My Experience Traveling With Ben To China

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Ben’s reviews of the various components of our trip are much more detailed than mine, but I thought it’d be good to compare my (admittedly much less experienced) perspective with his, and also to give some insight on what it’s like to travel with him.

The only part of China I’d visited prior to this was Beijing, and I was looking forward to seeing some more of the country. I had also never flown a mainland China-based airline, so I wasn’t sure what I was in for. Here are some random observations.

Xiamen Air Flights

The outbound airport experience at LAX was not exactly glamorous. We stopped for a few minutes at the Korean Air lounge, where I drank about 10 glasses of water (in my defense, the glasses there are no bigger than the cups you use for rinsing at the dentist’s office).

Then we walked to our gate, and found that it had been assigned to another flight. We sat around for a while until a new gate was assigned, and it was in a distant annex of the Tom Bradley International Terminal that Ben described as looking like a Costco/Berlin airport.

After a 20-minute delay from the scheduled boarding time, we squeezed onto a standing room only bus that took us halfway to China on a fairly long ride to the remote stand where our 787-9 was parked.

Xiamen Air remote stand at LAX (yes, they have jet bridges at the remote stands…don’t ask)

Once we boarded, things were a little more civilized. While I’m not a huge fan of the cabin’s color scheme (give me China Airlines’ 777 business class cabin colors any day), the seat was comfortable and the crew smiled.

Xiamen Air 787-9 pre-departure

I found the food to be pretty good, and I was thrilled that the service was so quick, since I just wanted to go to bed. I slept for about six hours on the flight. The movie and TV show selection wasn’t great, but internet was fast, so I was able to keep myself entertained.

The domestic flights between Xiamen and Chengdu in business class were comfortable, and they handed out tablets that actually had a much wider selection of English language TV shows and movies than the built-in entertainment on the 787s. The food definitely wasn’t anything familiar to me, and since I am about as picky with food as the most particular toddler, I only had a few bites.

Xiamen Air 757 Xiamen-Chengdu

The recorded announcements upon landing were something I looked forward to, especially the part where they say, “Xiamen Airlines is your sincere friend.” I was a little worried they only hung out with me out of pity or a sense of obligation. 😉

St. Regis Chengdu

I had never stayed in a St. Regis before. The décor isn’t exactly the style I’d choose for my home, but it’s what comes to mind when I think of the word “fancy.”

St. Regis Chengdu

The views from my room made me feel like I was staying in Dubai: Chengdu is a city of 10 million people, so as you’d expect, I saw huge skyscrapers when I looked out the window.

Chengdu skyscrapers: I could see these from my room!

On the second day I got this amazing note from the room attendant:

I think the note is referring to the runner that’s often at the end of hotel beds, which usually falls off the bed while I sleep at night (you can see it in one of the photos above). Still, I was super impressed with their attention to detail, and with the note itself!

The breakfast buffet was massive, and I think I consumed enough food both mornings to noticeably impact Starwood Hotels’ earnings for the quarter.

Walking around the area surrounding the hotel, the hotel seems to be located in the city’s “fake Apple Store” district – there were literally dozens of Apple Store knockoffs (some did a convincing job of copying the original, some didn’t even try). But it was a good area from which to explore the city, and we walked to nearby Tianfu Square.

Me, Mao, and my bitmoji. (If Mao had a bitmoji, would it be a bitmaoji?)
Tianfu Square

Le Meridien Xiamen

In Xiamen we were trying to decide whether to stay at the Westin in town or Le Meridien, which is a bit isolated from everything. I advocated for Le Meridien, and while it was nice, we didn’t get to see much of the island. What we did see was really nice, and made me want to return for another visit. (I especially would like to see the nearby island of Gulangyu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is supposed to have nice beaches and interesting architecture.)

Xiamen at night

The hotel itself was dazzling, in more of a glitzy way than the St. Regis. The Malin+Goetz toiletries were awesome, and the staff was friendly (maybe a little too friendly at the spa).

Malin+Goetz toiletries: my favorite part of Le Meridien hotels
View from my room at Le Meridien Xiamen

Traveling With Ben

Even if I were a professional chocolate chip cookie taste tester, I don’t think I would love my job as much as Ben loves his. He is constantly writing, and says he’s addicted to it. But he does try to live on Eastern U.S. time, which makes for some crazy hours when abroad.

Ben usually likes to be among the first to board so he can get good photos of the cabin, so when boarding begins he makes a mad dash for the plane. If anyone has ever watched the game show Supermarket Sweep, it’s a little like when the clock starts and the contestants take off running with their shopping carts, except in this case it’s a Tumi rollaboard.

Another good lesson from traveling with him is to roll with the punches. Ben is nice to every flight attendant, every taxi driver, every hotel employee…even when they have bad news (like “your room isn’t ready yet,” or “we’d like you to spend the next 30 minutes cleaning up panda feces”). Getting upset or angry is a good way to ruin your day, as well as the day of the person you’re directing your frustration at.

He also goes to the gym every day when he travels. I went once on this whole trip, and I was pretty proud of myself.

Finally, if you hope to continue traveling with Ben in the future, don’t ever say anything negative about Shawn Mendes or the Real Housewives.

Bottom Line

I had a really great time, even apart from all the panda fun. Thanks to this trip and Delta’s Status Match Challenge, I’m a SkyTeam guy now. Bye, Oneworld!

  1. Nice review. Keeping a positive attitude is key for a successful trip. If you prepare yourself that there will be hiccups, you’ll have a better time. Time and close to two million miles of travel has taught me that we cannot control everything despite our planning so going with the flow is best.

  2. There are nice beaches in China, but I wouldn’t go to any of them. All the nice ones will be extremely crowded, and you’ll see litter everywhere.

  3. @ Andrew: the Fashion Police would like to remind you that you are not Prince Georges and that grown-up men should not wear short shorts unless at the gym.
    Thank you 😉

  4. Do any ethnic writers work at this blog? It would be interesting to see reviews from the point of view of someone of color.

  5. From what I’ve heard, China isn’t a gay-friendly place (ie, films cannot show gay relationships). I was hoping for some insight as to the experience of two men traveling together in regards to how you were treated by the hotels etc.

  6. Enjoyed the traveling with Ben part. It’s fun to see another perspective sometimes. I like your writing style, Andrew!

  7. St.Regis is sit on Chengdu’s traditional Cellphone wholesale/retail street. That’s why all the fake Apple stores. LOL.

    JJJ: Not an endorsement of any Chinese policy/discrimination, but I’d say that most Chinese people would act along the line of “don’t ask/don’t tell,” if it ever comes to their minds that you two might be gay. Politically, it might be a sensitive topic, but as far as traveling, especially in big cities, I don’t think you’d encounter any problems.

  8. O.K. I’ll ask JJJ..
    Were they supposed to announce they were gay? Can’t people just travel…?

    BTW… great post. Very entertaining.

  9. I think the arrival announcement on Xiamen Airlines actually says that “Xiamen Airlines will always be your sincere friend”… denoting even greater permanence to the friendship

  10. Last year when I was there, St. Regis served only a few appetizers in the lounge but they were delicious. You didn’t mention local food much. I assume you did not try the spicy hotpot?

  11. @JJJ I traveled with my husband last year (Shanghai, Hangzhou, Xi’an, Chengdu, Beijing). Never had a problem. To my understanding, young generation in China is more gay-friendly than people you find in US. Elder people there have little knowledge about homosexuality, they would think you are just friends (as long as no PDA).

  12. @Patrick: If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll note that hotels make assumptions about their guests, many times incorrectly. I am only asking if assumptions were made in a manner that negatively affected the author’s visit.

    “Can’t people just travel…?’

    It would be great if people could “just travel” without facing prejudice. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

  13. @JJJ – I agree but I don’t think making assumptions necessarily equates to prejudice. (at least in a bad way0

  14. @JJJ , you are right that China is not a gay-friendly country but also is not a gay-hostile country either. They just pretend this thing does’t exist.
    But for this reason , you can always see same sex couples hand in hand or arm around shoulder kind of intimacy, especially among young people. Not that they are gays just close friends. They are not sensitive for being gay-ish in public as people in US would be. So it is very easy for gays to blend in without attracting attention from public.
    Of course things are changing and people more and more aware of this issue now.

  15. I know Chengdu like the back of my hand and love the place. In addition to the world famous panda breeding farm, there is nearby the Dujiangyan dam and irrigation system (one of the oldest in the world that’s still working!), Chingcheng Shan (famous mountain range harboring Taoist monasteries and one of the most important Tao centers in the country), and Leshan with its YUGE Great Buddha carved right in a riverside cliff. The city itself is rather polluted, as are (were) parts of the Funan River that crosses the city, although other parts have been cleaned up and made “scenic”.

    As a Sinophile, I have enjoyed this series of reports on your China trip, but especially those on Chengdu and pandas, which brought back fond memories…


  16. Andrew –
    First, ignore the comment about the short shorts. What you were wearing doesn’t come close to that definition. There, with that out of the way, this was another one of your great posts! I really, really, REALLY want to see Ben now as a contestant on Supermarket Sweep, complete with his Tumi rollaboard! Though, I’m equally puzzled you’ve watched enough to know the format?! No matter, the fact you fill your tummy at breakfast and then are so patient to wait your turn at picking up panda feces is admirable. And THEN, to write about it for us all to enjoy is priceless! You definitely need your own blog – you are really entertaining!

    Dear Lucky (Ben):
    Please travel with and have Andrew post more often. I was literally laughing out loud in my office and it’s awesome to read his posts. As a parent with a teenager infatuated with Shawn Mendes….well, let’s just leave it at that, shall we?

  17. Travelling on a Chinese airline (or transiting through a Chinese air terminal) is always a horror story. Worst airline experience in the world – China Eastern.

  18. Surely, travelling the world as you do, you would be able to notice that your room attendant Xiaofen Tan has recognised your sexual interests and is offering “special services” – the charge would be RMB 200 or RMB 450 depending on your preference.

  19. …and gay life and activity is thriving and alive in China – not only in the mega-disco nightclubs of Beijing (“Destination”) , Shanghai or Guangzhou but also in every other city, town and village across the country – just get advice from a local and you will quickly be directed to the park, bushes or bath houses.

  20. I am scandalized, and perhaps a bit naive, because I had NO idea the note was anything but a sweet and attentive gesture. It impressed me. Tsk. Well, apparently I was going to learn today!

  21. @DCS I’m sorry to do this but just because you said you know Chengdu like the back of your hand…. it’s QingCheng 青城山 not ChingCheng.

    Interesting to hear Lucky say before that the St. Regis Chengdu is in a good area. That area doesn’t have much happening except from stolen phone sales.. admittedly it’s only a 15 minute walk to the real centre of town (Chunxi Road/IFS/Taikoo Li). The Shangri-La, despite being a bit dated, is in probably the best spot in town (location-wise).

  22. @Katy,
    There’s no way the note was anything other that what it appears: A nice comment to a guest.
    That other interpretation is baloney.

  23. Does anyone actually read anymore? Andrew and Ben stayed in separate rooms and both are in committed relationships.

  24. More posts from Andrew please. Intelligent, well-written and amusing. ( You can give him Daniel’s slots please!)

  25. You know, Mao at best foolishly created a system that unwittingly resulted in the agonizing deaths of untold millions of people, and at worst he was actively complicit in those deaths and saw them as necessary for the greater good. But ha-ha, emoji joke – they should make one for someone being starved to death, that would be a riot.

  26. @AirNiugini sez, likely proud of him/herself: “@DCS I’m sorry to do this but just because you said you know Chengdu like the back of your hand…. it’s QingCheng 青城山 not ChingCheng.”

    Tell me @AirNiugini, how different would “QingCheng” sound from “ChingCheng” in spoken language? Is there a 1:1 translation from Chinese characters to western alphabet (pinyin)? Better yet, ever heard of “Onomatopoeia.”

    Which is the correct spelling: “Szechuan” or Sichuan? See? You did absolutely nothing to me. Au contraire, you should feel a bit silly…

    More to the point, however, is that the purported misspelling does not disprove my statement that “I know Chengdu like the back of my hand.”

    FYI – I went to Chengdu in 2004 and married a beautiful Sichuanese, who came to live with me in NYC but was simply unable to cope being away from home, so we separated after almost 4 years. But while we were together, I got to know and love Chengdu.

    Sorry to rain on your parade 😉


  27. @DCS

    Never mind at all. The spell has no problem at all.
    Mainland uses Pingying more often and mixes with old British translate.

    A lot of examples: Beijing vs Peiking. It’s all pronunciation translation. Never bother anyone at all.

    I think there is a Six Senses in the area.

  28. BTW, @Vince, you opened yourself to being “set right” by @AirNiugini for spelling ‘pinyin’ as “pingying”… 🙂


  29. Andrew, thats good humor about Ben.

    Really made me laugh.

    @Lucky, you need to travel with Andrew more often. 🙂

  30. Those might not have been Apple knock-off stores. In China, there are plenty Apple’s authorized retailers. And often times they have similar Apple style stores appearance. However, they are definitely not knockoffs. The real knock-off stores don’t appear on a wide-open public street.

  31. I always enjoy reading the experience of not only Lucky and his professional crew, but also people to whom travelling via Business or with Air Miles, is still pretty new. More of the same please!

    p.s. I howled with laughter picturing Lucky dashing on board.

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