Eagles in Bustling Beijing

Temple Roof

Some time ago I began a blog about my travels throughout Asia, part of the Eagle Diaries. It didn’t get finished. I fell off the end of the world, but that’s for later in the story. I now have the opportunity to tell the tale in its entirety. Here is the first instalment.

My wife Katie and I began our journey on the train from Chiltern in the North East of Victoria to Melbourne, its capital, but because of problems with the tracks, we arrived an hour and half late. Having quite a bit of time to spare before our flight, we left Southern Cross Station and headed to the Crown Casino Complex, for a Gold Class version of Harry Potter and a good bottle of red wine, which seemed like a fine way to fortify ourselves for the wilds of Asia. Feeling very happy about the state of things after Harry’s great victory, we headed to Tullamarine Airport and our digs for the night. When we checked into our hotel room, we discovered the blocked foul-smelling toilet and moved to a slightly less smelly environment.

Sleep deprived at 5.30 the next morning, we staggered to the international terminal, bought some Asian currency, which turned out to be a big mistake and proceeded to board our Cathay flight to Beijing, via Hong Kong. To our great horror we received no upgrade to first class. Worse still, we had to plod through this section and its smug looking occupants to find our seats in the rear of the endless fuselage. Fortunately, Cathay provided a comfortable cattle-class with more than agreeable service.

We changed aircraft in Hong Kong and spent two hours checking out the terminal and the exceptional views. The mountains surrounding the airport seemed to rise straight out of the sea, with craggy limestone peaks protruding upwards through swirling mists. After the break, our new aircraft taxied out onto the tarmac, towards the runway and joined a large queue of jets. As we waited to take off, a blanket of ominous looking black clouds enveloped the airport, which culminated in a spectacular electrical storm. This prevented our Boeing from leaving the ground and we remained motionless for over an hour.

Once in the air, we bumped and shook all the way up the east coast of China and just like any authentic adventurers, we endured the four movie ordeal and arrived at Beijing International intact, despite requiring several medicinal gin and tonics, to ward off any possible chance of contracting malaria on the aircraft. It worked.

I let out an involuntary groan as we plodded off the airline. I felt momentarily crushed by the waves of onrushing heat. I suddenly conjured visions of arriving in a crud encrusted lounge filled with crates of chickens. The modern grandeur and sheer enormity of the terminal blew my delusions away. You could fit Sydney inside this building and still have room for Tasmania! OK, a slight exaggeration, but as I stood there dumbfounded, I couldn’t see where the roof-line ended in any direction, making this the biggest building ever to house my person! After surviving customs, we needed to take a fast train journey, perhaps several kilometres to the luggage pickup in the same building. Yeah, did I happen to mention how big this structure is? We then spotted a large kindly looking fellow holding a sign with our names on it and we felt very important.

The drive to our hotel felt like it took longer than our flight. For nine in the evening, the traffic seemed exceedingly heavy, yet here we found another of our expectations in ruins. Where were the rickshaws, the rusty old trucks and the crappy pot-holed roads? I couldn’t see a single old women bent with the weight piled onto her back. What was going on here? Was this really the China I’d read about my entire life? After fifty odd years of negative conditioning with regard to everything Chinese it felt inexplicably bizarre being in a Manhattan-like environment. How could a lifetime worth of information suddenly be untrue? Tomorrow, the daylight may provide the answer.