It depends whether you’d like to, I guess. The world is shifting though.
Anyway, I inadvertently did once for a few minutes, so in case you’re on the run and want to disappear into the PRC, here’s how.
Step 1. Wait until China is hosting a major international event requiring a huge security presence (the more people involved in a task, the less the likelihood that anyone will actually have any idea what the fuck is going on). For us it was the final preparations for the Beijing Olympic games of 2008.
Step 2. Arrive stupidly early in the morning and say you don’t want to sit in that tiny holding area for several hours until they open the counters to process your your transfer flight (travelling with an overtired miniature human tends to open doors, if you happen to have one handy). With security and maintenance swarming, 24-hour processing was several miles away in a different terminal, but we had time to kill. We opted for the 45-minute walk and thousand-mile-an-hour monorail ride.
Step 3. Boarding passes in hand, weave back to the original terminal through a bizarre maze of checkpoints… up stairs, around corners, a few elevator rides, past lots of awkwardly worded advertising… be patted down a few more times than seems necessary. During this particular trip through Beijing airport it seemed imperative that all travelers were to be made as disoriented as possible.
Step 4. Look for a smokers’ room (don’t worry if you’re not a smoker). I could see two of them, on the floors immediately above and below where I was standing, though because of the overwhelming security presence I was blocked from using the stairs. I was starting to feel irritated.
That’s about it really. After a minute of ranting and flapping my arms about like a mad tourist, a nice cleaning lady with surprisingly good English (almost a decade later at the same airport, the woman at the information desk would lead me to the lost-luggage room, where she knew someone who spoke English) kindly interrupted me.
‘Excuse me sir’, she said, turning me around. ‘Just go outside if you’d like to have a cigarette’.
I turned around to see we’d been maneuvered into the arrivals hall, bypassing all of the usual security that international airports employ to ensure people without visas or paperwork don’t just wander out into foreign countries.
We wandered out of the airport for some fresh air (a Beijing oxymoron) and a cigarette, to filter that air. After five minutes as illegal aliens we wandered back in, fought our way back through all the security stops (it was like they wanted to keep us in there – perhaps they were worried people weren’t going to turn up for their Olympics), and found our gate just in time for boarding. As airport stopovers go it was actually pretty cool… they kept us busy at least.