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Monday, August 5, 2002, CST

Day 12, Stuck in Shenzhen


Our day started with blue skies and good visibility. This is one of the few times we have seen blue skies on this trip. It has usually been raining, overcast, or smoggy, but today is beautiful. On the drive out to the Temple of Heaven, we noticed that we haven’t seen any motorcycles in Beijing, and they are the staple mode of transportation in the rest of China. Turns out they are not allowed into the city, because they pollute, zip around too fast, and are dangerous. Even the little electric mopeds we saw, are technically illegal. In other parts of China, they wear hardhats, for helmets, but they look far from safe, especially the way no one gives anyone the right away, around here. No one thinks anything of turning left in front of an approaching car, or riding up within inches of a bicycle rider, with your bus. If you plan to cutoff a bicycle rider, in the bike lane, a simple honk will do, then go for it. Actually, they also use the horn much less, here in Beijing, but it is still a signaling device, and not a tool for venting your anger, as it is in the US.


Victoria showed us an indoor street mart, in a place called Lady Street, where we spent our last hour shopping in air conditioned comfort, before heading to the airport for our flight to Guangzhou. Since we were in a rush to the airport, and had not had lunch yet, we asked Victoria to take us to KFC, as we have not visited any of the American fast food joints yet. It tasted exactly like home, and would’ve been a godsend, back in 1985, but now, it is just more calories, that we don’t need, as the real food is so good. We all enjoyed it, however, and it was the perfect solution, for the ride to the airport.


Upon arrival at the airport, our adventures were just beginning. We noticed that our flight was delayed by about 30 minutes, so we had a 2 hour wait. After 90 minutes, or so, we noticed that our flight was no longer listed on the gate announcements, so I asked the ticket agent where our flight was. She sent us to gate 44, which was at the opposite end from where we were, and off we trudged. When we got there, there was no sign of our flight, and the board said gate 20, which was back to where we started, and then some more. OK, off we trudged back to the other end of the terminal, only to find you can’t get there from here. There was no gate 20, and the agent sent us back to gate 44, assuring us that it was correct, and were just blind, the first time. Off we went, all eleven of us, for our 3rd trip across the terminal. To make matters worse, by this time, we were quite late. When we got to the gate, there was a nice sign, indicating our flight, that we all swore, was not present the first time. At any rate, we were the last ones to board the bus to our plane, and guess where the bus took us? If you guessed gate 20, give yourself a prize. Finally, we boarded our China Air, Boeing 777, and settled in, only to find out we would be sitting on the tarmac for a while, so sit we did. While we were sitting there, I realized that we have flown China South, China Northern, and now China Air. It turns out that these are all euphemisms for CAAC, or China Airlines. Back in ’85, when the airline consisted of Russian surplus, we called this “China Airlines Always Crashes”. Now, they are so high tech, they even have a nose cam, showing us the view out the front of  the plane, as it taxis, and takes off. Once in flight, they display a moving map, of the TV screens, with ETA, course, and times. I wish they did all of this in the states. Once we were in flight, all was good again.


After our scheduled arrival time came and went, at 10,000 meters, they made an announcement, that the plane could not land in Guangzhou, due to inclement weather, and we were being diverted to Shenzhen, which is further south, almost to Hong Kong. Upon landing, they made the usual announcement, about staying in your seat until the plane reaches the terminal, but the 400 Chinese, aboard the flight, would have none of it, and people were up and out of their seats, opening the overhead bins, lining up at the door, and causing general chaos. Smoking was not allowed, but I was still surprised that no one lit up, as smoking is still popular in China, and this crowd did not seem into rules.  Cell phones were ringing and people were all on the phone, much before the plane ever stopped. It was all for naught, however, as the doors never opened, and we just sat there. When they started a movie, it became clear that we would be here for a while, and people had to put things back, and go back to their seats. They made some announcements in Mandarin, but did not issue the usual bi-lingual translation. Our guess, was that the only translation they knew was the routine announcements, and could not translate these ad hoc announcements. After more than an hour, we took off again, and headed to Guangzhou. We landed in Guangzhou 9 hours after first arriving at the Beijing airport for short 1,000 mile flight.


After we retrieved our bags, which is always quick, it seems we are the only ones who travel with luggage, we met all of our newly made friends from last week. It was a real homecoming, and we were all happy to be back in a hotel that was familiar, with so many recognizable faces. Dai Bok was there, Auntie Rose, Mary, and of course Douglas, Edy, and Charlie, who picked us up at the airport. Even the TV, had more English speaking movies, and stations. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll catch David Letterman.


Not only that, this time Doug and Edy helped me get online, from the hotel. After an ice cream, and Pringles for dinner, it was time to sit down and send this update.


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