Wednesday, June 13, 2007

First into Beijing

Finally, after a journey that began this morning at 8am at Changi Airport, I arrived at Beijing Capital Airport. Beijing is a busy city. It is also, unfortunately, a hazy city. The air quality leaves much to be desired. The number of people from foreign lands must have increased an order of magnitude since Beijing and China in general, opened up to the world.

Even so, going through customs at Beijing was a breeze. There was a whole row of customs booths available - maybe 50 or so of them - all manned - to get the hordes of travelers through. One interesting feature at every booth is a voting panel. Commuters can express their rating of the customs officer serving them as they wait to have their documents checked and verified. And the customs officers are very efficient and fast. I didn't have enough time to figure out what the panel was about before I was cleared - it was that efficient and fast.

In some other airports, for example, those in Malaysia, the customs officers seem to take pleasure in making commuters wait in line and wait in front of them as they check the travel documents - at least that has always been my impression for one or two times I have used KL International Airport (KLIA). And even when multiple booths are available, not all of them are manned even when the crowds come in.

But back to Beijing. I didn't lose a single luggage and was well out of the airport in a jiffy. Taking a taxi is very much like that in Changi Airport. You line up for the constant stream of taxis coming into the pickup/waiting area. In some airports, you have to fight for one. I had no problem communicating my destination and was off and out of the airport in double quick time - just like in Changi.

The journey was also quite smooth and fast. We only encountered heavy traffic as we moved into the city proper. The one thing of concern in Beijing is the air quality. It is bad, really bad. That's when you start to make comparisons with Singapore. Whenever travelers remarked that Singapore is sooo... clean, we take it for granted. But these visitors are not being patronising - just being honest. Compared to Singapore, Beijing has this pall of dust all over the city, starting even from the airport. I was getting worried for the two kids who are traveling with me. Both of them have a history of asthma.

We arrived at our hotel - the Howard Johnson Paragon Hotel, just across from the Beijing Railway station - in slightly under an hour.

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