In the few days that we stayed in Shanghai we grew to love the atmosphere of the city: it seemed like a lively place where people are getting on with their lives and having fun. The bones and arteries of the city, the transport system and the roads, are good, and the people are really friendly. It is the kind of city in which a foreigner can live for a few years and like it.
The next part of our trip is Beijing. We took a late evening flight. It was delayed by almost an hour. In India such a delay would have set people talking, many passengers would have gone to the gate and asked for the reason for the delay, and there would be several announcements giving more and more detailed reasons. In Shanghai people did not seem to bother. The quiet was nice. We took out our Kindles and read quietly.
We’d had a long day, so I fell asleep almost as soon as we took off. I woke up some time later to find the crew serving drinks. I had a tea and read about Beijing. The Family did not bother to wake up until we were about to land. The landing was beautiful: a feather-light landing which is so uncommon now. The night was a little chill, but we had our sweaters. There was another major delay at the baggage reclaim. It was past midnight, and we had to wait for nearly an hour for the baggage to arrive. Again I was surprised by the patience of my Chinese co-passengers. India is different.
It hadn’t been easy to flag taxis in either Shanghai or Hangzhou. Beijing airport turned out to be more organized. We were in a queue, and as taxis arrived, they would take the passengers at the head of the queue. We were in a taxi soon, luggage stowed away, and showed the driver the address of the hotel in Chinese. He spoke a few words of English. I remember reading in the newspapers that before the Beijing olympics taxi drivers had been given lessons in English. Were we reaping the benefits of that?
We are going to spend the next month in the Haidian district where there is a cluster of universities and high-tech companies. Late at night the taxi took about thirty minutes to get to our hotel from the airport. We found how impressive this was the very next morning, when I met a friend who took the shuttle bus at five in the morning and was stuck in traffic for two hours.
As we tried to check in late at night, the lady at the reception told us that we did not have reservations. I was nonplussed: I’d called up the hotel at four in the afternoon and told them we would arrive after midnight, and they had assured us that they would hold our reservation. It was sorted out minutes later, when the lady discovered that she had mistyped my name. It was three at night when we finally looked out at Beijing from our room 50 meters above ground.