Beijing

things about traveling

1.

What I’ve come to expect from airports:

  • A free, reliable and readily available power source
  • Some amount of free internet
  • Generous numbers of benches, chairs and assorted buttrests (preferably padded)

Singapore does spoil me a little, what with the institutions it’s made of airports. Automated passport and fingerprint scanning mean I skip the manual immigrations checkpoints. (This is great. Minimal conversation with airport personnel.) Internet is free and unlimited (at least in the T3 departures area), and I don’t even need to enter my email address. The mammoth building is uncluttered, roomy and almost chic. It’s been a bit of a treat flying Singapore Airlines back from the UK, actually, after the various budget EU flights I flew in the past year. All the food, for one thing. Every time I vaguely wondered if I were hungry, an air steward(ness) walked past with a hot meal or some nibbles. Still airplane grub, but I’ll take quantity if quality’s not available.

But airports have taken on such morose, even miserable associations with me that I’m never genuinely thrilled about flying, anymore. There is always something, no matter how small, I’m leaving behind, and I haven’t really traveled for ‘a holiday’ in the past few years. It’s always been a transit between countries. I inevitably fill about two-thirds of my annual crying quota in airports. The number of times I’ve stumbled around airports with a dazed, slightly beleaguered expression, trying to shake off the lingering haze of emotion.

I don’t expect that to change. I don’t think I’d want that to change either. Sometimes I wonder if that’s just because I suspect I wouldn’t know how to live any other way – what would it mean to find a country I could see myself in, safely, contentedly, year after year? What would it take? By the end of this summer, I’d have spent my time this year in four countries, in the ratio of 7 (UK) : 2 (France) : 2 (Singapore) : 1 (China).

2.

After a relatively comfortable flight during which I spread out across the two empty seats next to me, I spent half an hour in Arrivals searching for my mom within a 0.5 square meters area, due to a tiny, perfect storm of little things going wrong. Phone didn’t have signal, pay phones in the area refused to work for me, and I didn’t have my mom’s mobile number. No readily available Wifi either (there was supposedly free Wifi, but it needed either a working mobile number or a form from the invisible Help Desk). In the end, I bought a monthly subscription to a internet provider and Skype-messaged my parents.

Beijing was surprisingly cleaner than I remembered. The clean-cut roads leading away from the airport, the absence of bikes and the “unwashed masses” (metaphorically), even the air seemed … if not fresh, then at least inoffensive. A fierce gust of wind picked up as my mom and I headed for dinner, which was actually quite lovely, even as it howled terrifyingly at the peak-hour traffic. Then the storm died as swiftly as it rose.

Am proud of how lightly I have travelled this time: only one duffel bug as carry-on (and my tiny handbag), and no check-in luggage! But then I’ll obviously be able to get most things I need here, and I’m going to pilfer laundry detergent, towels and shower stuff from my mom.

3.

This article on third culture children has been making its rounds on FB. I definitely feel the one about time differences, because I keep track of at least four different time zone all the time. I even have weather forecasts for the places I happen to care most about at any one point. Singapore’s weather forecasts are a little useless, because I have only ever seen the thunderstorm icon on it. But having other places like Oxford, Vancouver and Sydney has me feeling closer to the people I care about who live there. There are ridiculous twinges of regret at ‘missing’ some great weather, for example, sunny days in Oxford this week, because it isn’t as if the weather over 8000 miles away affects my plans in the slightest.

The summer, as always, continues to drag its feet.

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