Beijing - 2

Stepping off the aeroplane was hot. Hot and humid. Imagine yourself fully clothed entering a hot, humid sauna — It was a similar experience (We later found out from our guide that August is the worst month to visit…AND this particular August is extremely hot and humid).

Luckily, this sensitisation was short lived. As soon as we were inside the terminal, we were hit with cold refreshing air. The terminal itself was a massive complex building. Beijing’s airport has 3 terminals and boasts the second largest terminal in the world. The architecture was impressive and all the surfaces, especially the floor, was pristine (the reflection from the floor added to the facade). All in all some impressive architecture. It seemed excessive and empty.

The massive, yet empty section of the terminal. Notice the reflection from the floor.

After the super-efficient baggage collection (we already knew which belt number to collect our bags from on the plane!), we were greeted by our local guide, Tina Lui (As British people struggle to pronounce Chinese names, they are often given a ‘English name’. Her actual Chinese name is Liu Xixomei — The family name is first as this is considered more important).

We were led out of the airport and onto a air-conditioned coach. The same sensation of relative immense heat and humidity was experienced again. Yet, what was more noticeable this time, was the smog. Had Beijing not be known for its smog, it could be easily confused for a fog, mist or cloud. However, Beijing’s reputation and the clear change in air quality (you could really feel a change in your lungs) made you immediately realise it was smog (I certainly didn’t realise it was that bad!). In every direction you looked, your view only extended a few hundred meters.

The coach journey to the centre of Beijing was an hour. During this time, Tina introduced the city and what we would be getting up to in the coming weeks. On arrival, we checked-in and met in the lobby.

Despite very little sleep on the flight, we headed straight out to the local district of Haidian.

A train crossing the streets of Haidian

For 10 pm, it was busy. Crowds of people flooded the streets in a weird organised chaos.

The traffic seemed to follow no rules — cars turned across green pedestrian crossings (I later discovered this was normal and only allowed if turning right), taxis weaved between lanes (taking the quickest route presumably) and cars stopping abruptly with no warning (I’m still not sure why?!). The quantity of traffic was immense. Down every road you turned, you were greeted with bright red and white lights. A major contributor to the smog, I assume.

Its hard to capture how busy it really is.

There is a noticeable language barrier, unlike in European countries. Ordering a beer is much more challenging than in other countries abroad. We had to resort to gestures, actions and Google translate (all universally understood).

We did not stay out long. Before long, people were craving their beds. Personally, I’d been awake for 40 hours.