Tashkent to Beijing

Mountain near Tashkent
Take-off suggested that the plane needed new shock-absorbers, but once in the air it's a plane like any other. It was probably the runway that needed re-surfacing. A grey haze of pollution hangs over Tashkent, but soon we are high over a vast expanse of empty light brown earth. The deep blue sky shades abruptly to vivid white on the horizon, and the stewardess tells us the outside temperature is -45 degrees. Below us the earth is bathed in sunlight, probably at about +25 degrees. Makes you realize how thin is the film of life covering our planet.
The drinks trolley arrives. It looks like a small hospital trolley with broken wheels, and the two cheerful hostesses carry it down the aisle. It looks rather pitiful. A few bottles of Coca-Cola, a few bottles of water, and two bottles of what I take to be flat beer but turns out to be wine. I stick to the Coca-Cola but the man opposite braves the wine. I notice he takes very small sips and takes a long time to drink it.
Lunch is interesting. The food is good and the combination is ... inventive. Excellent meat and rice, slices of cucumber, bread roll, jam sponge, chocolate bar, wafer biscuit, cheese spread and jam. I'm not quite sure how to arrange it all, but the quality is fine. I'm beginning to really like Uzbekistan Airways; it seems more fun than usual! An unhappy looking stewardess gives me a nice smile and an excellent cup of tea. My wife, who skipped lunch and therfore has no cup, asks for tea and gets it in a huge cardboard mug. The stewardess helpfully offers her a pot of Apricot jam, purpose unknown.
Outside, the landscape gives way to razor sharp mountain ridges flecked with snow. It looks deserted and beautiful. I have an urge to don a backpack and walk alone through the crisp unspoiled snowscape, but the urge passes and so do the mountains. It's dark as we approach Beijing, and my first impression is that compared with London, Beijing seems to be in almost total darkness. The plane suddenly seems like an old friend and I realize that on my first trip to the East I have no idea what to expect. The smooth landing is a good omen. We are in Beijing.

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