Beijing International Airport

As I mentioned on Monday, I’m currently in Taiwan for Computex. Unlike the previous two visits, though, I didn’t take the direct flight from Vancouver to Taipei this time around; I took a connector that had me stopping over in Beijing for a few hours. The difference in the ticket price was worth it.

While I will most likely have some highlights from the Taiwan part of my trip over the next few days, I thought I’d talk briefly about the few hours I spent at the Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) too.

Welcome to Beijing… Sorta

The last time I was in Beijing, I had to get a Chinese visa. Since this was only a stopover and I wouldn’t leave the secured area of the airport, the visa wasn’t necessary. I did need to go through another security check, though, as well as speak with an (immigration?) agent who stamped something in my passport. I can’t read Chinese, but I’d imagine it’s not a “full” visa of any kind.

Beijing International Airport

It didn’t really strike me the four years ago, but the architecture of the Beijing International Airport is quite stunning. The intricately interwoven ceiling (image at the top of this post) is really quite breathtaking. Since the airport is so large, they also have a free tram service that shuttles you between the terminals.

Chinese Food Should Be Cheap, Right?

For the most part (there are obviously exceptions), food in Asia is generally cheaper than North America. The expectation when arriving at the airport in Beijing is that the “airport food” would be cheaper than the equivalent in Vancouver, Los Angeles, or New York. Well, that didn’t really hold up to be true.

Cafe Sambal, Beijing

Since Stephen and I had a few hours to kill, we decided to have breakfast at Cafe Sambal inside Beijing International Airport. While in the city, restaurants might be cheaper, but there’s effectively a “tourist tax” when spending time at the airport.

The breakfast that you see above was about 70 RMB, which is roughly equivalent to $10 Canadian. It wouldn’t be considered expensive in Vancouver, per se, but it was a bit more than I thought a relatively modest cafe in a Chinese airport would charge. That said, it was a complete meal with coffee (or tea), juice, toast, fried eggs (which were overcooked, frankly), bacon, ham, and sliced sausage.

Cafe Sambal, Beijing

I also thought it was good that they had Taikoo golden coffee sugar. I’ve had that back home too and it is better than the regular white sugar.

Free WiFi Behind Great Firewall of China?

Maybe it’s because I’m a techie kind of guy, but I’ve really come to expect most airports to offer complementary WiFi to passengers. This is true in Taipei, just as it is true in Vancouver. It’s also true in Beijing, but it comes with a catch. Or two. Really, it’s three.

First, the WiFi isn’t just open and free. You need to go to an “authentication terminal” before you can use your own device (tablet, notebook, smartphone, etc.) to access the WiFi network. If you have a local number, you can have a text message sent to you. For the rest of us, the authentication terminal requires you to scan your passport into their system.

It slipped my mind to snap a photo of these terminals, but there you have it. I would be concerned about privacy and such, but the airport authority already scans your passport multiple times when you go through security checkpoints anyway.

The other two catches? The authentication terminals provide you with a username and password, but these are only valid for five hours. You can authenticate up to three times, though, so that’ll hold you up for at least a 15 hour layover. It’s also very noteworthy that the Internet connection can be slow and spotty, intermittently ending your session, killing your connection, or forcing you to re-login. You’re also behind the Great Firewall of China, so certain sites (like Facebook) might not work.

I’m not sure what’s worse: having sub-par Internet access (as is the case at the Beijing airport) or not having free Internet access at all. What do you think?