This morning found me stumbling into Haneda airport at around 06:30, in order to catch the 08:30 flight to Beijing. I managed to clear customs without too much difficulty, but as I was stepping onto the plane I was taken aside for a ‘visa spot-check’ by one of the flight attendants; thankfully everything was in order, and so she let me on the plane. I almost wished she hadn’t. The flight was subjected to the most severe turbulence that I have ever experienced. It wasn’t that it was particularly fierce, it was just relentless. Strangely though I found myself calmed by the reactions of the other passengers, with the interspaced yelps and collapse of the woman in front of me somehow spurring me on to reckless abandon. When we eventually began the descent into Beijing, I was convinced that the onboard tracking computer was broken, as it said that we would be landing in a couple of minutes, but we were still above the cloud line. It turned out that this cloud line was actually a thick smog that was enveloping the city, a delightful welcome to Beijing, matched only by the surliness of the customs official. A small electronic box below his window allowed me to rate this interaction from ‘very hostile’ to ‘very friendly’, but figuring that doing so would probably have resulted in my immediate deportation, I resisted the temptation.
After a rather hair raising minibus ride from the airport (it appears that beeping your horn is a necessity not a right, whilst u-turns in the middle of busy roads are actively encouraged) we arrived at our hotel. Tsinghua University has ties with the hotel, meaning that we were able to budget for this 5* exuberance, as my room is twice as big as my old apartment in Higashimatsubara. Sadly this meant that there was twice as much floor to flood, when I failed to seal the shower door correctly. The afternoon was spent discussing tomorrow’s play and workshop with my (very sleepy) students; freshening up; and just generally acclimatising to this strange and fascinating city. Dinner was at what appeared to be an abandoned luxury hotel, meaning that we had to walk through room after room of expensive looking furniture and no-doubt priceless antiques, in order to reach our table. Incredibly the whole dinner (which basically amounted to a Chinese banquet) came in at only ¥100 (~10) per person, although even that was dwarfed by the ridiculousness of the ¥2 (~20p) train ride home! First impression of Beijing are thus: it is a filthy and exuberant city, which appears to exist in a state of ordered chaos. So quite different to Tokyo then.