To be clear: It’s not that Jeremy and I were hesitant about returning to China, but I wouldn’t say that we were excited about it either. It’s always a bit of a downer leaving a country you really enjoy, and after our rude transition from magical New Zealand to Australia, we knew we had to prepare ourselves mentally for our return to the People’s Republic. So we visualized putting our smog goggles back on, honed our elbow reflexes so we could successfully fend off any would-be line cutters, and dusted off the ear plugs.
And then, we saw this from the plane:
View of the Chinese countryside outside of Beijing.
I told Jeremy, “the airport is really far outside the city, so I bet we’re still outside the smog bank.” Memories from my visit to Beijing in 2000 are clouded by a thick grey cast over the city and the matching tissues when I blew my nose, so I was understandably a bit skeptical.
As we landed, we were told that the Quarantine Authorities would be coming through to check everyone’s temperatures before we deboarded. I tucked in for a long wait at the gate, but true to Chinese efficiency, three QA’s in haz-mat suits got on, shot everyone in the face with a temperature gun, and cleared us to deboard faster than you can say “H-yi-N-yi” (that’s H1N1 in Mandarin).
A quarantion authomite taking face temps on the plane.
We wandered through Beijing’s gorgeous new terminal 3 towards immigration, where the friendly officer spoke to me in perfect English (that was weird…speaking to a Chinese person in English) and marveled at the collection of stamps in my passport.
After quickly clearing immigration, we boarded the comfortable train into town. Less than an hour later, we were headed towards our hotel under gloriously clear skies.
OK, OK. HOLD UP! What is this?!? Nice people, efficient bureaucracy, uncrowded public transport, AND a smogless sky? Did we get off the plane in the wrong country? Is someone playing a really, really mean trick on us?
Well, guess what…all those driving restrictions and factory shut-downs that Beijing put into place for the 2008 Olympics have finally paid off. The sky was crystal clear for our entire 5-day stay in the capital city. I can’t tell you what a difference a blue sky in Beijing makes…our hearts soared, our eyes delighted, and we felt more in tune with this city than any other in China.
We ended that first day with a long walk to watch the sunset in Tiananmen Square. There were police guards all around and you couldn’t loiter at all at the entrance to the Forbidden City. But hey, we’ll trade some subtle military intimidation for a blue sky any day.