And cut to London, where I'm drinking coffee and listening to Radio 4 in the garden on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Beijing seems much further away than ten hours in the back of a charmingly vintage 747 watching a Michael Caine movie dubbed into German with Chinese subtitles.
More on Intel later this week. It's the weekend, so in true Sunday supplement style here's a quick answer to the one question everyone's been asking since I got back. What's Beijing like?
The people are simultaneously friendly and determined - the art of the shove is an essential life skill. Got stopped twice by people who wanted to talk to me in English, and once in a restaurant one of the waitresses asked me to help her with her homework. They found me being fat to be hugely and openly amusing, but with such warmth it was hugely and openly amusing to me too. The hotel was splendid - the first night in the bar I felt awkward that it was practically impossible to pour your own beer from the bottle to the glass, because as soon as you were a couple of sips in a svelte young woman appeared and topped it up. By the end, I was positively considering it my due right.
We will gloss over the three UK IT hacks who decided to avail themselves of the free massage the hotel offered -- at midnight -- and whose claimed subsequent declining of further services was not taken well. Likewise, no power on earth will get me to reveal the identity of the American comrade from another title who tried to keep up with the Brits in the bar, nor the delicious stories he related about certain Intel executives (one involving a substance more usually found at children's parties than employed as a tonsorial aid), nor the hollow, shambling zombie who appeared in the press room the next day. The Vulcan nerve-pinch I got on a couple of occasions from a noted gentleman of influence at Intel was also a little unusual.
Food - fabulous. If you were in the tourist areas, it was as dull and expensive as anything you could find anywhere. Go to a normal restaurant, and it's superb. Our favourite was in the local restaurant about quarter of a mile from the hotel, where each dish was cooked on a gas burner set into the middle of the table. A typical dinner we had there (between six of us) had catfish stew, stir-fried chicken with vegetables, lotus root, sweetcorn fritters, duck in hoi-sin sauce wrapped in lettuce, mixed pork and duck, rice and a couple of pints of beer apiece - and came to around four pounds a head. And did we really hear, when one of our number asked for a fork, that said implement was called a "chavstick"? Surely not.
The conference centre and the hotel were slap bang in the middle of the Olympic village, so it was a huge building site, with shanty towns and dust everywhere. Traffic was a nightmare, and we were warned that a dust storm from the steppes was due (it didnt quite arrive, but there was one day where the air was filled with a very fine dust that tasted of clay). Tianaman Square is very impressive, with lots of army people on guard everywhere - including those posted on plinths dotted around the periphery and equipped with fire extinguishers. Just a reminder that not all is peaceful in the Middle Kingdom... it's also full of hawkers, who try to palm off fake watches, kites, Chairman Mao's Little Red Book and other nick-nacks, while avoiding (more or less successfully) the police.
Saw the Great Wall, walked up it. It's great. It's a wall.
Was sure I saw an archaeopteryx in flight in the gardens of the Forbidden City, late one evening with the air full of scent and shade.
The chilling stuff was not being able to get to websites like the BBC News and Wikipedia - both banned - and looking for a newsagent at the airport for the flight home only to realise that of course, there was no such thing. We did get tailed by a government bloke who tried to look like a tourist while he took our pictures -- such fun to think I'm even now in a report or six circulating through the Chinese state machinery -- but he went off the idea after we started to take pictures of him.
Overall impressions: an irrepressible people enjoying the excitement of great change, but ones still caught up in a deference to authority that expresses itself in deep and complex ways. The tension between those two aspects is visible everywhere.
But... a wonderful and exciting place.