David @ 4:51 pm
So I waited at Moscow airport for a couple of hours, and I think I was the only Westerner in the airport – until a Frenchman, came over and I had a very interesting discussion about how bad the airport was, and as it turned out he had just come from Beijing, after staying for a month.
Finally, I boarded the aeroplane, after passing yet another x-ray and security check. The aeroplane was, to my delight a brand new Boeing 777, and not some Soviet propeller driven thing that id passed on the runway into the airport.
I walked a long way down the aeroplane, I knew that I had a window seat that I had requested in back in London, and i was glad not to be sitting in the centre section of the plane.
However, I think the Russian check-in people thought that they would have a joke at my expense, and my seat was one of two, on the left of the plane, directly above to the wing. This was the problem, on later inspection i think that this seat was probably the smallest in terms of leg room in the whole aricraft. There was a lump in the floor where one would normally put their feet, and so because of the seat in fronts angle, i measured the gap between the front part of my seat and the seat in fron at the width of my hand, about 8inches i think.
So, i squeezed into my seat, I swear i was the tallest person on the plane, because I could see everyone over the tops of the seats. Anyway, i couldnt recline my seat because there was not enough leg room in front, and the person in front (another damn Russian) thought it a good idea to have his seat permenantly fully reclined throughout the 8 hour flight (including takeoff and landing) – to the point where his seat was reclined so far, that his seat was almost resting on my temple.
This was probably the worst night i have ever had to suffer in terms of pain and aches and lack of sleep. I spent most of the flight standing up, at the end of the plane writing this down on a pad of paper. So if you ever get allocated seat 21A on a 777 change it AT ALL COSTS!!!!
Mind you the food wasnt bad, and i was given a set of ear plugs and blindfold for my troubles – shame they didnt supply pain killers.
There was a nice electronic map, showing us how far we had to go and exactly where the plane was. A good idea in principle, but knowing that there is still 3606 miles to go, makes the flight seem longer than it actually is.
I got to watch a spectacular sun rise from 36000 feet somewhere over Mongolia, which was quite an experience, at 4.30 AM.
I arrived at Beijing 09.55 local time, very tired and jetlegged. Beijing airport was quite a contrast from Moscow. It was light and very clean, and everybody spoke english. I walked for a few minutes, then went down some very plush looking escalators, with a large gold sign, saying PLEASE MIND YOUR STEPS – which i thought was quite funny. Seems they can spend billions of dollars on a new airport, but cant hire foreigners to spell simple phrases for them.
At the bottom of the escalators was a very large hall, with a huge Chinese flag pronted onto the wall, and many many immigration desks – and a huge sign in gold saying CHINESE BORDER CONTROL.
I joined the queue marked foriegners, and waited my turn, handed over my passport – got it stamped by a chap in very very smart grey uniform, and that was it, I was in China.
I then followed the signs for domestic transfer, and came to another huge hall, with two x ray machines and about 20 staff manning them. (In Britian and Russia there was 2 staff at security).
They then took my bags for me, which were very heavy, and in English told me to walk through the metal detector and wait. I was passed my bags almost as soon as I had walked through the detector.
I then spent the next 30 mins or so trying to find the departures, and discovered just how MASSIVE beijing airport is. I had to get to another terminal, so I first went to the bank to get some local currency – they gave me 2800RMB for my 200 pounds i still had not converted.
Then a voice said excuse me sir can i help you. I was naturally suspicious, of the mans motives, but later discovered that it was his job to help foreigners around the airport. He took my luggage and walked ahead of me towards the other terminal, which was a good 20 mins or so away. He took my ticket and checked me in and said that I would have to wait until 1.30 to check in my luggage, about 3 hours or so. So I thanked him and headed for a seat to wait at, but he persisted took my luggage and insisted that he wait with me for the next three hours so that he could help me check in my baggage. I said that I would be fine, and that I did not need his help, but he insisted to the point where i couldnt say no.
So i waited for a while at the airport, and noted how very clean it was. I did not see one piece of rubbish, trhe marble flooring was spotless. There also appeared to be lots of quasi-military looking people marching around the airport, though unlike Moscow they carried no weapons, just their immaculate looking uniforms and hats.
At 1.30 I checked in, went through another security check. This time they checked everything, made me open my hand luggage, which was quite funny. They made me take everything out one by one, i took out a couple of sausage rolls and the Chinese lady asked very politly what are these . I said that they were sausage rolls, she looked confused so i took a bight and gestured that it tasted good. I think they understood. Then i took out the bits of food, several tins – which they inspected – and quite a bit of fruit, that they didnt pay a blind bit of interest to.
Also there was a couple of pairs of pants, socks and some orange juice cartons. Paradoxically the orange juice gave them the most concern. I handed a carton to one of the guards, and they had no idea what it was. I said it was a drink, and they asked me to open it, so i got the straw and pierced the foil. I was then asked to drink it, and i noticed them watching me to make sure that I swallowed it.
I think they got the message after that, and they could see the funny side to it which was nice.
So I then went to the gate and boarded the China Southen Airlines flight to ChangChun, and i was travelling first class this time. The aeroplane wouldnt have been out of place in a museum, it looked old, and felt as though it was falling apart on takeoff. I was impressed though that all of the crew spoke good english, and i was offered an interesting selection of food. I decided to pass on the food as I was very tired, so i slept pretty much the entire 4 hour flight, until the landing at ChangChun.
Once the plane had landed, I was beginning to feel a little aprehensive. The airport can be best described as military looking. I passed some soldiers marching, two fighter jets under covers, and lots of camo-covered equipment. There was also a sentry standing bolt-upright at the entrance to the terminal.
Once I was off the plane, it was another bus to the terminal building. I waited for my luggage at the carousel, and waited, I thought what if my luggage hasnt arrived? But it did eventually, and i took it about the full 20 yards distance from the exit of the airport and the arrivals, and I saw the Man who I had arranged to meet.
I felt a certain sense of relief, knowing that I was in Changchun and knowing that I had somewhere to stay and work.