Golden Week (pt.2)

Mongolia!

Getting to Mongolia from Kanazawa actually took longer than getting from Kanazawa to New York City. First, I took the Shinkansen from Kanazawa Station to Tokyo Station. From Tokyo Station I had to get the train to Narita Airport. That wasn’t difficult, just time consuming and stressful due to the fact that all of Japan is in vacation mode during Golden Week. But Japanese trains are clean and run on time. I had reserved seats for both trains, so it was less stressful than it could have been – yes, I have gone Kanazawa to Tokyo during a holiday period without a seat – no, it isn’t the worst thing that could happen but it also isn’t the most comfortable.

Once at the airport I had time to kill before my first flight. I was flying Air China to Beijing, then Beijing to Ulan Bator. I realized I had forgotten extra memory cards, so I hunted down some before going through security. I also managed to get breakfast at a restaurant (again, before security). I’d been to the restaurant previously so I knew I could get some tasty food quickly and not outrageously priced before departure.

Clearing security at Narita is a simple process. It’s quick and doesn’t have all have all the “security theater” issues that U.S. airports seem to have. If they have a question about something in your carry on, the security officials are quite polite about it. Actually, that’s been my experience in most other countries. One of the times I was in the U.K. they were baffled as to why I was taking off my shoes. When they had to further inspect my reusable water bottle (empty but sealed) they told me exactly what caused the extra security search and what they needed to see.

…but back to the Mongolia trip…

I cleared security and immigration with no problems and went to wait at my gate. The flight was full and I was flying economy, all reasons to worry about comfort on an international flight. Except that they aren’t reasons to worry. One thing I’ve learned since moving and choosing to fly certain airlines is that even economy can be comfortable and filled with amenities. Yes, they feed you hot food. Yes, drinks – including some alcohol – are free. Yes, there is inflight entertainment (although on the Narita – Beijing route you don’t have your own TV). The seats are small, but not overly so.

I always try to get a window seat so I have something to lean against if I choose to attempt to sleep. It also gives some extra room between the window and your seat. It also lets you see some pretty amazing things. As mentioned in my previous post, I saw Mt. Fuji. This was completely unplanned. The few times I’ve tried to see Mt. Fuji from a plane it hasn’t worked out. Either I’m on the wrong side of the plane (listening to the すごいs and the きれいs accompanied by camera clicks) or the flight path doesn’t go by Mt. Fuji. This time I wasn’t even thinking about the possibility of seeing Mt. Fuji and the pilot didn’t announce that we were passing the mountain.

I made it to Beijing with no problems. I was ready to start my sleeping in the Beijing Airport experience. Why was I sleeping in the Beijing Airport? Well, I had a 14 hour layover. I have a Chinese visa in my passport and even without it, transit visas are available at the airport. However, my flight arrived in the evening and my next flight was scheduled to leave early the next morning. I decided not to leave the airport for a few reasons. The first reason was that things would be closed. The second, where would I sleep? The third was that I might not make it back in time for my morning flight.

When you land in Beijing from Japan, you disembark on the runway and take a bus to the terminal. The first thing that hits you is the heat and the air quality. Inside the airport the air is cooler, but I’d already become a bit of a sweaty mess. The end of April was hot. After landing, I had to clear transit immigration and security in Beijing. Immigration was no problem. Even if I was leaving the airport, as I mentioned, I had two different options (my Chinese visa or the transit visa). Since I was not leaving the airport, I proceeded to security. Where I stood on a line for what seemed like forever.

When I departed Beijing last August I had to take out my camera and batteries, but not all of the lenses. I packed my carry-on how in a way I thought would make security in Beijing (plus the 14 hour layover) a breeze. It was not to be. There was a backup at security. Almost everyone was having to take just about everything out of their bags and belongings were being thoroughly inspected. I took out what I thought I needed to and put my belongings through the x-ray machine.

I had to go back and take out all my lenses. I had packed them at the bottom of my bag in their own zipper pouches. This meant emptying my bag to get to the lenses. Once I had the zipper pouches out, I had to take them out of the pouches (some of which were mesh and you could see what was inside without opening them). Even my sunscreen which was in my liquids bag and the correct size was scrutinized, opened, and smelled. Luckily, since I had time, I wasn’t overly concerned with how long it was taking me to get through security, but I know some other people were on tight schedules.

Eventually I made it through security. As I repacked my bag and freshened up on the other side, I made a mental note to put all the pouches at the top of my carry-on for the flight back. Then I hunted down some food. I ended up at Pizza Hut. Yes, they have Pizza Hut in the Beijing Airport and it’s more like an actual family restaurant than a pizza place. Maybe that’s common for Pizza Hut?

After eating some food and I found a pretty good location to get some rest. I figured I’d sleep on some chairs at one of the quieter gates. Um, except it didn’t quite work out that smoothly. Yes, I found some seats, complete with charging stations. Beijing has a pretty good set up with outlets in the floor in the seating areas. They also have a few charging stations that take USB cords in each gate area. This means everyone can charge their devices easily and for free. Internet, not so much.

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There are signs advertising free Wi-Fi, but when you try to access the Internet, you need a Chinese phone number. Sadly, I do not have one and considered getting Bongo wireless while in the airport because 14 hours is actually a really long time even if you are planning on sleeping.

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Sleeping was more difficult than I had anticipated. There are TVs every couple of rows in the seating areas that play advertisements and short programs. The first hour this was slightly entertaining. However, they don’t turn most of them off until about 12:45 am, at which time they turn on all of the lights. So it’s one or the other – loud TVs or bright lights. Oh, and there are some late arriving and departing flights out of the terminal as well. But it’s free and seemed pretty safe. The airport is clean (they cleaned the seating areas and bathrooms several times over the duration of my stay) and security makes rounds.

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But my trusty travel companion and I made it through the night and onto our next flight…

(Sadly not on this cute plane…)

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