Day 2. Dubai to Beijing
After almost a year of anticipation, I finally arrived in Beijing. Exhausted, jet-lagged but in one piece. Only too eager to explore Beijing.
Although I like the new Terminal 3 at Dubai, I have to say that
it pales in comparison with the new airport in Bangkok. Sure
it's new and is dedicated to only Emirates flights; but what bugs
me is the fact that it lacks recreation areas or gardens. I
guess if the only aim of the airport is to sell duty free I think
they have achieved goal. But for someone stuck there for four
and a half hours it gets rather mundane. If you're lucky
enough to fly business or hold either gold or silver status with
Skywards you will at least get a shower and somewhere to sit or
even plant your butt in one of the electric massage lounge chairs;
yes they certainly come in handy after a cycling trip.
It was just passing 3am when I realized that I only had 20
minutes to get to my departure gate. I'd spent almost two
hours in the massage chair, drifted off to sleep a few times and
completely lost track of time. But after a brisk walk I made
it to the gate just in time for the final call. Traveling in
economy doesn't suit someone who's 6'3", and both my neck and knees
took a battering - but I did get some sleep and by 3pm I'd arrived
at Beijing. Not quite as refreshed as I'd hoped for.
I'd gotten to Beijing a whole day earlier than Bill and Dave,
but I wanted that time to put my bike together and have a ride
around Beijing and the surrounding areas before we get going.
This being my first time in China, I didn't quite know what to
expect - as always the only thing you have to go on is what others
have told you and what you hear in the media. Occasionally
some research does shed some light on what China really is like,
but not matter what your source of information is, it never quite
does it justice to actually being there.
I remember watching a documentary about the airport's
construction, how the roof tiles were to represent the scales of
the red dragon and that the roof is the single largest spanning
roof in the world. The documentary itself was quite
impressive, but I took a minute to take it all in. In true
Chinese proportions, the airport is huge, clean and very
functional. The immigration forms we were handed on the
flight were quickly processed by the officials and we all followed
the streams of passengers to a waiting monorail.
The monorail terminated at the baggage collection area and by
the time we'd arrived our bags were already starting to pop out one
by one. But my bike was nowhere to be seen and as any cyclist
will tell you, bicycles are one of those things that are with you
through many experiences and trips, and losing one in transit is a
bit like losing a vital part of your body. I was surprised
that not many of the officials I'd spoken to knew English enough to
help me with my enquiries, but after an hour of waiting around I'd
spotted an Emirates representative who helped me locate the
bicycle. With that done, the next step was to get some local
cash and catch a cab to the hotel.
The taxi stands are at the bottom floor and extremely well
organized, normal taxis, minivans, and larger buses wait patiently
to take people to the city. Not wanting to get ripped off by
the taxi guys (in case they spot the naive western tourist) I'd
asked at the information desk how much (roughly) I should pay for
the fare to Beijing. 100 Yuan seemed to be the going
Once at the bottom floor, I was ushered to a waiting taxi and we
tried to get the box loaded into the boot, however, the rear seats
wouldn't fold and I didn't want to unpack the bike at the
I decided to take a larger vehicle and waved over one of the
minivans. The cost seems to have gone up with the size of the
car, 300 Yuan - but I was so tired that I didn't feel like haggling
for a few cents and off we went.
My first views of China were much like the airport,
grandiose. Large freeways, modern cars, green trees and very
little to compare the communist Poland I'd known some 20 years back
to the modern China. As we got closer to the city I realised
that China was growing up fast. On both sides of the freeway
I could see large office and apartment towers, wide boulevards and
most surprising of all, thousands of electric powered
scooters. I was actually quite impressed with the scooters
and that China (or at least Beijing) is making an effort to cut
back on emissions.
I'm glad that I'd written down the Citycourt Hotel's phone
number and kept my booking form because as it turns out the hotel
is rather hard to find, not even people in the area were aware of
where it is. My driver meandered back and forth for almost
two hours after which the hotel staff decided to meet me at a major
intersection and we carried everything on foot.
The hotel was OK, and served as a good introduction on what was
to come some days later. The toilets didn't flush properly,
and if they did, the second flush would block up the toilet
completely. The shower didn't drain properly and flooded the
bedroom, which would be rather annoying if you'd left your luggage
or clothing on the bedroom floor. And the constant smell of
sewage, mould and wastewater was never far when stirred up by a
gentle breeze. Other than that the hotel was great, it even
had a nice central courtyard where people could meet or have a
couple of beers. But it's only for a couple of nights, and we
weren't planning on living there.
[Citycourt Hotel Beijing]
The staff were extremely curious to see what I had in the box
and proceeded to rip it open with knives and scissors - eventually
when they realised it was a Giant bicycle (made in China) the
excitement dimmed away from their faces and they left me in peace
to put the bike together.
Everything on the bike survived the journey but by accident, I
had left the handlebar headset bolt at home and was unable to steer
without it. I tried to think of a way to fix it, but because
it was keyed and grooved on both sides it was going to be
impossible to find a replacement.
The time difference and the lack of sleep were starting to get
to me - I decided to simply go for a walk and try to find something
to fix the handlebars with. After trying to use my
multi-skilled hand gestures to communicate with the locals, I
managed to find a bicycle seat post clamp for 10 Yuan which did the
trick just fine. It worked so well in fact, that I might just
leave it there permanently.
Although exhausted, I still couldn't motivate myself to go to
bed, instead I took a long walk around one of the lakes not far
from the Citycourt Hotel. At first I was surprised to see so
many people out and about so late, some playing ball games, other
I walked around some more and then crashed into bed.