Unglamorous travel

Growing up in Sydney and living as an expat for most of the past ten years, I’m quite used to the long-haul flight. I’m quietly amused when Europeans express how arduous they find a four or six hour flight. The key to surviving ten to twelve hours in the air (or five hours transiting inside an airport terminal) is not to peak too early.

As soon as I get in a plane I try to own my tiny little bubble of space (this girl is no business class traveller). Then, I assess what amusements are available: in-flight entertainment? Interactive or not? Magazines? English or not… If none of the above apply, I’m left to whatever novel and newspaper I’ve brought with me. Lucky I’m a good sleeper.

I’m not a fan of Air China. Before even taking off I had discovered grains of rice stuck to the blanket I’d been given. Then, upon opening the magazine, I realised it had become attached to me by the wad of crusty old gum stuck on the corner of it. Not impressed. It’s hard to own a space that revolts you.

Likewise, strategy is important in transit. I assess the smoking situation first, then coffee, then wi-fi capabilities as prerequisites: free? how strong? how much censorship?

Duty-free shopping rarely figures, I have to admit. Except if I’ve forgotten something, or to sniff around at local artisan-type stuff. I wasn’t going to sniff one item I discovered last night at DXB: a product packed with enough herbs and spices to make The Colonel envious. A product that goes some way to explaining why men in Dubai have the reputation of punching above their weight, perhaps.

Right now, I’m an hour into a four-and-a-half hour layover at Beijing International. It took me forty-five minutes to sign up for free wi-fi using a complicated passport scanning machine (the first one of which was broken). Then I discovered I couldn’t even get my social media fix as Facebook and Twitter are blocked. But to be fair, I did know this, and at least I was able to check-in with FourSquare.

Then to find coffee. There aren’t many airports in the world where you have to trek from one end to the other to find caffeine but there is a distinct lack of Starbucks, Costa, Pret a Manger etc at Beijing Capital. I don’t believe I even spotted a McDonalds in my marching. Lucky Lei Cafe came to my rescue, with a bitter cup of something I winced at with first mouthful. At least now I can think.

The smoking rooms here are not too bad here however, as far as those dens of iniquity go. Well-ventilated, with lighters on hand. Convenient, given that Customs managed to locate four lighters in my hand luggage and stole every one of them. Two unopened bottles of water taken too, that were purchased at the departure gate in Dubai. I don’t know what they think I could’ve done to them in the mean time to make them a threat. But then, I remember a strange instance in Shanghai a few years ago before boarding the Maglev train.

The surly guard told me if I wanted to keep the water I had to take a sip of it in front of him before proceeding. The logic is bizarre – obviously to prove to him it didn’t contain any chemicals of a poisoning nature. Not the time to crack jokes, but I do wonder what would’ve happened if I doubled over, gasping and clutching my throat.

So, this has taken up another thirty minutes. Onwards and upwards to the consideration of food. Maybe after another cigarette.

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