THE CHINA ADVENTURE 2008
At the beginning of 2008, Jodie was quite pleased to find that her short-term posting was to going to take her to Beijing. Naturally, she asked her dad if he was going to visit her while she was out there. Let me see… how long did it take me to say yes?
I’ve been saying for years that China is becoming a big threat to the Western way of life. With 1.3 billion people, China has 20% of the world's population and it is continuing to expand, so it was worth a visit to see how the communist country is developing.
The build up to this trip was worse than organising a trip to the Super Bowl. To be able to visit China, you have to obtain a visa and the challenges that presents are not minor. A letter of invite, saying who you intend visiting, plus confirmation of where you are staying, are essential parts of the application.
The form itself presented a huge dilemma of a question, asking whether I was visiting a relative or as a tourist. Umm… to be honest, I was visiting a relative, but to ensure a speedy return of my passport, I decided to say I was a tourist. I assumed that particular question was aimed at Chinese nationals.
My passport and visa were returned with a few days to spare, so I didn’t have to sweat for too long. It was fortunate that I had a direct flight of only ten hours with Air China. Some of the cheaper flights were seventeen hours, with a stopover in Dubai, but that didn’t really appeal to me.
July 4th was an appropriate day to be flying out. The one disappointment with the journey was the wine they served after lunch. I’ve moaned about the French wine that is sometimes served on transatlantic flights, but that tasted superb compared to the mouthwash I was given by Air China. I didn’t bother to go back for seconds or even ask for a glass on the return flight because it was that bad.
I arrived on schedule in Beijing at the recently opened Terminal 3. It is the largest airport terminal building complex built in a single phase, covering a surface area larger than all of Heathrow's five terminals.
With its tall cathedral dimensions, the terminal gives the impression of a modern concert hall and the good, clean feeling that comes with a new building. The terminal was not very busy as I made my way to the train that takes you on the five-minute journey to immigration and baggage claim.
The first text I received when switching on my phone was from Pittsburgh suggesting that it was another year of freedom for the colonials. A reminder that I had left England on Independence Day.
As you approach immigration, there's can be no doubt as to which queue you have to join. The big sign emphasising "Foreigners," gives it away. I had left Jodie's address in my case so I was relieved when not to be asked where I was staying.
It was also fortunate that Jodie was meeting me at the airport, as I had no idea where I was heading. We took one of the many taxis queuing up outside and headed into the city via the motorway. The airport is 17 miles northeast of the city, and an hour from where Jodie lives.
I tried to take in some of the images as we headed towards Beijing. It wasn’t made easy by Jodie becoming agitated by the taxi driver apparently not knowing the way to her apartment.
I was chilled, while Jodie’s mounting concern made the driver twitchy. As it turned out, he got us there, charging the normal fare (£8), so she was happy and I was relieved that I could finally get to take a shower.