As I arrived in Beijing at 6am after two hours of fitful sleep on the nine-hour flight, the face the city presented was very worrying for one due to host the Olympics in 44 days' time.
Grey, muggy and polluted, I knew exactly why the giant factories on the outskirts of Beijing will be shut down in three days' time.
A whirlwind series of briefings with British Council staff slid unmemorably past my matchsticked eyes before it was time to climb into a mini-bus for the "one-hour" trip to Tianjin - our conference destination.
The six of us who comprised the World Bank-sponsored delegation then endured a three-hour Friday evening peak traffic journey of 120 kilometres.
However, as a lifetime fan of Chinese food, I can honestly say the meal I enjoyed that evening was one of the best of a lifetime's experience. And a WorldSkills colleague from Hong Kong who joined us commented that a similar meal in Hong Kong would have cost him 10 times more than the £4 each we paid.
The next morning, the first official briefing for our visit included a nametag welcoming the "honourable quest" [sic] to the China Vocational Education Reform and Development Summit Forum of the China Vocational Education Equipment and Technology Show. Never again will I criticise lengthy conference titles in the UK.
The event showed that the Chinese are taking skills competitions seriously, but their current caution over joining WorldSkills - they are not sure their best apprentices are yet at world standard - is probably wise. They may not be ready for WorldSkills in Calgary in 2009, but I'd put money on them being ready for the competition in London two years later.
What is certainly impressive is just how centre-stage China has put technical and vocational education in its current Five Year Plan. Targets of increasing the proportion of vocational students to 50% of both secondary and tertiary education are almost achieved. This is very impressive for a country of this scale whose vocational system was extremely weak only five years ago.
The direction of China's planned reforms is sound: 'from enrolment-oriented to employment-oriented' 'from content-focused to capacity-focused' and 'from government driven to market driven'.
But there are real challenges. Too few technically qualified teachers curricula not keeping track with