T3

July 4th, 2008

Roubaozi was here for a week. He had some moving-up-here stuff to do- documents, rearranging of boxes, y’know, stuff you do when you move from one Chinese city to another. I think, though, the big motivation for such a huge detour on his way home for the summer winter holiday, was respite from small-town Jiangsu and the fresh, fresh air of Beijing. Well, maybe just the respite.

Anyway, I told him, if your flight leaves from Terminal 3, I’ll come see you off from the airport.

See, there’s so much been written and said about T3, but I hadn’t seen it yet. Well, I’d only seen it as a construction site on the far side of the airport from T2 last time I flew anywhere, and that was, ummm….. two and a half years ago?

So I was curious.

Of course, I wasn’t flying anywhere myself, and I didn’t see much sense in seeing what could be done to get me a pass to go through the security check and see the insides of the place- or even find out if such things are available. So my impressions are limited to the front end, the check-in and lobby area on this side of security.

So ten o’clock yesterday morning I jumped on the first bus heading up Xidawang Lu that came along and went to Roubaozi’s hotel. He was just checking out when I arrived. Timed that well. His hotel, the Home Inn at Baiziwan (I think it’s officially the Guomao branch, even though it’s not at Guomao, but a kilometre and a bit southeast of there), is not so convenient for public transport, especially if you’re wanting to get the bus to the airport. The closest airport bus is the Fangzhuang route, whose last stop on the way out is at the China Southern Airlines hotel at Guomao- 200-odd metres south of the intersection on the eastern side of the Third Ring, immediately north of AVIC 1. That would be an easy 20 minute walk from Baiziwan- if it’s not absolutely stinking hot and you don’t have luggage to carry. We’d discussed how to get there, and Roubaozi- it was his trip to the airport, after all, I was only tagging along, so he made the decisions- had settled onto walking up to SOHO, taking the subway down to Guomao, then walking to the airport bus. I warned him it’s absolutely stinking hot outside. Once he’d all checked out and got his stuff sorted, we walked outside, and he said let’s get that taxi, shall we?

The reason I wasn’t so keen on the taxi option is that it’s less than ten minutes, traffic-willing, from Baiziwan to the airport bus. I was fully expecting the driver to refuse us. But no, we had managed to run into a decent bloke who said, sure, hop in. And he didn’t even try to talk us into letting him take us all the way out to the airport. And he dropped us right at the door of the China Southern Airlines hotel. Indeed, Beijing does have good taxi drivers.

Anyways, we got on the bus, and it was a huge relief to get into the cool, aircon’ed interior. But still I made sure we sat on the shady side of the bus.

The ride out to the airport was, of course, mostly the same as it always had been. But then we turned off onto the new highway linking up with T3, and I have to say, that was pretty impressive as far as roads go. And then planes started appearing out of the murk, and then there was some weird sail-like structure shading something- the toll-booth, as it turned out- and then…..

It’s an odd impression, a different kind of impression. T3 looms, but not like those monumental, intimidating edifices along Chang’an Jie. It looms quietly, confidently, crouching out of the fields, like it’s always been there, a part of the landscape as natural as the Jundu mountains to the northwest. And the sweep of the highway up to the terminal, around the carpark, and back out is graceful, elegantly simple. And I love how the carpark roof is planted in grass and shrubs. I was also impressed with the clear, simple separation between the carpark in the centre and the set-down/pick-up stretch along the front of the terminal- although I’m not sure why access to Arrivals had apparently been blocked- to stop people parking on the side of the highway then waiting for a phonecall from the boss saying he’d landed so they can breeze through, picking up the boss as quickly as possible without having to pay for parking, as they’ve been doing for years now? Maybe, but considering the number of cars parked along the side of the highway just outside the toll-gate, it doesn’t seem to be working.

Well, then we got off the bus, Roubaozi grabbed a trolley for the luggage, and we went inside.

WAH!

The place is huge and awesome and exciting! It’s up there with Hong Kong or Singapore in it’s sheer awesomeness! And yet, it didn’t feel huge. You could sense the sheer size of the place, but somehow it felt appropriate, not daunting, not agoraphobic. Actually, it did rather remind me of Hong Kong airport- which is not surprising. They were designed by the same person, were they not?

Well, after a bit of searching of the information screens we found where he had to check in, then found out that he’d have to wait an hour, so we wandered up towards the shops and cafes and restaurants just in from the check-in counters. And there was Lei Cafe right there in front of us. And we got our coffees within about five minutes of sitting down, and they were a bit on the expensive side, but certainly not outrageously so- quite reasonable for an airport, in fact. And the coffees were good- mine had quite some kick to it, in fact, which is the way I like it. And Roubaozi spoke to the waitress in English and I spoke Chinese and there was no trouble at all- she took both orders quicksmart, spoke to me in Chinese as if it were the most natural thing in the world, none of the usual linguistic bullshit one so often has to put up with in places that attract laowai.

Well, an hour passed and we went back to the counter to check in. It seems Roubaozi’s flight was a code-share deal between at least three airlines. Seems we chose the wrong queue. Some petulant Aussie up ahead was getting all upset at only being allowed one bag. Dude, check the rules before you fly and follow them. Saves a lot of hassle. Still, the woman behind the counter dealt with him most professionally, and eventually he stormed off in a huff- presumably to figure out how he was going to get on his flight home. Next up was a courteous older gent with a UK passport and strong Aussie twang. He was through in five minutes. Roubaozi was also processed very quickly and professionally and informed that his was a domestic flight to Shanghai, where he’d pass through immigration, and then on to Sydney. Interesting arrangement, but whatever, she was very clear about this right up front, no surprises, so full marks for that.

Having had a good, strong coffee at midday and it being close to one, I was getting pretty hungry. Burger King. Beijing needs more Burger Kings. The airport is a fair distance to go to get a burger that actually tastes like food.

Then we wandered round for a bit checking the place out. There’s not as much this side of security as I’d first thought, but still, it’s pretty cool, and there’s more than enough places to hang out while you’re waiting to see somebody off. I believe there’s four cafes, including Starbucks, and several restaurants, as well as a few shops. We stopped at the western end of the lobby and watched planes taking off and landing for a bit.

Maybe it’s some weird trick of perspective- the planes, after all, looked kinda small- but I was surprised by just how close the terminal is to the runway. Still, considering there was plenty of room for large planes to drive around and how tiny the various vehicles looked, perspective must’ve been playing games with me.

Then we got one last beer for the summer- one last one for the summer because Roubaozi will be arriving in a southern New Zealand winter about now, and the weather down there has been decidedly chilly recently- at the cafe at the western end of the lobby. But somehow there was a whole in the airconditioning there, and that cafe got to be an uncomfortably warm place to be sitting. Well, we finished our beers and Roubaozi went through security and I went in search of the bus home.

I was surprised to have to go down two floors to get to the ground-level where the buses were, but whatever. Got the ticket, walked outside, and found it much easier than it ever was at T2 to find the appropriate bus. As in every other part of the terminal that I’d seen, the signs were very simple, very clear, and very visible.

And on the way back in to town we passed four trucks bearing four train cars on their way out to the airport. They didn’t look like much all trussed up on the back of a truck, but that’s surely a good sign that the airport subway line is nearing completion.

I guess the only thing, apart from the hole in the airconditioning over that one cafe, that I found odd about T3 was the apparent confusion between domestic and international. They seemed at first to be all mixed up together. Then I realised that there were colour-coded arrows on the ground and signs over the entrances to the respective security checks that made the difference clear enough. Took me a while to figure that out, though, and I’m normally pretty good at navigating new airports and train stations and things like that.

So I have to admit that I only saw the lobby and the check-in process, but Roubaozi has passed through the domestic side of T3 a couple of times now and seems quite happy with it. Still, in the interests of fairness, not everybody is as impressed with T3 as I was.  But I liked what I saw.

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