Our journey began with us trying to negotiate our way out of London to Gatwick airport avoiding the various trains on strike, off to a great start. Fortunately the flight out of the UK went smoothly, although the in-flight entertainment on Tianjin airlines only really included a small handful of programs in English. So after an episode of Sherlock sleep became the most appealing option. In the airlines defense they were very cheap and landed us in Chongqing on time.
The same, however, cannot be said of our connecting flight to Beijing. After eventually working out which terminal the flight was leaving from the next hurdle was getting our bording passes which as it turns out is a bit more complicated for internal flights as their system didn’t seem to like our passport numbers. Happily after a quick trip back to the ticket desk we had our bording passes and ambled down to the waiting room. We got to know this room, which was serving four bus based gates with about enough space for one, rather well. We watched a plane full of annoyed but relieved passengers board their flight that had been delayed for two hours while the “queue” started to form for our flight. Following an indistinguishable announcement that was probably in Chinese as our bording time arrived, there was a gentle murmur from the crowd but no signs of movement. We found a Russian on the same flight, who spoke English and seemingly enough Chinese to understand, who told us that our flight had been delayed by two hours.
Oh well, at least the was the second flight and not the first. So we settled down and waited a while longer until the new boarding time started to approach and a new queue started to form. Cue new announcement. The flight was delayed some more. Cue the dispersal of the queue. Oh well, for hours is a bit annoying and we’ll arrive at 4 in the morning at the hostel but never mind. Five minutes later later there is yet another announcement, this time everyone seems really annoyed with much shouting and complaining. Our new Russian friend also looks confused this time and another “queue” forms.
I say “queue” because 90% of the time a queue in China is more of a shoving match to get to the front with the occasional exception if barriers are involved or at other times when it just sort of happens in a nice orderly manner for seemingly no reason whatsoever.
We joined the Russian in the frey and arrive at the front where we present our bording passes and duly receive a blue slip of paper saying the airport will provide a free night at a hotel for us. Oh, well at least we won’t have to sleep in the airport or get to the hostel in the early hours. What was missing however was any indication of how to get to said hotel. Fortunately the Russian had found a Chinese lady with her daughter who also spoke Russian so we decided to latch onto them so we didn’t get lost in the chaos.
We ended up waiting outside the airport arrivals waiting, we assumed, for a bus. While we waited I was approached by a Chinese man who asked, and not for the first time in my life, if I was Aaron Paul (that’s Jessie Pinkman from Breaking Bad if you’re unfamiliar). We jumped on the final bus and were taken to the hotel. If you can conjure up an image of “cheap Chinese hotel near an airport” then that’s probably very close to where we were. On checking in after another “queue” we found out we needed 100¥ as a deposit. not having expected to need any money before arriving in Beijing we didn’t have anything on us, fortunately by agreeing to stay in a triple room with the Russian, who also didn’t have the necessary cash, that seemed to make it OK.
We dumped our stuff in the room, with its bathroom with a slightly odd frosted glass wall, and went in search of something to eat. We found a local corner shop and the Russian very kindly spent the last 10¥ he had on three instant noodle pots for us all. These are not as bad as you might think. If Pot Noodle were this nice I might actually buy them in the UK. After enjoying our, probably not very, nutritious dinner we started to have showers before bedding down for the night and awaiting the call from reception that would mean our flight was imminent. Two of the three of us had just about finished showering and I’ll let you guess who missed out, when the phone rang as there was some shouting and banging on doors in the corridor. I answered to a receptionist who not that surprisingly couldn’t speak English and after a short unhelpful exchange hung up. It could only mean one thing and a loud banging on the door opening to an urgent sounding lady from the hotel. The bus was waiting outside to take us back to the airport. We hurried back down to the lobby, launched the room key behind the desk and jumped back onto the bus. For probably the fifth or sixth time since leaving the UK, we went though security checks and were back in the waiting lounge. This time the bus arrived and we boarded the plane which eventually took off after a short 15 minutes delay for a prompt arrival in Beijing at around 0430 local time.
Thankfully getting out of the airport was simple thanks to having only hand luggage and the relatively short journey to the hostel was simple and without incident. We arrived checked in at 6.30 and then slept soundly through to about 1 in the afternoon.
Hopefully the majority of our travels will go a bit smoother than the first step has. There’s nothing quite like being thrown in the deep end though to let you know you’ve left.