Back to Beijing and Business

Back to Beijing and Business as Usual

I stumbled out of the plane, dazed and confused. My flight back to Beijing had left Bangkok two hours late, after 3am, and landed at 8:30am Beijing time. (More on my flight experience later.) With just two hours of sleep, I scarcely knew where I was — at least for a few minutes.

I was the very first off the plane and made my way briskly to the passport control agents, who sit at their little booths with an LCD panel overhead saying Foreigners or Chinese Nationals. All but two of the many booths were for Chinese Nationals. One of the two Foreigners booths had a line of about 5 travelers, the other had 2, so that’s the one I chose. How exhilarting, to rush off my plane and be almost first in line, guaranteeing me a fast and painless departure from the Beijing Airport. Would that it were so.

Within seconds there was quite a line behind me, and suddenly I heard a collective moan from the accumulated masses — the Foreigners sign above me had suddenly changed to Chinese Nationals! We all scurried frantically to the other line, which by now was also quite long, and instead of being “the very next one,” I had about 20 others ahead of me. This was annoying enough, though certainly not the end of the world. What rubbed the salt into everyone’s wounds was that about 70 seconds later the sign for the line we had just abandoned changed again, back to Foreigners! Everyone groaned as a new line quickly formed, with those coming off my flight last stepping right to the front. I had to wait nearly half an hour.

“We’re back in China,” the young lady in front of me said to her husband. If I wasn’t sure where I was when I got off the plane, I knew for sure where I was now. I just found it amusing/alarming that the point was driven home so quickly after landing in the PRC. It seems one moves from one breakdown to the next here, with so many occurring so rapidly and so continuously that one starts to scarcely notice them. I honestly believe that is the trick to a healthy life in China — to develop a callous that protects you from the perpetual browbeating inherent in the system here, dulling the pain and shielding you from insanity.

I just woke up after four hours of sleep in my ice cold apartment. I will be back soon with one of the strangest experiences I have ever endured in China, even more bizarre than going to the bank for a routine transaction. I won’t give it away, but here’s a tantalizing hint — there is no airline on the planet that can compare, in any way, with Air China. Later.

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