среда, 23 января 2013 г.

Impressions of China (Part IX): our last day in China

We woke early on 2 January to catch our train to Beijing with less that 24 hours to go before our flight home. Oxana did a good job packing our bags and cases and I got all the money and various documents ready for travel. What I didn't remember to do was to charge the iPad and the mobile phones. Mistake! We only realised this once we were on the train.

I have already written about the bullet train which connects Jinan and Beijing in under 2 hours. Very efficient and comfortable. And not withstanding our rather bulky luggage (with five of us we have a baggage allowance of 100kg but only two of us can actually carry stuff) we made it by taxi to the station and to the waiting hall with some time to spare. We said goodbye to Lawrence and Miao Miao in order to go down to the platform - we had said goodbye to Leo the previous day; we was staying with his Chinese grandparents and his cousin and friend, Jiao Chang.

The train journey was quite calm. We only discovered the uncharged equipment gradually - and were lulled into a false sense of relief when we were able to charge the iPad and Mum's phone in the carriage. It was only after we arrived in Beijing that we discovered our phone was down - and we were planning to split up later in the day.

Arriving in Beijing, we found the taxi rank and headed off for the airport. We had down all the ground work on our previous visit and knew where to go and how much approximately it would cost (about 100 RMB = 10 GBP).

On arriving at the airport we knew to make our way to the 'Aule lounge' which actually turned out to be the 'Hourly lounge'! At this point we were hoping to be able to check in, leave our luggage and relax for the rest of the day. However the booking arrangements were rather strange. Overnight accommodation was only available after 6pm and all the day-time rooms were full. We had to hand our belongings in at 'left luggage' and plan to be back dead on 6pm in the hope of being able to get a space.

The airport is connected to the underground network by a rail-link. We purchased our tickets and headed into town with about 2-3 hours for our tourist visit. Oxana, not having been with us on the previous trip, wanted to see the Forbidden City, while we were keen to visit the zoo and the Pandas. We separated paths slightly nervy with the phone not charged (there was very little battery left). Mum, myself and the three girls took the underground towards the zoo.

Beijing Zoo was great. It was Baltic - and we were frozen by the end of it - but we did find the pandas and spent most of our time seeing them and taking photographs. There must have been about 5 of them in various glass cages and outside. One amusing moment happened when a Chinese student, standing with her back to one of the world's rarest species, asked to take Sophia's photo. White-skinned non-Chinese Europeans are a rare species to the Han Chinese - even in cosmopolitan Beijing!

Time was catching up on us and although we did attempt to find the dolphins and then the giraffes, they were located at the far end of the zoo and various things were closed or inaccessible. In the end we started to make our way back to the airport, but not before Oxana rang to say she was lost and her phone was already virtually out of power, ruling out calling Lawrence and Miao Miao for help (in the end she was helped by some sort of 'citizens' patrol' which reminded Oxana of the good old days in the Soviet Union). It was a rather anxious trip back on the underground and rail-link and we were grateful to see Oxana when we got back. In the event the Hourly Lounge did have availability and we were able finally to dump our bags and relax.

We decided it would be nice to go for a meal together and had a mind to print off our boarding passes. Our meals were fine - generous bowls of noodles in a soya soup, but Mum's non-noodle meal was rather meagre. We then attempted to get some deserts elsewhere - and Mum something more substantial, but to no avail, as there was either very little selection or ludicrous prices. And you couldn't print your boarding pass at the airport for love or money. Even the office which did offer to print off allegedly didn't have internet access. After much ado - and a phonecall to S7 airlines Chinese office - we abandoned the undertaking. In the end I got Lawrence in Jinan to check us in online (although we didn't have a print out to prove this).

At the end of the evening I went for a coffee and a chat with Mum before retiring to bed.

The next morning began at 3am. On awaking I remembered that we needed our housekeys. You can imagine the increasing panic as they were not in the obvious places (where I thought I had left them). I was desparately rifling through all the bags, but no joy. To make things worse my call to Lawrence to book onto the flight had finished off our mobile credit, so we couldn't text folk in Siberia to make arrangements (as far as we knew our spare keys were a three-hour train's ride away from home!). Feeling suitably despondent we realised that if the keys were indeed with us we hadn't lost them in the room and we made our way upstairs for our flight. Mum had kindly awoken and said goodbye to us all. Before we checked in we had an unfortunate attempt to get our bags wrapped in cling film, falling victim to some scammers who pretended to be official aiport staff. The airline and airport stuff were unable to grasp what we were trying to explain; in China 'a little' English means just that. There wasn't much we could do and the scam had only really cost us 5 UK pounds. We had a nice final photo taken in front of an interesting sculpture in the terminal before heading off to the gate. After some hurried duty free shopping we were the last on the flight, which turned out to be virtually empty (20 or so folk).

The flight was quite relaxed... and in the relative calm I found the keys (in the blind panic earlier I had not properly checked one of the pockets on the suitcase). We arrived in Novosibirsk having had a half-decent sleep and kindly met by Alex Richardson.



And so ends our trip to China. 

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