05 May 2004

Greetings From Beijing

Not sure when I will get this one to post, but I am here, in Beijing, the beating heart of China. My trip was largely uneventful, though I must again say how great the service on Asiana Airlines is. Wonderful, really. Even metal utensils in economy class. Prompt, cheerful, anticipatory… just all around great service.

Now, I will give some largely un-annotated (but perhaps paraphrased) notes from my journal from the time we neared the Chinese coast to now. Understand that the raw journal is very stream of consciousness, and often ideas will slip in in between observations, or old observations will emerge, but I will try to pull most of that out. Also note that the only concept of time is the chronological order, and that isn’t even always very accurate.

11:15 Beijing time, 20 minutes ‘till landing, should be nearing land soon. I am excited like a kid about this [trip to China]… silly. … There is land! China! Looks like the same flat coastal rice fields of Korea and Japan. Reclaimed land. More orderly and evenly spaced than Korea or Japan, though. Very brown, not much green. The red and blue roofed buildings of East Asia. Rows and rows of tightly packed apartment complexes like little labyrinths or intricate Chinese brickwork patterns.

Some green fields in the middle of the brown and tan. Scarring of new construction, new (or are they just dirt?) roads. Rows of what appear to be the plastic-skinned greenhouses. Now bigger fields are divided up into smaller patchworks of plots and greenhouses. Oases of residential areas packed in between the vast flat fields. There are no hills yet. Housing is tightly clustered, squeezed into the fewest plots of arable land. The fields are striped now, with alternating rows of green and tan.

Pockets or blocks of housing connected by reaching fingers of roads slicing between the fields. It is as if the housing is here simply to serve agriculture, not the other was around, as it appears in Korea. Here, rather than the houses farming every conceivable scrap of land, it is as if the houses themselves were afterthoughts, placed uncomfortably together to service the fields.

Blocks of houses spreading and coming closer together as we near Beijing. Rows of multicolored apartment complexes rising out of the other housing. Areas of housing with just a few standing, the rest laid in rubble – making way for new apartments? The city emerges from the haze in the distance, white buildings rising up, steel and glass reflecting shards of light. Back streets littered with garbage and rubble, main streets clean and bright with flowers and landscaping.

And we land. Impatiently, seatbelts click open, people rise to find their luggage, even while we are still on the runway. [The stewards and stewardesses urge patience and seating] Waving rows of small trees beside the runway greet us. 11:44 AM 5 May, 2004 – welcome to Beijing.

There is just a chain fence and a thin coil of barbed wire between the taxiway and the city street. People are lined up along the fence watching the planes taxiing in. Security? Maybe the concept of overall security makes special airport security seem unnecessary? Or so they think?

The airport looks ancient. Step trucks rather than gates. Stark white. Boxy concrete. … On the other side of the taxiway is the more modern terminal, with gates. I can see its aluminum arched roof, like a giant Quonset hut. I see no guards around the periphery like one sees at Seoul and Incheon. Maybe they are just well hidden, maybe there isn’t a sense of imminent threat?

Definitely not the futuristic Jetson’s look of Incheon or the Asian stylings of Kimpo, but a flattened aluminum tube, a long oval, sitting atop a base. The smell of stale rubber air fills the plane as they turn off the re-circulation and filter system.

Through customs and immigration without a pause. Met my hosts and am heading into Beijing. Most of the cars at the airport were Volkswagens and Audis, with some Toyotas, Nissans and Hondas. Almost no Chinese cars. A tree-lined boulevard leading out of the airport with yellow roses growing along the fence line. The tollgate done up in Chinese style designs and colors. …

The air is hot, dry and dusty. … More bicycles than Seoul, fewer motorbikes so far. Taxis are red. Little Chinese TJ7100U. Traffic is about as random as Seoul, with folks much quicker to lay on the horns and no one really respecting the spirit much less the letter of the law. Overhead electricity in the right lane for [the double-length hinged] busses.

After being in Korea, the Chinese traditional roofs look somehow incomplete, without the ornate end caps or the sweeping curves of the peak. Definitely more bicycles than Seoul but nothing like the older pictures of bike-filled streets. I haven’t really seen any Korean cars on the streets [plenty of German and Japanese, even some American and French and of course now the Chinese cars as well.]

Well, that’s enough for now. I’ll give more information on my arrival at my new home and my afternoon outing at a later time (though like I said, not sure when I will be able to post this, so they may all come around the same time). Until next time, greetings from the Middle Kingdom.

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