My trip from Chengdu to Beijing was not a well-planned adventure. Instead of traveling directly to Beijing from Sichuan province, I ended up spending the night in Shanghai’s Pudong airport, and this after an hours-long delay at Chengdu, where I got to explore every each of the brand-new Terminal II, more than once. Chengdu’s new terminal, I was told by the woman sitting next to me on the flight from Chengdu to Shanghai, has been open for only a week or two, or perhaps three. It is full of high-end shopping, and what felt like an endless selection of regional-specialty Chinese food shops, offering regional delicacies and desserts. I browsed through six or seven of these shops, each with slightly different offerings but a similarly minded staff: Whomever was working usually followed me around, in lockstep, stopping when I stopped, often trying to explain in English the details of whatever happened to be in front of me.
There wasn’t much in the way of food, so, guiltily and disgustingly, I ate at KFC, which, after all, felt appropriate Chinese, because China loves its KFC. Anecdotally speaking, it is by far the most popular fast-food chain in China. Afterward, I did some pushups to stave off boredom, garnering a few strange looks, laughs, and thumbs-up signs from nearby Chinese passengers.
On the plane, I sat next to a Japanese woman named Kaori, a professional courier. Her job is to deliver packages, around the world and by hand, when even overnight delivery is too slow and/or can’t be trusted. Originally from Fukuoka, she now lives in Shanghai, and was returning home from a one-day delivery trip to India. She would sleep at home for only a few hours that night, getting on a plane the next morning to deliver a package to Japan.
I arrived at Shanghai airport shortly before three in the morning. It was mostly empty, with few signs of life. Most of the other passengers stuck overnight slept upstairs in the departure lounge, ready to tackle the task ahead in the morning, but I found longer benches without armrests downstairs in arrivals, so I slept by myself, with what felt like an entire floor to myself.
When I arrived in Beijing, I took the fast train and then the metro to my final location, a hutong northeast of Tiananmen Sqaure. Door to door, Chengdu to Beijing, was about 17 hours.
|I can’t remember if this was 3:30 a.m. (about to sleep) or 5:45 a.m. (when I woke up).|
|In the arrivals hall at Pudong, there are better seats for sleeping than there are upstairs in the departure hall, which is also significantly more crowded (but still relatively sparse).|
|It was a lot more comfortable than it looks, and as an added bonus I was able to dry my wet towel.|
|The arrivals hall at Pudong Airport in Shanghai, entirely empty for as far as I could see, at three in the morning.|
|Terminal II at Chengdu is brand-new and features plenty of high-end shopping, but little in the way of culinary choices; however, there are plenty of smoking sections with open-aired partitions.|
|On the fast train to Beijing, at about ten in the morning.|
|About an hour later, outside 9 Dragons Hostel, in one of my favorite Beijing hutongs.|
|It’s easy to make friends in Beijing!|
|Random Chinese guy walking in the hutong.|