It took a full day to reach Tokyo from Chengdu, with a bizarre connection in Beijing, and was an exhausting one. As modern as China has become it is far from as efficient, clean and well organized as Japan. And its authoritarian state rules made a long feel much longer. Everything in China happens exactly when it intends to.
The taxi ride to the airport was straightforward, but the check in locations and procedures far from clear. The website instructed I check in at Terminal 2, and that I must be present 2 hours before the flight. I left downtown Chengdu with plenty of time, and the taxi ride went off without a hitch. The airport was another story. Terminal 2 it turns out was only the correct terminal if you were flying just from Chengdu to Beijing. If you were leaving the country you had to check in at Terminal 1. When this realization dawned it meant sprinting the 1km to Terminal 1 with all my luggage. I had to check in 2 hours early, and that time was drawing nigh.
On arrival in Terminal 1 it was nearly impossible to find the check in counter for my airline, but I did, only to be told that they would only check me in 45 minutes before my flight. Hurry up and wait! When I did finally check in, the five other passengers and I exiting the country via Beijing were taken to a specific security check, and then kept in a room segregated from the rest of our flight’s passengers, who were in another Terminal. What on earth was the point of that? If it was to prevent us passing something between ourselves could we not do that on the flight? It was even more bizarre when you consider that when we did land in Beijing, we still had to deplane and exit through customs and immigration. That was another production in itself as we had to cross half the airport to do so. By the time they bused us back to the plane it was on the verge of departing.
China is a fascinating place, it is modernizing rapidly, there are skyscrapers everywhere, and signs of growing wealth. But there was also abject and utter poverty. Modern hotels, subways and airports stand next to shantytowns and squalor. Business men in designer suits walk past peasant labourers shifting loads of rubble by hand. In China it is still cheaper to hire people to toil where bulldozers and dump trucks could do the job faster and better. There are young people everywhere, literally armies of them. The young people the dozens of different securities services one encounters during the day while the old sweep the streets with brooms made of indigenous shrubs. It is a nation so desperate to catch up to its promise that it may lose itself in the attempt, but what a show it is putting on.
On arrival in Tokyo it took a couple of hours to retrieve my bags, clear customs and immigration and get into the city. Within the first hour the differences between Japan and China were immediately apparent. Japan is clean, organized and efficient, with nearly everything happening exactly on time. It is a vast populous country, but easy to find one’s way around with signs and announcements in English as well as Japanese. This is going to be an altogether different experience.