The first thing I noticed when I got off the plane at Beijing Airport was the smell. As we walked from the aircraft to the terminal the smell of pollution engulfing the city became quickly apparent.
I had no real plans for this stop-over, except to wander around the terminal, have a meal and try to get some more sleep. I figured that if I could get some “proper sleep” between the two flights, it would help sync my body clock between Sydney and Stockholm.
I’ve slept in many airports over the years. I can sleep on buses and trains without much difficulty. And so grabbing three or four seats with hand luggage as a pillow has never been much of an issue for me. But then I saw the sign for the “hourly hotel with showers”. Showers! “Yes, I could do with one of those”, I thought to myself. After some procrastination, for the first time ever, I checked into an “hourly hotel”. Overnight stop-overs in hotels I could always understand, but I’ve never paid for a room by the hour before. I’ve always thought it would be a wasteful luxury, but then when I found out it was about $35-40 for two hours, I figured it could be a worthy experiment.
Standing in front of me in the queue to check in was a Dutch family, consisting of mum, dad, and two teenage sons. Mum and dad were taking exception at the staff’s request to keep their passports for “safe-keeping”. “You’re not the government”, the woman kept saying. “We’ve paid you, and that should be the end of it”, the man added. Meanwhile the teenage sons of the Dutch couple kept looking over at me, rolling their eyes at the apparent embarrassment their parents were causing. Historically speaking, I guess you can understand why some Dutch people would have concerns about handing over their passports. Historically speaking, I guess you can also understand why for some Chinese, handing over your passport is nothing out of the ordinary. I could see both perspectives. For a split-second I thought about trying to use my mediation skills to help the discussion, especially since neither one of them spoke English very well, and were attempting to communicate with lots of misunderstandings, I was feeling far too tired to do so. Eventually, they reached a compromise.
The room was tiny and the shower was next door. But it had a comfortable bed, a few facilities like a television and radio, but most of all for me, it was almost eerily silent. Silent enough to go into a deep sleep, one of those sleeps so deep you wake up with drool on your pillow. In the end, I slept twenty minutes longer than I paid for, but the staff didn’t seem to mind. As I emerged from the room feeling the same way as if I’d had a deep, relaxing massage: quite chilled out. I think it was a great small investment, and definitely a huge improvement on spending a few hours sleeping on airport furniture.
I managed a few more hours on the flight from Beijing to Stockholm. Oddly enough, as the plane was older, it was a more relaxed, more comfortable fight than the flight from Sydney to Beijing. The meals were also better, and the flight attendants were a little more generous with alcohol. This time I score an aisle seat in a 2-5-2 configuration, sharing the space with a young family. Although they were from an Asian background, I gather they must live in Stockholm, as the woman spoke to me in Swedish. She also spent some time helping her children practice Swedish. Listening to them sing “The wheels on the bus go round and round” pa Svenska was very, very cute.