7 Hours in Beijing

10 Nov

In the airport.  The city itself is quite a ways away.  The tall buildings of Beijing went on for miles.

The sun is shining.  It is 4PM.  You are all asleep since it is 4AM at home.

Free luggage carts.  Music piped in–calm, sedate, not overly orchestrated but simple, relatively well done arrangements of European and Oriental folk tunes, Christmas songs and western classics like Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’.  No constant annoying announcements. I like that the TV’s are turned down so low you must sit right in front of them to hear what they are projecting.

Very good signage all in English and Chinese.  The Departure board lists flights and rotates destinations between languages.

Elegant. Spare. Beautiful.  No US airport I have been in could be described thus.

Young women work here.  Everywhere.  There are virtually no male faces or voices to help.  There was one male overseer at both customs coming in and security as I left. At info and airline counters, stores and restaurants, luggage cart attendants, janitors, police and immigration staff, the voice on the train between stations–all women, all well-dressed and groomed.  Their uniforms and grooming vary from simple (janitors, cart collectors) to rigid office formal (counter and staff interacting to help travellers) to very ornate (the uniforms of the women at customs and immigration, the fancy dresses and outfits found in store staff).

It is disconcerting, thought-provoking to see the faces of the women, especially the service staff and police. Perhaps they are unaware of the raw, mute wistful wishfulness on their faces when they regard some westerners.  Covetousness is not it exactly.  It is more a weighing (but not just) of mutual material differences and of opportunities.  Young girls as immigration police and aides — in uniform, speaking English.  What kinds of homes do they return to at night?

The janitors are the oldest women.  Did I mention how spotlessly clean the airport is?  Women scraping grime from the edge of yellow lines on the floor, cleaning tiles and grout in the bathroom, using large bamboo tongs to sort trash, washing windows as children put handprints on them.

Saw one small boy in cutaway pants sans diapers.

Spent 90 minutes speaking with Tony, a research scientist based in Hong Kong who would not tell me which proteins he is working to purify to use in medicine, who had lived in N. Jersey and is a US resident,  whose children are attending Ivy league schools, who owns rental properties in LA, and who was interested in discussing the US economy, agricultural lifestyles, and the evils of the change towards materialism in Chinese life.  He went silent each time I tied spirituality to materialism.  He did not want to discuss that.  He bought me a small cup of green tea Haagan-Daz ice cream and quizzed me thoroughly on land values, rents, and taxes.

At MIAT  (Mongolian International airline) check-in there were several large boisterous lamas in bright orange robes with an astonishing amount of baggage and boxes pushing to be near the front.  Expecting deference.  And getting it.

Had to show my passport 4 times to get to the boarding area for UB.  Was wanded.  Everyone was.  Lots of very young security people.  Not a gun in sight.



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