Disembarkartion at Beijing.Train stations were constructed before suitcases with trolley wheels were invented so that annoying journey from the arrival platform to the outside of the Beijing railway station is one filled with stairways down, ramps up, escalators up and down, more stairs up and the puzzling ridiculousness of thousands of people streaming out of the station alighting from who knows how many trains being corralled into 3 tiny exit gates at which point a guard takes your ticket!! Oh, except if you’re a foreigner. Don’t ask, but every time I have offered my ticket to a guard they have refused to take it and just wave me through. Mystifying really!
Exiting the station into the hot, Beijing sunlight, I was confronted by an unbelievable mass of people on the concourse of the station. This is a huge area akin to about half the size of Tiananmen Square and there was barely space to move. I had a backpack, small suitcase on wheels and my computer bag over my shoulder and innumerable times my backpack snagged a commuter or my case ran over the toes of some unfortunate traveller. Having done this before I knew I had to head over to the offices for a subway ticket, a distance of about 500 metres. The journey was an adventure in itself and took me about 15 minutes during which time the sun beat down and the sweat gathered in my body’s nooks and crannies. It was about 10.15am and in front of the 5 ticket seller windows there were lines of at least 200 – 300 people. OMG, how to negotiate this delay and get onto the subway? I didn’t even consider using the ticket vending machines because I could see the masses of people pouring into the subway after buying their tickets at the windows.
Being a foreigner in China has its drawbacks but at times like this there are distinct advantages. I wandered up to the nearest line at a point that had about 15 people in front of me and adopted a Chinese line-jumping stance! If there were any complaints I was not aware of them but I suspect those people that I stood amongst were more than happy to be so close to a “laowai” as I spotted a few taking surreptitious cell phone snaps of me. I didn’t care. Mission accomplished. I paid my 2RMB for my ticket and made my way to the subway entrance where you have to have your baggage go through a scanning system same as at an airport. A pain in the arse for me with all my stuff but I don’t mind doing these security checks - better than suffering bomb damage.
I have described the crowds on the Beijing metro system before but as it was holiday period the mass of people was mind boggling. I made it onto the train okay and had about 4 stations before reaching my airport transfer point at Dongzhimen. This all went pretty smoothly really and that Airport Express is really great. I arrived at Terminal 2 in good time and there was, surprisingly, no queue to get my ticket and seat allocation. I jokingly asked the service people at the counter whether they would like to upgrade me to Business class. They laughed and said if I pay them 4000RMB then no problem. The total return ticket price economy was 2800RMB so you can easily guess what my response was.
I had decided to take my small suitcase on board as hand luggage for the first time and that was a mistake because I packed the wrong stuff in there and had to unpack the whole thing going through security to show them that none of the cords and computer stuff I had were the makings of a bomb. I didn’t have a lot of time to spare after all this so I made my way to the boarding gate area to wait the call.
Travelling a lot over the past few years makes you wiser and you pick up a few flight tricks one of which I will share with you here. When the call is made for my flight I hang around for as long as possible before I check in. Sometimes I even wait for them to call my name over the PA system because the plane is not going to leave without you if they know you have checked in for your seat allocation and your baggage has been through the system, so don’t panic! That means I am the last to board the plane in most cases. I know where I am sitting and as I enter the cabin I look around quickly and see where everybody is seated. If I spot a full row of empty seats that’s where I head for and make myself comfortable regardless of what seat number is on my boarding pass. I have never been asked for my ticket or challenged about my seat selection. It’s not that I am antisocial, but let’s face it, if you have flown you know just how cramped it is in cattle class and you don’t get to personally pick your fellow passengers in your row! (I have, on occasions, met some wonderful people and I still communicate with a couple in different countries.) If you want some sleep you simply lift the arm rests and lie down across 3 seats – 4 on the bigger aircraft. Dining ‘a la aero’ is also more comfortable as you spread out your meal over 3 tables.
The aforementioned action is not possible with a full plane of course and it helps if you have a bit of confidence pulling stunts like this. On one occasion last year flying a late night trip from Beijing to Manila, I boarded the plane which had about 30 passengers for the 150 seats and nobody in business class at all. So I pretended to look at my ticket, looked at the business class rows and plonked myself in one of the seats. I have a feeling that the crew might have been wise to me but I was ever-so-nice and nobody bothered me, resulting in a wonderfully comfortable flight! On this occasion I saw that the seats immediately behind Business Class were all vacant so I sat there. These weren’t exit seats but the leg room and the seats themselves were just great. The senior hostess did confront me and asked me whether this was my allocated seat and I just shrugged and said “maybe,” and smiled. She said I could stay there if I paid her 750 pesos (about $20). Deal! So much for the 4000RMB I was told at the airport check in.
Holidays outside China - recommended sometimes!
Tags:Travel Expat Tales Lifestyle
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Nice blog - although I would say that the "waiting until after your name is called" doesn't work always (although in my experience, does most of the time). There was one time I was flying from Hangzhou to Harbin with my brother. We checked in and got to the gate a mere 90 seconds too late and got told by a rather snobbish Air China official to "bugger off" essentially...as there was nothing he could do (despite a row of empty buses being behind him). And this was despite having redemption tickets from airmiles - those things are usually worth something! So, we had to wait about 8 hours for the next flight, but not before some sales staff tried to take 4,000RMB off us and many times trailing to and from various airport counters to get our tickets changed. And no, we didn't get upgraded that time either ;). Sooo, just a word of warning chum ;).
Aug 24, 2013 15:52 Report Abuse