Thursday, 12 July 2012

Slow Bloke To China: 10.CAAC - The Way To Fly - But Only If You Were A Foreign Tourist

Driving through the middle of Guangzhou was a challenge. The bus driver never batted an eyelid. He went at the same sedate speed, blowing his horn at regular intervals. The roads were full. The cars, however you could almost count on the fingers on one hand. There were hardly any. This was made up by the large number of trucks, tractors and bicycles. That was the biggest change I noticed when I returned to China a few years later. The ratios had changed. In 1979 it seemed like one million bicycles to each car, and now it seems the other way round.

The Department Store was huge, yet there wasn't much of interest to buy. Lavatory paper...

...yet more lavatory paper and little else bar the rice paper fans and the Mao hats.

Leaving was not hard. The group was deposited at the brand new airport to catch the flight to Kweilin, a mere up and down at only 45 minutes away.

'No take photos,' the stewardess said gruffly. 'Not allowed.' She leant across and pulled the shutter down the window, just in case anyone was tempted.

She proceded to hand out a bag of sweets and an orange plastic key ring with CAAC written on it. We were in the first class compartment of a Hawker Siddeley Trident, a plane which had been flown by BEA in the UK but hadn't been seen around for the last few years. So this is where they have all gone, I thought to myself. As we walked down the plane's steps onto the hot tarmac, I looked back at the tail. It may have been a trick of the light or a trick of the brain, but I thought you could just see the outline of the BEA logo under the pristine white paint.

Everything was pristine on CAAC. The crew were immaculately polite, the front cabin was white all through, white seats, white headrests, white lockers, white carpet. It was like being in an operating theatre. When I went to the aft lavatory, I couldn't resist opening the door back into steerage and sneaking a look.

It was a shock. Everything was far from white. It looked like the inside of a wartime Dakota with wooden benches along the side and a variety of ill dressed people smoking and holding onto their animals. I saw only the briefest of glimpses as the stewardess ran up behind me and slammed the door.

'No see. No, see,' she said and pointed her finger at my vacant seat. 

When I returned to my seat, I spread the word and her life was made hell by a succession of people trying to open the door. She ended standing in front of the door with her arms folded. Even as we landed she was fearful of sitting down in the crew seat.

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