Sunday, 7 December 2008


Jiaxing always amazes:

^Taxi! China's funky answer to the tuktuk challenge.

^Out on the town with the JX crew... Ms Dong, the Doc, Maaaichael, and Yours.

^I'll take two.


^2% beer is better than 1%.

^We want to be eaten!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008


When I think about it, I really like midday flights.

Early morning flights are terrible; I tend to get very little sleep the night before making it nigh on impossible to raise myself from slumber in time for the flight.

Evening flights are the worst, particularly long-haul ones. It's hard to sleep (perverse as it is, this is my experience), and there's always more work to do after hitting the tarmac. There's finding a taxi, driving a couple of hours to the next city, and helping the driver find the hotel in unfamiliar territory (this can take some time, the best plan is to change to a local taxi).

Midday flights on the other hand let you sleep in a little and enjoy the morning. I had a midday flight to Shanghai yesterday, which I was rather happy about. It's easy to get blase on a slow morning though, and getting sucked into Wikipedia can be dangerous. With 100 unread tabs open I realised I had about 10 minutes to pack, get breakfast, check out, and get to the airport by the recommended time. The airport wasn't far and traffic was light, so I arrived with plenty of time as it turned out.

I had a lighter in my carry-on bag (I don't smoke, but it was a cool lighter), and even though the bag was full of batteries, adapters, two phones, ipod, chargers, camera bits, etc - the x-ray image was a complete mess - the security suits found it. I guess the machine can identify and highlight certain density and/or chemical signatures - probably in the butane gas, I don't know. I had forgotten it was there, and they didn't tell me what they were looking for at first. I thought they would be satisfied after removing my camera lens, which is frequently mistaken for a bottle, but no. They told me what they were looking for and started digging around, it didn't take long to find. I got a rather unimpressed, yet unimpressive "you aren't allowed to take that onboard", and it was promptly confiscated. No questions, no warnings, nothing. I returned a dumb look, said ok, and was on my way.

With half an hour to spare I found a cafe and sat down with the Doc, my colleague and travel companion. 58 RMB for a coffee... A few months back the NZD was pushing 6 RMB. $10 for a coffee would have been steep, but agreeable considering this was the last stop after customs and immigration (anything for sale in an airport departure lounge is by default extortionately overpriced). Unfortunately the NZD has taken a battering of late, and it's currently down to about 3.6 RMB. That's $16 for a coffee. No.

We stumble upon a Star Alliance lounge, something neither of us were expecting a small town (with its mere 6 million pax) airport like this to have. Gold card in hand we slipped into a land of free coffee, biscuits, and blaring, tasteless elevator music.

The departure lounge resembled a local market more than anything, with a large fruit and vege stall and shops selling all manner of toys. Oh, and people everywhere. We board. I watch The Graduate on my laptop. The friendly Chinese man next to me watches some of it too, taking particular interest in the scene where Ben takes Elaine to a strip club. The lunch and service is surprisingly good. I doze off...

...Rough landing. Everyone gets up as soon as the plane pulls into the gate, still moving, seat belt sign positively still on. I go for my luggage in the overhead locker. People swarm past, pushing and shoving. I stand back and block the aisle, to little effect. So much for being 6" and wearing a leather jacket! Apparently, as long as I can't see who's pushing, they'll be ok. Even with nowhere to go, with plane doors still closed, immigration counters for Africa, plenty of luggage trolleys, etc, people are still running, pushing, and shoving. The mentality is odd, yet understandable when put in context. China is a harsh place, fear is pervasive and survival is key. I figure the thought process goes something like this: While I don't have any particular hurry, nor is there any immediate need to get ahead of everyone around me, I must try to gain an edge. If don't I will be disadvantaged in some way when unforeseen circumstances arise in the near future.

Taxi to Jiaxing. I doze, snap pictures of the setting sun through the thick smog. Check in. Dinner. Sleep.

Monday, 1 December 2008


TG-6169 from Chiang Mai to Kunming. Our waitlist came through (thank yooouuu, Star Alliance Gold! Priority waitlisting is a good friend), and we had a flight out of Chiang Mai, even destined for the right country. The flight was delayed several hours, and with each successive schedule delay I grew more suspicious it would eventually get cancelled, which it fortunately didn't. The pilot said it was Thai air's only flight out of Chiang Mai that day, presumably all their planes were stranded in Bangkok. The flight was full, many passengers had taken buses and trains from Bangkok to get there.

Landing in Kunming we headed to the airport information counter in search of a place to stay. The 'Green Land' hotel, 5 stars according to the girl at the counter, had rooms available - excellent, just what we were looking for. Then it was off to the Shanghai Airlines counter for tickets the following morning (today, Monday). They didn't take visa, so I had to extract a wad of red chairman Maos from the hole in the wall. International credit cards are great.

Taxi to the hotel. Dump bags. Inspect the hotel restaurant. Decide to give it a miss since the lights are out and the only person there is a lone waitress. 'Bad hygiene' translates to 'Terrible hygiene' without turnover, you get the picture.

We trek to Maccas, after the Doctor goes back for his jacket. Thailand is warm; Kunming, although only 1 hour north, is cold. Maybe it's those westerly winds off the Himalayas. We pass several gangs of workers with mallets and hatchets pounding the road, apparently removing the white markings. Some stare back at us, then return lazily to their pounding.

We come to an intersection and wait for the green cross light. We take it, and get half way over when a taxi comes screaming around the corner (presumably through a red light), straight for us and showing no signs deceleration. We dodge. Two or three more follow, we dodge again. We walk along the footpath, which is irregular and attended by various obstacles. I stray onto the bike lane, wide enough for 1.5 cars, and almost get hit by a speeding cyclist approaching without warning from behind. Once more I'm reminded of the mayhem and utter chaos in China.

We pass a small collection of street vendors selling various poultry giblets, pig intestine, etc. Nostrils stinging, we push on toward those holy golden arches. Ah, a sanctuary in the midst of a gastric desert! Enter. Locals stare at us, foregoing subtlety. Order - Big Mac combo. Refuell. Return to hotel, fall asleep to the sound of metal clashing with stone 22 floors below. It sounds like rain on a tin roof.

Kunming skyline