The CuriousPages Sketchbook

24 Hours in Beijing

Leaving Manila behind was like travelling from summer to mid winter in the space of five hours. I’d been used to daytime temperatures in the mid-twenties Celsius and often above, and while beginning the descent into Beijing we were told that the outside temperature was minus thirteen Celsius. On the shuttle bus from the plane to Terminal Two there were several Filipinos dressed in tee-shirts, gazing in awe (and with some trepidation) at the snow-covered expanse of Beijing airport. On the inward bound flight I was also struck by this. There were many Filipinos at Beijing airport (which was again, frosty and snow-bound) wearing their usual flip-flops and tee-shirt, which is almost a uniform of the people in the Philippines; when you have lived all your life in a climate that rarely drops below thirty Celsius why would it occur to you to wear anything other than flip-flops and a tee-shirt? It, of course, would not. While in Tagaytay, which, for me, was mostly like the best of summers that we ever experience in the UK (despite the fact that I was there in December and January), Ricky, a friend from Bohol, visited us for the day and remarked at how cold it felt there to him (compared to what he was used to). Imagine a sweltering summer’s day in the UK, and most Filipinos would regard that as “cold”.

But back to China. Again the flight stopped at Ximen airport to drop off some passengers and pick up others. The rest of us, who were going on the Beijing on the same plane, and still assigned to the same seats, had to go through the bizarre routine of leaving the plane and going through immigration, quarantine and then being issued with a “Permit to stay” visa, which immediately expired, so that we were then allowed to board the same plane again and continue with our flight. And again, I marvelled at the armies of officials, in their pristine uniforms, each the custodian of his own quota of rules which must be strictly adhered to, with only the slightest deviation from the rules causing a major incident. I guess there is nowhere else like China, except perhaps for Russia?

While discussing this bizarre ritual with the French guy who was sat beside me on the flight, I discovered that the “permit to stay” that my passport had this time been stamped with, was, in effect, a visa to enter China and stay for one day (in this second instance my connecting flight was 24 hours later than my arrival flight). Previously I had thought I would have needed to apply for a visa back in the UK which would have enabled me to leave the airport and explore Beijing during my 24 hour stay. But to my delight, I discovered that the two pristinely clad army-like officials who had processed my thirty minute enforced detour through the bureaucracy of Ximen airport had, in fact, stamped my passport with a pass that would enable me to leave the airport and go wherever I pleased during my 24 hour stay.

So, here I am, sat in a hotel room within Terminal 3 of Beijing airport, writing this account.

 

After spending about forty minutes walking back and forth in Terminal 2, being directed this way and that by the Chinese officials, all of which directions turned out to be incorrect (I would ask a question and they would nod in agreeance and direct me in a particular direction, for me to only discover, once I had got to the location, that the official had obviously not understood a word I had said), after forty minutes of this I decided to transfer to Terminal 3 and try my luck there. After some research, and footwork, I had worked out that in Terminal 2 I had needed to leave my luggage in the left luggage department, in readiness for my flight the following day, but that I needed 30 Yuan in cash to pay the fee. My ATM card had served me faithfully in the Philippines, but the Chinese ATM machines were having none of it. After unsuccessfully trying three successive ATM machines in quick succession, my card was retained by the final one, claiming that some sort of irregularity had occurred (this was China, after all, and even the machines have their bureaucratic rules which must be strictly adhered to, and I guess they just couldn’t figure me out?). So, here I was, needing Yuan cash to deposit my luggage, but having no way of obtaining it. I decided to take my luggage with me to Terminal 3 and hope that I could pay for the room with my one remaining credit card.

In the terminal, it was not an easy task to find the “rest rooms”, as their website had called the hotel facilities. I had asked a few officials with no luck and then found myself before a pleasing looking female official at an enquiry counter who, after I had asked her where the rest rooms where, seemed to keep saying to me “You can only stand around.” A little puzzled, I asked, “I can not sleep there? I will have to stand up?”

She seemed to repeat, “You can only stand around,” and started to direct me somewhere. And then, while she was mid-sentenced, I realized that she had been saying to me “You want the Hourly Lounge?”

I recalled, from the airport website, that this was another term that they had confusingly used to refer to their hotel facilities. In my excitement I almost shouted out at her, “Oh! you were saying the ‘Hourly Lounge’!”

She simply smiled (as though she were only too familiar with this particular communication problem) and continued directing me.

After a short sleep (we had woken at 3.30 am to leave for the airport that morning and my body felt weighed down with wakefulness), I went for a walk around a small portion of this colossal structure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a good night’s sleep, I noticed the sign on the inside door to my room. Fortunately, I had not so far needed to “Flee for my life”.

 

5 January 2010

 

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