BEIJING, China - China officially opened its shiny new airport to commercial flights on September 25, 2019, with President Xi Jinping personally conducting the inauguration.
Beijing Daxing International Airport, which was designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid, is the largest single terminal in the world. The entire project cost $63 billion and took four years to complete.
I took a flight from Beijing to Shanghai out of Daxing earlier this month - despite its name, it also serves domestic flights - and had the chance to experience the futuristic architecture and play around with state-of-the-art facilities first-hand.
My journey started at Caoqiao station in central Beijing, where I took the newly-built Daxing Line straight to the airport. President Xi Jinping also took this train when he inaugurated the airport in September.
Like almost everywhere else in Beijing, there were security cameras and propaganda billboards all over Caoqiao station. There were a lot of posters celebrating China's National Day and 70 years of Communist Party rule, which took place a few days before the trip.
I paid 35 yuan ($4.96) for the train, which travels 40 km (25 miles) in 19 minutes. You can buy tickets on the automatic machine with cash or through WeChat or Alipay by scanning a QR code.
The train was almost empty, likely because the airport was still brand new at this point.
There was a security officer standing in each train cabin, as well as security cameras on the ceiling. TV screens also showed videos of the Daxing airport express being built, alongside the logo of the 70th anniversary of the PRC's founding.
The train reaches a maximum speed of 149 km/h (92.6 mph) — relatively slow compared to the Maglev train that connects Shanghai's Pudong Airport to the city at a dazzling speed of 430 km/h (267 mph).
We've arrived! The final stop of the Daxing line — the airport — is white and clean. And a lot of people on the train started taking photos as soon as they got off.
Upon arrival to the airport's B1 floor, I immediately spotted a security gate equipped with facial-recognition technology. It's not entirely clear what this was for. I was surprised that no security personnel stopped me from taking photos of it.
Inside the airport terminal, I saw multiple automated kiosks providing information about flight times and the airport's services — albeit in Mandarin Chinese only. There was a slot to scan Chinese IDs and passports, but it didn't work when I tried to scan my foreign passport.
On the same floor I spotted a peculiar piece of artwork, made entirely of paper origami swans: a Chinese phrase that says "The motherland is strong, and the nation is rejuvenated." The last two characters say "Da" and "Xing" — the name of the airport.
Here's what it looked like up close.
I then took the elevator to check out the rest of the airport. It was equipped with a touchscreen panel that lists out each floor's amenities.
My first stop was the parking lot, which has plants dotted around the floor. I was surprised by how nice it was — as were the other travelers in this photo.
Time for check-in. I was stunned by the beauty of the departures hall — massive openings in the ceiling let natural sunlight flow in — reducing the need for artificial lighting — but blocked out heat.
The airport has more than 400 self-service check-in kiosks, which authorities hope will make the process more efficient. However, an attendant asked me to check in at the desk instead, saying it would be faster for foreign passports.
I played around with the automated check-in kiosk anyway, and had my face scanned. The option on the right says "facial recognition" in Chinese.
This is meant to speed up security checks later on — instead of showing your passport and boarding card, the automated gates will recognize your face and let you through within three seconds.
Every check-in kiosk was decorated with the Chinese national flag.
I then headed up to the fifth and highest floor, which serves as a platform for travelers to survey the entire airport.
I decided to explore some of the restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. Many of them are famous fast food chains and cafes — I saw at least three Starbucks stores, two Costa Coffees, as well as their Chinese rival Luckin Coffee.
I chose to go for "The Dining Room," which looked the most crowded from the outside. It had an open kitchen where cooks were hard at work.
The shelves were adorned with fake cardboard books.
I ordered the country's famous xiaolongbao, a small dumpling filled with meat and soup. I went for these traditional pork ones ...
... as well as these black truffle ones, which I have never seen in my four years of living in China. The two dishes cost 72 yuan ($10.20) in total.
After my meal, I decided to walk around a bit more. There were a lot of patriotic signs on show.
This sculpture was particularly popular among travelers. The Chinese characters in the middle say "Beijing, central axis."
Free water dispensers were pretty much everywhere. It gave two options: warm water and boiling water. Chinese medicine suggests that cold is harmful for the body, so you won't be seeing any icy cold water here.
By this point, it was time to make my way to my gate. I took my carry-on luggage through the security screening, which had special trays equipped with RFID chips. There was also a row of cameras along the conveyor belt to photograph passengers with their luggage.
After the security check I entered the domestic departures hall — the center of the airport's giant "starfish" design.
Here's what it looks like from the outside. The entrance to the departures hall is in the center, and the gates are at the tip of the six starfish "arms."
The departures hall boasts giant windows, through which sunlight seeps and you can watch planes arriving and departing.
However, many parts of the hall were still closed to the public because the airport had only been open for a week during my visit.
Some shops were still open, though. I saw multiple luxury brands, including Louis Vuitton, ETRO, Gucci, Moncler ... and a huge Huawei store.
After a bit more exploring, I realized I had to go to my gate — perhaps I was too busy taking photos to hear the boarding announcement! I left the airport in awe of its impressive design and heartened by how proud the Chinese seemed to be of it.