Monday, 13 October 2008

First Impressions

There's a thick smog over Beijing this morning. Whether pollution or just fog, it's difficult to tell. Either way, it casts the city in a bright yellow haze, making everything seem brighter than it should, adding an aetherial tone to the skyscrapers and highrises. Beijing airport is immense, steel and glass as far as the eye can see and in all directions, especially up. Everything is efficient to the point of precision, and I am told off by the passport control officer for standing out of position. At baggage reclaim an attendant stands by, his sole job to set the cases upright and neatly ordered as they come off the conveyor belt. It seems pointless, passengers keep knocking bags over as they grab their own, but he keeps setting them right none the less, staring half-heartedly around him as he contemplates the Sysiphean monotony of his task. The taxi ride is in turns calm and terrifying, the driver nonchalantly weaving between traffic at 100kph without signaling or looking. The smoothness of the journey makes me forget that he is overtaking on the inside, until a particularly harsh bit of braking or the too-fast approach of a nearby car make me jump. Getting in to Beijing, everything just feels too big. Long, wide boulevards run five lanes deep (both ways) between the impossible architectural angles that make up more glass-and-steel behemoths on all sides. At first fascinating, I begin to lose interest until we turn off into the district I'm staying in, right next to the Forbidden City. My hostel is down a maze of side streets, messy half-built brick and tin shacks pepper the area. The hostel itself is nice, airy and comfortable, with bright red walls and paper lanterns hanging from the ceilings like a cheap Chinese restaurant in London.

I have a new mobile number, on an international sim card. The number is +447872259008. It's free to receive calls in China, and from the UK it's the cost of a local call. I'll also be on Skype from time to time. Until next time. x

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