Image: Derrick Santini
April 28 2011
Yann Debelle de Montby
Today, I spent the day in Beijing. I got up very early – 4.45am – in order to catch the first flight. I have found that this is the only way to avoid spending hours in airport lounges or on delayed planes. Last year, it even reached a record: I was waiting for seven hours on the plane, with the engines on, ready for take-off. I was lucky as I was travelling in first class, so I had a comfortable seat and I was spoiled by the charming flight attendant.
The service on planes in China is actually very good compared to Europe. The personnel on board are always smiling and very charming. The food is not very good, but being able to be pampered is really pleasant and we seem to have forgotten that quality of service in Europe.
I like Beijing. It is an incredible city, so different from Shanghai, not to mention Paris, London or New York. It is a very old lady which seems to be driving the latest Porsche! It is very big and difficult to move around, the traffic is very bad. The general feeling in Beijing is, power! Power of the past and the long history and power of the new China. While Shanghai can be a show-off, Beijing is low-key. Many artists choose to live in Beijing, which I always thought was odd. Today, I am lucky as the weather is pretty good, unlike my last visit when the winds from Mongolia were carrying a heavy yellow dust… pretty unpleasant.
But what I truly like in Beijing is the flea market (Panjiayuan: south-east corner of the Third Ring Road, Beijing) on Saturdays and Sundays. It is very big and you can always find interesting objects, old or new. As long as you don’t expect to buy a 15th-century Ming vase for a fiver, whatever you buy will be great.
Unfortunately, I have to be back in Shanghai tonight so I will miss the market. But I was lucky to be able to spend few hours away from the city, in the mountains close to Beijing, about 40 minutes’ drive. This is something I miss in Shanghai. You can drive for hours outside the town and almost never see the countryside. What a big difference with the UK! One last piece of advice: if you can, try to stay at the wonderful China Club, created by the multi-talented and charismatic David Tang in Beijing.