It's hard to pick out the landmarks through the dusty permahaze, but even just before dawn it's clear. Beijing does not play around with scale.
Second to none is the general theme, and it holds true as you pan from one side of the hotel window to the other. The Olympic Torch towers off stage left, a creepy, Orwellian interpretation of triumph. In front of it, the Borg cube once housed media during the 2008 Games. It's styled after a computer chip. Minus the whimsy?
Oh, and that haze. Maybe L.A. hid under a blanket this thick in 1960, but it didn't come with parachuting bits of white fluff that look like dandelion spores, but totally are not.
The glowing points of fab are a welcome relief. The Water Cube is still enchanting and playful, and atomic geometry still elevates the Bird's Nest stadium out of its white-elephant gloom.
Among the glam, we'd also count the glimmering row of Bentley Flying Spur sedans parked in front of the Pangu 7 Star hotel, which apparently has its own big-bang theory for star ratings. A relief from the Pangu's relentless colonnade, the Spurs have made the big leap here after a global debut at Geneva's Motor Show, moving westward to the New York show before coming to Beijing for a global first drive.
It's a highly unlikely location for a drive, and it comes with a little bit of dread for lots of good reasons. Unknown roads. Incomprehensible signage. A requirement for a completely new driver's license. Then there's a certain reputation for free-form driving that Beijing's drivers proudly live up to.
The Flying Spur has to find its light in this mix. It's been a Continental for most its life, and with 20,000 sold since 2005, it's secured a niche. But the niche needs to grow, Bentley believes, and the sedan needs to move out from under the two-door's shadow. Hence the slight name change--there's no more "Continental" prefix--and a stronger emphasis on a more emphatic look.
Our part in all this? To endure 17 hours of lie-flat seats paid for by Bentley, slip into a Flying Spur Mulliner Driving Specification (we'll decode that for you later on), and to suss out precisely what our Storm Grey sedan can do, while artfully dodging every obstacle the local roads can throw our way. Including a Great Wall or two.