I was laid over there on a flight from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to Seoul, South Korea. Thanks to something called a “temporary entry permit,” my layover was transformed from a long drag of airport coffee and magazines into an opportunity for wild adventure.
When you only have 18 hours in a place like China, you can’t waste a second. I’d never been to China before but I was certain of this. To ensure that I didn’t throw away a single moment doing anything that wasn’t awesome, like seeking out a hostel, I booked a cheap hotel room near the airport ahead of time. This way, when I landed at just after 10:00pm local time, I could check in, ditch my bags, and start exploring.
When I touched down in China, my phone was having difficulty connecting to the internet. Normally this wouldn’t have been a problem, but I was without Chinese currency and had no way of looking up the exchange rate. Because of this I accidentally withdrew about 500 dollars worth of Yuan from an airport bank machine. I’m not sure how common muggings are near the Beijing airport but I was a perfectly oblivious target.
I walked outside and hopped into a cab. I showed the driver my hotel’s address, which I had saved in Chinese text on my phone. He nodded in understanding. The car lurched into drive, and onto the unfamiliar streets of Beijing. I looked out my window, quite overwhelmed, wondering if I looked likeBill Murray in the opening scene of Lost in Translation (Well, the scene after the shot of Scarlett Johansson’s bum).
We pulled up outside my hotel; the FX Hotel Beijing Capital Airport and I hopped out. The cab cost about 13 Yuan, if I remember correctly. At the time I had no idea how much this was in dollars, but I would learn later that it worked out to less than three. Not bad. I checked in at the front desk and headed upstairs to my room.