose the US Prime Beef Tenderloin with Spinach Flan and Périgueux Sauce.

It looked pretty perfectly done but she thought it was something less than Prime.

On the other hand, I thought it was delicious.

After my main(s), I went with the cheese course which were served pre-plated from the galley.  

The Graham's Tawny 30 year old port was delicious.

Mrs. SFO777 enjoyed the Royal Blue Tea which I had tasted a few months ago.

My dessert trio of which the Pear Tart was the tastiest.

I slept off and on for roughly 4 hours, although it was better after I asked the cabin crew to lower the cabin temp a few degrees.  Strange bedding as if was just the duvet on top of the foam mattress pad.  Now mattress pad cover which I thought they used before and certainly would have been more comfortable.

With 2 hours to go and Mrs. SFO777 still sleeping, I tried the Fajitas snack.

It was really dry and not very good.

As we prepared for landing, the Shiseido Men's kit had some nice products.

Despite the late LAX departure, we landing at Narita pretty much on time with an hour and 45 minutes to connect to Seoul.   In flight cabin service was excellent as always and with my previous exceptional in flight food experience had always kept JAL in the mid tier of my overall First Class rankings despite weak ground service.   Food wasn't as good and the general impression of cost cutting probably lowers them a couple of notches in my ranking.

 

With no Air France like Personal Assistant to meet us at the door, we made the long walk to Transfer security.

And eventually found a JAL First Class Lounge that I never knew existed.   We were fortunate enough to find ourselves in the Satellite Building which has it's own First Class Lounge, which is newer and much nicer than the main First Class Lounge, which is tired, old and pretty much of a dump. 

 

And it's own Dining Room.

OK, it's not elegant like Lufthansa or Air France, but still pleasant.

No menu option, just a serve yourself buffet with some nice options.

Nothing says JAL First Class than a Kraft Parmesan cheese shaker.   LOL.

Perhaps we were just hungry, but the food was very good.

Indeed, good enough for a 2nd round.  The lemon chicken was melt in your mouth delicious.

Our water choices were sparkling or not.   I'm thinking that someone in marketing at this company needs help.  Am I supposed to be enticed by the prospect of drinking "sweat"??   I was intrigued and sampled it... was kind of lemonade-ish.  But sweat?  No thanks.

At around T-30, we headed out for Gate 70K...

...which turned out to be a bus gate.

Whoa, Toilet for Service Dog?

So how does Fido know that he is supposed to pee in there??

Tokyo Narita to Seoul Incheon
Japan Airlines JL 61
737-800
6:30p-9:15p
October 22, 2017
Seats 2AC
 

For a 2 hours regional flight, the cabin was more than adequate with comfy older seats, a ton of legroom and excellent recline.  

A quick peak into Economy.

Who, talk about an older IFE system.

We passed on dinner and dozed off for most of the flight but I did snap a couple of food pics from the pax around us.

Another excellent JL cabin crew that knows to keep the galley curtains closed in flight, unlike on US airlines.

All in all, an excellent flight with great service and a surprisingly comfortable seat. 

For our overnight in Seoul, I had booked rooms at the Incheon Transit Hotel.  I'd never been there before and had no idea how to find the place since the hotel's directions are inaccruate and sorely lacking.  But I knew not to enter Korea, and Transfer was the only other option.    And now for the long, long, long trek to Transfer or Customs.

Amazing in the everyone politely queues for the train in line at premarked spots. 

And right on cue, the once a trip evil eye.  LOL.

OK, this looks promising...

Without a connecting boarding pass, our eticket confirmation was sufficient for us to go thru security and into the departures concourse.

Now close to 10:30pm, this place is pretty much shut down for the night.  Fortunately, the Information Desk was still manned and we headed for Gate 42, the apparent location of the Transit Hotel.  It is actually Gate 43, but close enough. 

Up the escaltor at Gate 42 and a long, long walk down a corridor.

Success, finally and mercifully.   Transit hotels can be hit or miss and this one was the latter.

Please staff at the front desk and I checked in both our room and SFO777jr's room for his arrival an hour later on SQ from LAX.  Interesting that the Transit Hotel is a Priority Pass affiliate which meant complimentary breakfast in the lounge.

Not exactly the most elegant walk to our room.

Not exactly luxurious but it was clean and saved a ton of time but not having to enter Korea and shuttle back and forth.

The Business Centre which is similar sized room converted with computers, a printer and work space.  Wifi worked much better in here than in our room.

We were all awake and ready to go by 8am and headed out to the Korean Transfer Desk and the First Class Lounge.

The concourse was bustling and alive this morning.

First stop was the Transfer Desk where we checked in and got our boarding passes.

Near the Transfer Desk, some pretty cool activities to keep one occupied between flights.

Then over the nearby skybridge to the nearby First Class Lounge.

 

 

Although the lounge was comfy with some nice views, this is not much better than an average Business Class Lounge.

With a pretty weak selection of serve yourself food.

And the best food in the lounge.  The Belgian Chocolate was yummy!!

While Mrs. SFO77 and I were on Korean SkyPass award tickets, I bought tickets for SFO777Jr and the future Mrs. SFO777Jr.   Unbenounced to me, paid Korean FIrst tickets entitles paid F passengers a personal escort service from the lounge to the gate.  We tagged along for the ride.

Seoul Incheon to Beijing
Korean
A330-300 (swapped out from 777-300W)
10:50p - 12:45p
October 13, 2017
Seats 1AC
 

Apparently, the entire gate staff was aware of our arrival.

Despite the equipment swap from the 77W Kosmos suites to the ancient 2-2-2 regional First Class, Mrs. SFO777 is ready for Beijing.

A peek into the business Class cabin, which features the exact same seat as in First.  Bizarre.

Pre-departure drinks and mac nuts.

Today's menu...

And wine list, which a systemwide wine list where one must read the fine print to find out the wines served on today's flight.

And a Johnny Blue sighting. 

Our taxi out on a beautiful sunny day at Incheon.

In the air, my usual G&T albeit a first for me... a cherry garnich.

While Mrs. SFO777 decided on Johnny Blue.

Showtime, Korean regional First style.

The Scallop and green apple remoulade was very good.

For our main, we all went with the King prawn with sweet chili sauce and Chinese egg noodle and vegetables.

At Beijing, the long trek to customs.

Where there were absolutely no customs agents.  Welcome to China.  LOL.

Eventually, break time was over and agents processed our entry.

Our guide Michael as we waited for our driver.

We had such a wonderful experience at the Four Seasons on our last visit three years ago that we decided to return again.   Traffic from the airport was reasonably light today and we were at the hotel in 45 minutes.

Up to our suites on the 21st floor.

Our suite 2122.

OK, that's a pretty extreme precaution.

After we unpacked, we headed up to The Executive Lounge on the 26th floor.  The lounge is a wonderful oasis with great staff and multiple food offerings throughout the day, 

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The lounge has an outdoor terrace with great views of the city.

We relaxed the rest of the afternoon and then head to Cai Yi, the hotel's signature Chinese restaurant.   

Food was amazing.

After dinner, the view from the Executive Lounge terrace.

Next morning, we headed upstairs for breakfast before our 1st day of touring.

Our first morning brought remarkably good visibilty for Beijing.   Apparently, we have the upcoming Party Congress to thank as the government most likely shut down the heavy polluters for a few weeks.  LOL. 

This morning, we're off to Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City, with our guide Michael.

Lots of folks from the countryside in town this weekend.  Apparently westerners are a novelty as we were stopped numerous times for photos.   Our newest BFFs from western China. 

And another new BFF.  

A couple hours later, we exited the Forbidden City and walked to our rendezvous point with our wonderful driver, Mr. Ma, no relation to Jack.

Back in the van with our hero Mr. Ma, who won a long and animated argument with a traffic cop that wanted to ticket him for waiting too long for us in a no stopping zone.  LOL. 

For there, we headed for lunch.

To Duck de Chine, where Mrs. SFO777 and I had a great lunch 3 years ago.

A few starters before our duck.  The lemon chicken was to die for.

Oh yeah!

After lunch, we headed to the Hutong district to walk off lunch...

... and our next stop where Michael had promised a surprise.

And so we met Mr. Liu, a champion cricket trainer.  Seriously??  Yep.  Apparently cricket fighting is a popular now discouraged "sport".  It features fight to the death cricket matches with wagering.   The sport and betting are not really permitted anymore, so all the matches tend to be in undisclosed clandestine locations.    My. Liu was quite a character and had lots of interested stories to tell.

A couple of cricket coffins...

His champion cricket, aka Mike Tyson.  LOL.

Next up was his collection of pet grasshoppers.

And naturally, grasshopper coffins for the dearly departed ones.

After our visit with Mr. Liu, a stop for coffee at a nearby coffee house.

And then strolling the local area.

For a rickshaw ride thru the hutongs.

The highlight of our trip three years ago was the Great Wall at Jinshanling.   There were so few other people that we pretty much had the wall to ourselves, even enjoying a private picnic lunch on the wall.   We had hoped to return but for some reason, that section of the wall is currently closed.   We were assured by our tour company that the Mutianyu section wall was equally secluded.  Unfortunately, nothing was further from the truth.   The first sign of trouble was traffic on the way to the area.  And the tour buses at the base.  Ugh.

We headed for the cable car station.

The Cable Car Lounge??  

At the top, lots of other tourists.  Ugh.

Our tour company had arranged for a picnic lunch at the wall, but there were so many other people standing around and watching the table that we veto'd lunch and went with plan B, driving 30 minutes to another less developed part of the wall that was unlikely to have many people.   No tour buses, no fancy path, just a nice walk thru the woods. 

Fifteen minutes, are first glimpse of the section of the wall.

Now, that's secluded. 

Undeveloped means a difficult uphill climb.

Almost there.

Beautiful views from the top of the tower...

Lunch time.

One more pic before we headed down and back to Beijing.

Past a photo opp for newly weds.

After a rocky start, the day turned out well.