It was the first time that I was traveling by Singapore Airlines and I was pretty impressed. The hostesses were beautiful but not intimidating and dressed in a beautiful yet sexy way. My dad being a seasoned traveler had clearly asked for an Asian Vegetarian Meal for all of us. When you ask for something like this, you get very nice Indian food while if you don’t, you would be lucky to even get vegetarian food let alone Indian. And the food was awesome and just kept on coming right down till the Cornetto. You could have as much as you can and I made full use of such a wonderful opportunity.
We had a stopover of 2 hours in Dubai and an hour in Singapore before we got to Beijing. Dubai airport is simply massive. It is a long terminal building with gates on both the sides and a hotel in the middle. It also plays host to the world famous Dubai Duty Free and is a pretty busy airport as it serves as the transit point for all flights into and from the gulf. Another really wonderful thing I noticed this time is that Dubai Airport offer free wi-fi. I realized this only towards the end of my transit and so wasn’t able to make full use of the bandwidth. Our next stop, Singapore only had designated terminals offering free internet unlike the wi-fi in Dubai. Changi airport of course is one of the best in the world but in my opinion the Dubai International Airport was no worse.
And finally we are here, Beijing airport. All the terminal buildings are designed in traditional Chinese Architecture. Most of the Chinese airports have come up in the past couple of years which means that their construction started somewhere around 1990’s and hence are pretty much the latest ones around. China’s airline industry is very huge as compared to the one we have back home. There are three main airlines which are – Air China (biggest), China Southern and China Eastern. These are international airlines which fly even to India. Other than these there are a number of smaller ones like Hunan Airlines, Shanghai Airlines etc. The three main transportation hubs for the airline industry in China are Beijing in the north, Shanghai in the East and Guangzhou in the southwest.
But on speaking to our guide and others in China, traveling by flight still seemed like an expensive affair for them. This is in stark contrast to our LCC’s back home which have made flying once a year possible for a larger section of society. Cheers to you Mr Gopinath.
We had booked our tour over the Internet with a local company called China highlights. We were met at the airport by our guide whose english name was Angelica. She was a pretty young(and beautiful) girl who was just out of college. She definitely had trouble with her English but was a delight to talk to. Every other time that she didn’t understand what we were saying, she would ask us to write it down in her notepad and then she would recognize it. I guess their read and write skills are better than their spoken ones. They also seem to have a problem speaking the word ‘r’ and pronounce it as ‘s’ and so it becomes the ‘sird sing sload’ and the ‘sailway station’, but we were able to understand most of what we said.
The road from the airport to our hotel passed through various ring roads and intersections. In all there are 5 ring roads currently in Beijing which would grow to 7 by the time of the Olympics. Beijing has a number of bicycles and two-wheelers and have dedicated lanes for these. It also has an equal number of cars and really big ones at that unlike the smaller hatchbacks which we prefer back in India. Of course their roads are a lot wider and lane discipline a lot better because of which they ca drive around in those huge cars.
Our hotel seems to be in the middle of the Hair Parlor district of Beijing. Everywhere I look there is the revolving patterns which signifies the hair salons here. The people here also seem to be a lot into maintaining their hair straight and keeping up with the latest styles. And I see a lot of young people around and I can think of nothing else but the scenes from the movie Babel.
After checking into out hotel and settling in we decided to go for a walk and take in the place. There are a number of stores around selling clothes, some of which are a real bargain but I’m sure they can’t be trusted. Besides it’s really difficult to bargain with someone who doesn’t even speak your language. Seriously I could count the number of people who were able to respond in English on my fingers. We were looking around for a supermarket where we could get some fruits, chips and the like but had to roam about the square for an entire hour before we could make someone understand what we wanted. All this when it was just a 5 minute ride down an escalator to the basement. The only person there who seemed to understand what we wanted was the pharmacist. I guess reading the labels of all those medications really comes in handy. But this is something that I have never experienced anywhere else. An entire hour!!!! Normally there is always someone around on the streets who would know a small bit of English which would do the trick. But we were totally out of luck here. We should remember to get everything written down in English the next time we want to find something.
An alarming thing that I noticed is that even the supermarkets were checking the notes which we gave them, shining them in the light to check for fakes. Either we looked like terrorists or they have a serious problem with fakes. That wouldn’t be a surprise would it, in the land of Piracy.
Tomorrow promises to be a very interesting one with a visit to the most famous square in the world followed by an illegal entry to the Forbidden city, we are going to discover the center of Beijing.