There is something undeniably exciting about travelling. I have racked up more air miles than Judith Chalmers, but I still get giddy-hearted jitters the night before I leave. I could pack my suitcase or kitbag in my sleep, but I always get wobbly-kneed at the thought of getting on a plane and flying off to pastures new and far away. I consider myself very fortunate in that I have seen most of what there is to see of the world. I have criss-crossed the continents, trotted the globe, and been pretty much everywhere you are told you should go by those articles in magazines which are titled “100 Places To Visit Before You Die”. If having a lot of stamps in your passport really was the road to contentment, I could die a happy man.
Or so I thought. Before I went to China, travelling was becoming something of a chore. Far-flung countries were beginning to lose part of their appeal, and the routine of packing no longer held the same frisson as it once did – you would be surprised at how riveting rolling socks up into a ball can be when you know you will be unravelling them in Jamaica. Work demanded that I travelled a lot, so much so that when I lay asleep in my London bed – or rather, trying to sleep – I could still hear the whistling, growling sound of the turbines.
Travelling to China changed all that. It blew out the cobwebs, loosened up the joints, warmed up my heart and reignited my enthusiasm for discovery. It was like diving to the bottom of a swimming pool, holding my breath for a few moments, then resurfacing to see that the world had radically changed. Everything, from the feeling of the wind on your bare arms to the crunch of the gravel walkway beneath your shoes, feels different. You feel at once displaced and strangely at home. Things seem alien yet familiar, like putting on a jumper which has been worn by someone else with different proportions than you.
The first thing to point out is just how large China truly is. There is no scale which can measure the sense of wonder which engulfs you when you step off the plane and trundle into Beijing airport. The new terminal at Beijing, built for the Olympics, is the largest in the world and it is stunning. I felt dizzy looking up at the intricate, almost infinite expanse of glass, neon and metal. Unfortunately, although Beijing may win the trophy in the size stakes, but it seems that it is still pretty careless when it comes to baggage handling. After touchdown, my TV co-presenter, discovered that his bags did not make the connection. I find this quite amusing for the few moments that I discover that the TV producer has not turned up either. We board the next plane to Xi’an, to find out we are booked on the wrong flight. We are, in fact, 1,000 km from where we need to be. In future I will always use Trail finders who have flown me around the world in the past and have never made a mistake with me before.
Thankfully, a lady in the airport’s only restaurants can speak almost impeccable English. She arranges new flights for the both of us as well as booking a hotel at the next airport. The whole debacle seems incredibly funny to us, but at this stage jetlag has been taking hold for a good few hours. I am not entirely sure if I am in London, China or the Land of Nod. We walk to our car, laughing – slightly manically, I now remember – and head off.
My Chinese adventure has begun.