Beijing (Capital Airport) 2008

The bang and boom having receded — the flare of fireworks, the wash of color, the bold pageantry, the synchronization of thousands of bodies in motion. Yes, Beijing 2008 has officially begun. And for most of us, all we know of Beijing 2008 is what we witness via the TV feed.

For me, Beijing 2008 is summed up in two lay-overs in capital airport this past fortnight; a total of eight hours strolling through one of the most spacious, spotless, sparkling-est airports our world currently knows.

If you haven’t been there — and especially to the newly-opened Terminal 3 — it might be worth trolling around below the jump for a few minutes, to give it a visual canvas.

Beijing, as you likely have heard, is infested with smog. Thick with it. Lousy and overflowing with so much haze that you would be lucky to see 100 meters in front of your nose on a good day. They say that seeing is believing (or, in this case not seeing would be believing), so to verify this claim, I thought it would be good to provide a picture or two. Some documentary evidence to prove the point.

Unfortunately, since I was unable to exit the transit lounge, I have only these shots — through blast-proof class (which would make any outdoor scene look opaque). So, not as convincing evidence as one might prefer, but since this is not a court of law, one takes their data where they can snatch it. And if you harbor any residual doubt — just take my word for it: it was hard to see the tarmac for the clouds.

Beijing Capital Airport — — known as PEK (reflecting its prior romanization) or else BJS (reflecting the current pinyin spelling of “Beijing”) — is purported to be the world’s 9th busiest airport in the world. It didn’t seem so the two days that I was there. Particularly on that return leg, tuckered out from an all-night flight over and through Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, Uzbekisan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and most of China, I sought out a chair or two to stretch out on, perhaps catch up on my sleep. And guess what: not a problem. Rows and rows of empty seats to be had in any wing of the spacious new complex.

Aesthetically, what BJS sells is a harmonization of the natural and built worlds: with fountains placed in immense manufactured space.

Yet, throughout much of the terminal, the effort is made to keep the man-made at bay; to try to render it as unobtrusive as possible.

Hence, what BJS sells visually is the marriage of wood and steel — configured in the kind of simplistic geometric-array that appeals to Confucian-cum-Asian austerity, as well as the human preference for order.

With ochre, tans, oranges and yellows dappling the vault and walls . . .

. . . and a sort of jade-like lighting suffusing the corridors . . .

Culturally, what BJS sells is a mediation between the invented and the imperfectly remembered. In pagodas — stuck flush in the middle of the enormous physical plant — we encounter historicized kitsch:

And in tea stands — free-standing beyond the odor of foreign-stocked duty-free shops — is the authentification of indigenous goods, practices and values:

Morally, the BJS champions new world values: internationalization, globalization, and environmentalism:

captured in signs (in English, Chinese characters and iconic symbols) that pervade spaces both public (for all) and selectively privileged (by gender).

In the same way, BJS sells a new world order of capitalism: of economic exchange, of acquisitiveness, of consumption, of ease. The conflation of beauty, elegance, grace and style with purchase:

Which is not necessarily something to lament or deride. No matter what old-school, little red book-toting, hard-liners might assert.

For, at least it speaks with a clarity that it would seem is less achievable beyond the bounds of this resplendent new airport. Where large particulate matter stood at 134 micrograms per cubic meter today.

So, whether or not you bring your Visa card, or your air mask, you definitely should be encouraged to visit Beijing Capital Airport: if only for a good day’s sleep on any of hundreds of rather under-occupied seats.