Now I truly feel like Mr. Beijing


I know people who've lived here for decades, for their entire lives, and have not had the full immersion in Beijing-ology that I have recently been exposed to: an air journey from Nanyuan Airport!

The authoritative Insider's Guide to Beijing is somewhat dismissive of this travel experience:

"Thirteen kilometers south of Tian'anmen, deep in Fentgai district, likes the purgatory of Beijing air travel: Nanyuan Airport. Only travelers with frightening karmic debt end up here -- and all clients of China United Airlines, formerly a military carrier, which bases its operations at Nanyuan."

Probably I have the karmic debt, and for sure I was traveling on CUA -- but I found the experience weirdly charming. It was like a little trip back into the Beijing I first saw in the 1980s: an airport in the middle of a rural neighborhood, trees all around the runways, little hutongs and five-story Mao-era apartments just outside the airport fence. Few intrusions of modernity, like: taxicabs with meters (you bargain) or the for-sissies effect of translated signage. This is definitely not the new Beijing Capital Airport. (Below, my fellow travelers for Linyi, headed toward our CUA airplane on the tarmac at Nanyuan. Linyi, in Shandong province, is another of those Chinese cities few foreigners have heard of but is larger than nearly any city in the US.)

I'll take my nostalgia wherever I can find it. This was an unexpected dose.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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