Journey to the West

A week has passed since I explored Beijing, and already it feels like ancient history.

Let me catch you up with (mostly) pictures. First, some images from the area around the Baochao hutong (traditional residential area in Beijing), specifically Gulou East Street, where I found to be the most wonderful collection of shops and shoppettes, each even more joyfully designed than the next.

Baochao hutong:

Baochao hutong, Beijing

Gulou East Street shops — a selection.

Tuesday night I met up with Jennifer, a lovely woman whom I had met mid-January, pre-lockdown, at the WTWA when she visited for an afternoon with her mother. She studied English and works in the arts in Beijing; kindly, she made herself available and took me out to a good meal at one of those restaurants you have to know about our you’d never even spot it.

Wednesday morning, 2 September, it was time to leave. After an impromptu breakfast date, I got on a Didi car (Beijing equivalent of Uber), which the charming Beijing resident called Qi who had joined me for the morning arranged for me. The drive to the airport took not twenty minutes and then there were many, many security and health checks. About seven of them, I think, ranging from passing through a thermometer gate to extensive questions I had to answer in a newly downloaded Wechat Mini Programme to declare my health upon leaving China. It took all the minutes of several hours.

A driverless train took me into Terminal 3 for international departures, where more checks awaited, including a double customs examination of my passport and my features. Finally let loose in the ginormous terminal, my few fellow travellers and I discovered this to be utterly deserted. A Hermés shop was open, just. A Costa coffee stand was manned but sold only basic coffee and tea. Everything else was closed. Nothing for food but vending machines. I had not eaten since 6:45, it was pas 13:00 by that time. Finally I discovered the one open restaurant: K.F.C. With a limited menu. Tough luck, herbivore! I caved and wolfed down what was optimistically called a “chicken burger” and chips.

Never have I ever…

Then I did some taiji and qi gong in the empty terminal waiting area of a gate that was close to my designated gate—and nearly missed my flight… In spite of the fact that it had been delayed for an hour, boarding started suddenly and without any PA announcement. Or perhaps I’d missed it because I was just so, you know, meditative. A friendly member of the Air China ground crew came to fetch me and then I was on board the big Airbus 330-200 that would take me to Athens.

Fun flight fact: the Airbus 330-200 has about 300 seats. On my flight from Beijing to Athens, one of the hostesses told me there wre 36 crew members altogether. And 12 passengers.

With 12 passenger, we had 25 seats each. Social distancing in extremis.

Well, thirteen, really.

Missed me?

Upon landing at Athens airport, at nine in the evening, all twelve of us were tested for coronavirus. To this day, I have not received a message with the test results, so I can only assume it was negative. A taxi took me into the capital. The driver explained that the country was still struggling with the crisis and that 5.5 of the total of 11 million Greek live and work in Athens. I checked into my hotel and that was that: I had managed to get out. Well, I mean, return to Europe.

Our bed at the St Bjur Suites
Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs map of travel restrictions

That’s where I am now, in that yellow enclave, dangling at the bottom of Europe, topped and flanked by orange lands. If I am to flow like water, I think my next destination presents itself readily on this map: Italy. Perhaps a ferry to Puglia and then trains from there? We’ll see, that’s for next week. In a next update, I’ll tell you about my Greco holiday.

Finally: for Robin, who rose to the soundscape challenge in the awesomest way, and anyone else who tried the quiz but chose not to post their results in the comments, here are the correct answers. I’ll include the recording once more so that you can connect one to the other. Robin, I will take you out for a nice Chinese meal when I’m back!

1 C dancing grannies
2 B camera pole music
3 D bench chatter
4 H kick-shuttlecock joy
5 I street sweeper
6 F public toilet
7 O ribbon twirling grannies
8 A pruning
9 G waistcoat speech
10 N footsteps on stairs
11 M lady’s Forbidden City karaoke
12 K loudspeaker & trolleybus
13 P policeman’s loudspeaker @ Tiananmen
14 L park cicada
15 J airport elevator music

1 E pagoda with traditional music: made up, never happened
2 Q metro arriving at platform: heard it, did not record it

I see I ended up writing more than I had planned…apols.

Tot zover…until anon!

Chinese chess and a glass of actual Wine on a balcony in Greece: yes to life.

2 comments On Journey to the West

  • Avatar

    Beste Eli,
    Mooi verslag van je wederwaardigheden, je beleeft het zo van dichtbij.
    Veel gedoe met gezondheid van reizigers maar de mensen in de winkels nemen het niet zo nauw.
    Dat gaat meestal beter in ons stadje, althans de weinige minuten dat ik daar verblijf.
    Ben benieuwd hoe je avontuur verder loopt met de wisselende kleuren in Europa.
    Het ga je goed,

  • Avatar

    Ha! Toch best aardig gemaakt 🙂

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