Arrival day!

28 Aug
0

I woke up somewhere above Inner Mongolia, about half an hour before we would land on Beijing Capital airport… My eyes were a bit painful, I had a headache and still felt very tired, although the flight itself had been very smooth (Unlike the first flight from Brussels to Frankfurt…), but I couldn’t sleep any longer, and so I started putting everything back in place, and I also adjusted my clocks to “Beijing time”, which is 7 hours earlier then time in Belgium, although now – in summer – it’s only 6 hours, due to the daylight saving time in Europe… (China doesn’t have that…) (My mother hates daylight saving time, so she should love that aspect of China… ;-) Hahaha…)

 

When we were above Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, we started our descend, and to my surprise we flew exactly over the FengSha line! (The railway from Beijing (Fengtai) towards Datong, over Shacheng, hence the name Feng(tai)Sha(cheng) line… ;-) Shacheng literally means “Sand City” by the way, so it’s really no surprise that you sometimes get duststorms over Beijing, mostly in spring!) (The railway is really spectacular, with more than hundred tunnels and even more bridges on only about 100 kilometers (!), but more about that later…) We flew over Guanting, where there is a big – probably artificial (?) – lake with a dam, from which the “Yongding He” (River) flows towards Beijing. The Fengsha Line follows this river most of the time… (Near zhuwo, Luopoling and Sanjiadian there are more dammed lakes along that river by the way…) Then I saw the valley of the Fengsha line until Zhuwo (The various camera views on the A380 were very practical for that!), from where we took a more southern route towards the Chinese capital… :-) Then we finally landed on Chinese soil… :-)

 

It was a smooth landing, but I was disappointed that it was “Greyjing” again, that I got to see…

 

 

In Beijing, there are only two types of wheather… One is clear blue sky with wind, and then the city is very pleasant and colorful, or grey, with a lot of smog and without any wind… On those days, you can only see a few hundred meters far, and everything looks grey and beige, grim and depressing… Many people say it’s simply the pollution, but I think it has more reasons than only the pollution. Of course, Beijing’s traffic is a disaster, with way too many cars, but so is the traffic in cities like – say – Paris, and yet Paris doesn’t have that smog problem? So I think it’s a combination between the pollution (Road traffic and coal fires!), the lack of rain (Although the humidity can be rather high during summer…), the fact that the beginning of the desert is so nearby (Only 100 kilometers to the Northwest, near “Shacheng”, the landscape gets very arid already…), and the lack of wind on some days! In case the wind is strong enough, the smog is quickly blown away, and then pollution levels can be lower than in Belgium! (On a certain, very windy day when I was there in October 2008, the levels of PM10 (Fine dust) were even considerably lower than the average in Antwerp/Belgium!) but not on this day, is was such a grey day again, without any wind… :-/

 

 

We had landed on Terminal 3 in Beijing, a superb building designed by Sir Norman Foster for the Beijing Olympics, which was nice for a change, because most flights from Europe still land on the older terminal 2, with Terminal 3 running far below its maximum capacity… (Maybe the airport tax is lower for T2?) That T3 is an enormously big building complex by the way, with a kind of subway running back and forth between both extremities of the complex! Luggage pickup was on the other side of the terminal, which means that the luggage is also transported very quickly from one side to the other. (Indeed, Terminal 3 supposedly has one of the most advanced baggage distribution systems in the world…) The checkout procedure went very smooth again, and shortly afterwards I was in the arrivals hall… Fan would come to pick me up at the airport, but she sent me a message that she would be later, due to a traffic jam… So first I got some Chinese money from one of the many ATM’s in the airport with my credit card, which is the most practical option today (Our Belgian debet cards are blocked for use outside of Europe since last year. No doubt because they could be used for free, whereas you have to pay a service fee to get money from an ATM with a credit card, making the second option much more lucrative for the banks…) (Although they blame debet card fraud… Just as if there is no credit card fraud!?), it’s at least much easier and cheaper than going to an exchange agent… And then I went to a place called “Lei’s Café”, in the middle of the hall (Easy to find!), where I had a nice drink… :-) Coke with chocolate ice cream! Bizarre maybe, but it successfully refreshed me! :-)

 

Welcome in China! ;-)

 

 

 

Half an hour later I got another message on my Chinese phone number (I have a phone with two SIM cards, so I had already exchanged my Belgian “Mobile Vikings” card for my Chinese one earlier…) from Fan, asking me where I was.. I told her I’m at Lei’s Café, in the middle of the hall. She answered that she was there too, but that she couldn’t find me!? :-0 Strange… One phone call later we found out that Fan was searching for me in Terminal 2, where there was a “Lei’s Café” too… ;-) So I had another drink, and half an hour later we were on the airport shuttle bus to “Fangzhuang”, not so far from her house, so upon arrival we summoned a taxi to her parents’ house, which costed 16,- RMB… (Around 1,75 Euro) The house is located at “Caihongcheng” (“Rainboy city”), in the south of Beijing, in Fengtai district. (a few kilometers south of the “Temple of Heaven”…) It’s an apartment building, and we’re on the 8th floor… :-)

 

To be honest we didn’t do much anymore in the afternoon… I was getting rather tired already again, but as I didn’t want to sleep too early yet (The perfect recipe for a more severe jetlag, as you will wake up in the middle of the night then, not tired anymore and so unable to sleep any longer…), we still had a short walk outside. Fan went to the bank (The “Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, or simply ICBC…), and so I simply walked along, while killing some time… :-) It was warm outside, but not too hot… It was around 28°C degrees, but the high humidity (84%), still made it a bit uncomfortable… But in China, there’s air conditioning everywhere, recently even in most of the busses and taxis! I only hope that the filters of the air conditioners are exchanged regularly enough, but to be honest I doubt it… ;-) In public places it should be fine, but in small shops, guesthouses or private cars I’m far from sure that this is the case… (But in China, it can be very unpleasant in summer without air conditioning, certainly in Southeast China, where temperature can remain well above 30°C in the middle of the night (!), with a very high humidity… You’re sweating continuously there, and sleeping normally is almost impossible this way…)

 

Either way, it was nice to walk in the streets of Beijing once again… :-) It’s nice to observe the street life here, certainly if you’re outside of the center of the city. Here, people are still hanging their clothes outside for drying, women washing their hair above a plastic tub, also in the street, another guy welding a metal fence on the pavement… Some other guys trying to load an enormous amount of boxes on a bicycle, an old man passing with two birdcages on his bicycle, just coming back from the park… :-) They walk to a park with their birds, hang the cages in a tree and read something… :-)

 

In the evening we ate some nice homemade Beijing style food at home, prepared by Fan’s parents… :-) And then, a nice, early sleep… :-) And that really didn’t come too early! ;-)

  • Author: J-Vee
  • Category: China

Departure day!

27 Aug
6

After the usual packing stress (Did I bring everything I will need? Would I need a raincoat? How cold will it be at the end of my stay?) it was finally time to go… My longest vacation ever was about to start, and given the fact that I will also visit North Korea this time (Not your average holiday destination…) it will probably also be one of my most memorable vacations ever, which was also the reason for me to start writing this blog… :-)

 

I took my Lowepro photo backpack and put in on. Not on my back though, but it the front, as I then put my trekking backpack on my back, so that the weight was balanced evenly… Last but not least I also picked up the bag with all my slide film in it. It contained a lot of medium format film, of which about 100 rolls of new Fuji Velvia 100F color slide film (Which I like a lot because of the very nice and bright, saturated colors!), but also about 25 rolls of older Kodak color slide film, such as the E100GX, E100G and E100VS, some of which was already expired… The reason for that will follow later… ;-) Hehe…) And with these three pieces of luggage, I was now ready to go! Packed like a mule, but in a happy mood… :-)

 

I walked towards the bus stop near my house called “De Roma” (Recently renamed into this after the restoration and reopening of an old, classic movie theater, which brought some fresh new life in the otherwise relatively neglected neighbourhood…) and didn’t had to wait very long for my transport… A good old PCC tram of line 10 brought me to Antwerp Central station… :-) From there, I walked to the platform of track number 21, where the train to Charleroi-Sud was already waiting… For those who are interested in trains: It was a double “MS-96”, which is a so-called “electric multiple unit” or EMU, so a train without locomotive where the traction motors are positioned under the carriages… (Many of my friends like trains too, just like me, so I hope those of you who aren’t won’t go bananas because of references like this… ;-) I’ll try to explain everything so that everyone can follow and understand what I write, even those of you who are not interested in train…) And even though I generally prefer locomotive-hauled trains, as those are much more comfortable and quiet (Given the fact that there are no traction motors under the carriages, there’s no noise, either…), I didn’t mind it this time, as the alterative would have been a train of double deck carriages type “M6”, with a locomotive type 27 in front, and those locomotives are unfortunately not very reliable. I’ve driven them myself a lot in the past, too, with freight trains though, and I’ve never really like them… (The electronics aren’t cooled down properly, so they often become too hot, certainly in summer…) We still departed almost five minutes too late though, but that was due to a Thalys high speed train from Amsterdam to Paris. Ever since the high speed line from the Netherlands to Belgium is used by these trains, they often have delays… The reason is probably the “ETCS” (European Train Control System) used on that line. This should become the future standard in the whole European Union, instead of the completely different systems used today, but I must say I’ve given up hope in it… It’s far from stable, there are often malfunctions and apparently the versions and levels are not compatible, so what’s the use of such a “unified” system!? (Locomotives made by brand X don’t even function on lines equipped with ETCS by brand Y, etc…) But enough about that now… :-) Fact is that the Thalys was too late once again, and that we had to wait for it… ;-) But out train easily caught up, and when we were halfway, in Mechelen, we already arrived a few minutes early! :-) And even though we had to make a small detour between Mechelen and Brussels North, we arrived on time in Brussels… :-)

 

 

Twelve minutes later I had to take a train to the airport, which was an old “classical” EMU, built around 50 years ago… They are also very reliable, but the comfort is not up to date anymore in my opinion, certainly not on such connection to an international airport, used by many tourists… Most of them didn’t know that you need to pull the doors open with muscle-power rather than pushing a button, and it’s not very practical with a lot of luggage, either… I hope they will soon use the “Desiro” on this line… (Brand new EMU’s of which the deliveries are slowly starting now…)

 

What I also don’t like is that the line to the airport is now included in a “PPS” deal (Public-Private-Cooperation), and that the passengers have to pay extra for that! Such a construction is – simply put – a project for the government, but which is being constructed – and paid for – by the private sector. These constructions are practical for politicians who like to announce nice new projects without having the money to pay for it yet, but on the long term they are always more expensive for the citizens, as those private companies logically don’t do anything without – a lot of – profit… Luckily, I didn’t have to pay this obligatory “gift to the share-holders”, as I’m railway staff… ;-)

 

I arrived in the airport of Brussels, and climbed the stairs to level 3, where the departure hall is located. I had already checked in online, and had already my boarding pass, so I assumed I didn’t have to do much anymore. I should simply drop my baggage at “drop-off counter 3.1”… I couldn’t immediately find that, but eventually it turned out to be a regular counter, including a – albeit short – queue… :-/ At the counter, I also had to hand in my passport, had my Visa checked, etc… So actually you don’t win anything with such a check-in at home… :-/ On the contrary, if you make a mistake it will be your own fault! So unless they improve the process it was the last time that I did that myself… ;-)

 

The security checks went remarkably smooth though, and 15 minutes later I was already sitting at the gate (Tax free shops might very well be tax free, but the prices are often much higher than in regular shops, so I don’t waste my time on them…), waiting for Lufthansa flight LH1013 to Frankfurt, with still more than an hour to go before boarding would start. This was scheduled for 14:10, takeoff would be at 14:40… :-) I read a book and made some phone-calls, so time passed by relatively quick… But at 14:10, there was still no plane standing at the gate, so I became a bit worried… I only had one hour and 45 minutes in Frankfurt to change for the flight to Beijing, so I didn’t have a lot of spare time… :-/ A few minutes later, a Lufthansa A320-200 arrived though, and stopped at our gate… About 20 minutes later, the boarding started, and soon I was sitting at my place, 15F… It was a window seat, and to my surprise, no other people sat in any of the other chairs of row 15… :-)

 

 

But then they announced the bad news… :-/ There was a thunderstorm in Frankfurt, so the plane would only be allowed to depart half an hour later, and we already were half an hour too late at that time! So the delay would be more than an hour, leaving me only 45 minutes – or less! – in Frankfurt! The flight was far from smooth either, with a lot of turbulences and everything! :-( The captain sometimes even obliged the staff to sit down and wear their seatbelts! Fortunately, the view was spectacular, with enormous dark clouds everywhere, lit by the sun here and there…

 

Before landing in Frankfurt, the crew announced that the transfer to several flights was indicated as “critical”, among which my flight to Beijing… Furthermore, the flight to Beijing would depart from Terminal C, whereas we would land in terminal A… I had to take the “Sky-Train” and everything! I did everything as fast as I could, but with my photo-backpack, which isn’t very light to say the least, this was not so easy as it sounds… (It’s not as if I could just run…) Furthermore, I apparently had to go through the whole security check all over again!? (Isn’t it enough to check those people who enter the airport? Why do transfer passengers have to be checked all over again!?) Furthermore, some idiot suddenly saw mortal danger in one of my two film backs of my Mamiya 645 AFD, and required a special test which would have to be carried out at another place… :-( When we arrived there, my blood started to boil when they were doing everything very leisurely, even after I told them that boarding for my plane had already began 20 minutes ago, and that the plane would take off in 20 minutes! It clearly didn’t make a lot of impression on the security staff, as they first had a long pointless discussion with some Chinese men who wanted to take a whole bunch of glass wine-bottles on the plane, and then had some chit-chat among each other (“Ha, Rainer, wie geht’s”?), but after a few minutes, it must have been 17:05 already (Takeoff was scheduled at 17:20), I could go, and so I made a run for it (With my heavy backpack, yes…), and made it just in time! :-| When I was at my seat, I could see them closing the doors and retracting those devices through which you walk to the plane? (I can’t find the proper English word for that… Heck, I don’t even know it in Dutch!)

 

The plane was the famous A380, and to my surprise the two seats next to mine (I again booked a window-seat, this time 58A, which is relatively far in front of the plane, before the wings…) were still vacant! :-) I was happy for that, but two minutes later an old Chinese couple came and pointed to those seats next to mine… They weren’t friendly at all (Didn’t respond when I said hello…), but the worst part was their smell!!! They smelled like horse-manure, I’m not kidding!!! :-( As a matter of fact, they looked like they had just been plucked from a countryside town somewhere in Henan of Shanxi province or something like that, including rural fashion and hair-styles! Suddenly, some Blackadder quotes about Baldrick flashed through my mind, but they couldn’t really improve my mood this time! Chinese people are almost never stinky, not even after having been working very hard or having been working on the field, but they did! Most likely the only stinky passengers in the whole plane, and they sat exactly next to me, in the biggest passenger aircraft in the world! :-( I wanted to change my seat, or talk to the crew about it, but as the plane looked completely full I eventually gave up… After some time, I didn’t notice the smell so much anymore anyway…

 

 

The A380 itself was indeed nice too. What I will remember the most is the silence, and how smooth the engines work! No thundering sound, no vibrating, just smoothness… :-) But the comfort inside was not really especially nice in my opinion… As a matter of fact it felt exactly the same as other big aircrafts like the Boeing 747-400 or 777-200, in which I have usually travelled to China… One nice detail though is that you can ply the headrests, so that you can rest your head against it… :-)

 

 

 

But otherwise I really wouldn’t mind travelling in a 747 again, I find them cooler, too… ;-) And they have a stronger ventilation system inside, which is nice , certainly in the unlikely case that there are stinky passengers sitting next to you… ;-)

 

Anyway, after eating something and watching the movie “Unknown” with Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger (Not a bad movie!) it was time to take my sleeping pill and try to get some sleep… :-) I usually never take sleeping pills, out of principle, but I make an exception in transcontinental flights, as I can’t really sleep in a plane, and if you haven’t been able to have some rest the first days of my vacation have to be used for recovering from the jetlag and the exhaustion… And as I normally never take sleeping pills, they tend to work highly… * yawn* effective… * yawn* … …

 

 

  • Author: J-Vee
  • Category: China

Hello world!

22 Aug
0

Antwerp, Belgium, 22/08/2011,

 

Hello,

 

This blog has been especially created to be used as a travel journal during my next vacation. This autumn, from August 27 to October 25, I will make a long tour through some seldom visited places in China and North Korea and then I will post all my adventures here in this blog! (Sometimes with a few days delay, though…)

So if you would be interested in reading about my trip then I would say watch out for updates soon… ;-)

 

Sunny greetings,

 

Joeri Vanvaerenbergh