Monday, April 13, 2009

Monstrous Beijing Capital International Airport

Transferring in the newly built (for the Olympic Game) Beijing Capital International Airport in the early hour of the day was like walking in a dreamland.

Our airplane arrived from Los Angeles shortly after 5:00 am local time (Beijing Time for the entire span of China, as a matter of fact). The plane was only half full - I don't know if it was because of the economic downturn or because we were in the air during the entire Easter. We got off the airplane and descended onto the foggy tarmac, and was transferred by a bus to a far away Passport Control.

All the halls were hugely impressive - immense space with echoing whirring buzz, a few decorative, unthreatening uniformed figurines scattered here and there, adding the only human touches in the steel trussed industrial futuristic thing.

The wait was short and we were led to the downstair train station - without knowing which train to take, we waited for the incoming train. Train came and only after we got on the train, we were able to see the directions and it turned out there was only one destination - luggage claim, custom, and transfer area. After a short wait to get my luggage, I started to look around in the area for an ATM machine. I saw two Currency Exchange but no ATM. I went to a Duty Free shop for advice and was told that there was an ATM outside that Luggage Claim zone. Why didn't the Duty Free shop carry one was beyond my understanding.

I joined the jumbled line (if there was any line in China) for Custom. Two lanes - Red for Something to Declare and Green for Nothing to Declare. At 5:45 am, the lanes were still closed. No sign and no person to help the insomniac bunch. Finally, one of us grew nervous and waved down one of the uniformed figurines and was told that the Custom would be open at 6:00 am. If there were only a sign! Then the country would be too visitor friendly. Keeping people uninformed and confused was the best way to exert one's authority.

Finally, the lanes were open and we were all waved pass, without having to fill out any paperwork. Another short lines to re-check in my luggage followed - Economy, Business and First Classes. One person came first to serve the Business class which had three people in line, and then another person came for Economic class, which had about 25-35 people waiting, yet no one was serving the lone First Class flyer. After the three Business Class flyer were dispatched, Economy class flyers were beckoned onto the the Business Class lane and the poor First Class flyer was left out unattended and he finally moved over to wait in the Business Class lane and was duly served.

Once re-checked my luggage, I went to the third floor and went through another round of security screening and again, no ATM was in sight. I found Information desk and was told that there is one near Gate C11. I walked a fairly long distance and found a Bank of China ATM near Gate C11. It gave me options of Inquiry and Taking my card. I was utterly defeated in trying to taking money out of my banking account.

Turning around, I had to walk through another vast span to Gate C55 for Shenyang. Found it but saw no gate leading to the airplane. Confusion kicked in. I went to Second floor and saw nothing and went to First and was reassured by the typical Boarding Pass dispenser near the gate. There were very limited seating on the first floor so I went back up to the second. Found a seat but had to move away, in order to stay away from several large tour groups, mainly consisted of loud talking Chinese. They were so loud that I thought they were doing political rally at an Obama event. My boarding time was 7:05 am. Near 6:55 am, I heard the call for boarding through my ear plugs. I went to the gate and was greeted by another bus. After another dream sequence, my fellow passengers and I arrived on tarmac again and climbed onto the plane destined for Manchurian Shenyang in northeast China.

The new Beijing Capital International Airport was the most inhumane large structure I ever encountered, for the purpose of swallowing and spitting out as many people as one could imagined.

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