04 March 2018

Train back to Hong Kong and flights to Europe

Morning at home, final packing and tidying up before leaving Guiyang.As usual we have a couple of suitcases full of goodies, mostly food from family farm in Yanjia.

Brunch with family, bamboo shoots pork, water chestnut soup. And fish: a big black from the pond on our terrace! It is quite common for people to keep gold fish and live fish for eating together, in the same pond!

A neighbor gracefully drives us to Chenzhou station in his brand new Honda, which he points out costs twice as much in China as in Japan. Honda has factory here but it is supposed to be producing for export only, so he is not sure where his car, or parts of it, comes from.

He is a banker and has a good life. Happy with the way things are going in China but he says communism can never work. China is still officially pursuing communism but in practice it is successful because it is capitalist.

Chenzhou station is crowded beyond imagination, never seen it so full of people like an egg. And it must have been worse a couple of weeks ago for Chinese New Year's. They estimated that about 600 million people travel across the country to go home, the largest annual migration in the history of the world. No wonder the transportation system is busy.

Can't move around no chance to buy my favorite duck neck snacks from Shenhua. Bags through x-rays, but they don't check any of them.

people are allowed onto platforms in waves as each trains homes in on the station. There is one train every 8 to 10 minutes going either north toward Wuhan and Beijing or south to Guangzhou.

Fast train (over 300kmh) is slightly delayed but no problem we have a good buffer before our flight from Changsha. Once underway, the delay increases somewhat because one passenger sets off the smoke alarm. The driver slows down and two security guards walk up and down the train to catch the smoker. I am not sure what they will do to him or her but after about 10 minutes we resume our normal speed.

At Changsha station an avalanche of people moves to catch a bus or a taxi, or a maglev shuttle to the airport. We choose the bus as there is less to walk and we have large heavy suitcases full of Hunan food!

Just before boarding bus another x-ray machine for our bags, again no one cares to check .

The bus is an old and cranky machine from the bad old times, and a TV screen blasts off some kind of funny talk show at ear-piercing volume. It must be funny because Lifang laughs all the time.

At the airport we have to wait a while to check in but there is no place to sit down as people take up seats with bags, or lie down across three seats and think it is normal. We do not feel like starting an argument and just relax on our suitcases.

After check in we go through yet another x-ray machine no one pays any attention to and then passport control. Our flight to Hong Kong is in the same terminal area as international flights (and flights to Macau and Taiwan). Hong Kong is still a "special" administrative region, with its own borders, police, currency, laws etc. It is supposed to remain so at least until 2047 according to the treaty signed with the UK when the last remnant of the British empire was returned to its motherland.

After which we have another (you guess?) x-ray machine control! This time the do look very carefully and stop me. A guard asks if I am carrying a knife. I replied of course I was not. He asked me to open my trolley and take pretty much everything out. Of course there was no knife but the spine of a box looked like one on their screen. OK I can go.

The lounge of Changsha airport is nothing spectacular, and in fact they have reduced both its size and its offering since my last visit. Just some snacks and non-alcoholic drinks.

Uneventful flight to Hong Kong, where we spend a pleasant hour or so in the Qantas lounge while waiting to connect to our British Airways flight to Brussels. We walk to the gate quite early to board with the first batch of passengers and enjoy a drink or two before take-off.

Here, again, we run into the less than fully prepared staff of British Airways. We're flying to London and connect directly onward to Brussels. They won't let my Chinese wife board the plane because she does not have a Schengen visa. The rule says that she does not need one, because she is a resident of the UK and is with me, her husband, and an EU citizen. She would need one if she were traveling alone (though they usually let her through) but not in my company. It is a rather complicated rule, but it should not be beyond the grasp of people who check passport for a living.

I love a united Europe but they could really make an effort to simplify the rules back there in Brussels. Or just allow anyone who legally lives in Europe to move anywhere else in Europe, whatever the passport. but you would think the employees of a major international airline which fly planeloads of people from every corner of the world would familiarize themselves with it. No, they did not. For the third time in a little over a year we are held for some 30 minutes while the staff makes phone calls and scrambles to read manuals. I googled the relevant EU rule on the internet in less than 10 seconds and showed it to them, and finally we were allowed on board.

One more trip to Asia is over, though every time it feels less and less like a trip and more of a home coming. A long night on our BA flight and we'll be in Europe. BA is on a downhill slope when it comes to quality. Service on the plane, while friendly, is less meticulous and attentive than it used to be.



03 March 2018

Getting ready to leave Guiyang

Easy day at home, mostly packing and enjoying a late lunch with family. Today we ate fish, but only later I realized two of the black fish that were cooked with spring onion, garlic and chili were from the pond we have in our terrace. I like the idea: you can have pet fish in a tank, but at some point you eat them. The cycle of life continues.

For dinner we were invited by a friend and his family to a Miao theme restaurant, there are many around Hunan now but this is new in Guiyang. Guiyang seems to be developing fast, and what may have been considered too exotic to make money a few years ago now all of a sudden is popular with the rising middle class.

The Miao people are one of the best known minorities in China and live in scattered groups in many provinces, but mostly in about ten. Hunan has the second largest group, some 1.7 million people, or close to 3% of the population of the province. Only the adjacent Guizhou province has more. We had seen many in Western Hunan two years ago, this is the first time here in Guiyang. I am pleased to see that the wealth of minorities once again seems to be recognized as an asset in the country.

Food is served in the usual "lazy Susan" turning table and is quite varied, rich and, of course, spicy! People, eat, drink, laugh and even smoke cigarettes, all at once. Most of the men drink a lot. Chinese rice liquor. They drink one shot at the time, and to prove their point every time turn the empty glass to the other so everyone can see inside that it is empty. Sometimes they turn it upside down to show that not a drop is left. I drink two or three, then stop. I am not into this kind of competition, which I could never win anyway. Amazingly, no one gets drunk and at the end of the evening they will all walk home (or even drive home) without any issue. I thought the Russians and the Ukrainians were the toughest drinkers, or perhaps the Poles, but the Hunanese could take on any East European!

Four ladies in Miao costumes tour the restaurant and visit each and every one of the reserved tables and pour sweetish and mildly alcoholic drink into a carafe and from there to a cup positioned on lips of the "guest of honor", who must drink it all up! At our table, of course, that is me! I actually like the drink, though it is not so easy to swallow all that is required to look good, but in the end I manage to do so and avoid embarrassment!

Meanwhile the kids of the families attending play around the restaurant. The are full of energy and do not seem to care that it is getting late.

On our way back home, at the end of the meal, the children jumped on a street stage that has been prepare for a jazz festival that starts tomorrow. Too bad we'll miss the festival as we have to leave, but it's fun to see the kids dance tonight! And it's good to see jazz taking root in China, it's not been a favorite in the country for now, although increasingly available in the big cities. I guess, but I am not sure, that one advantage for jazz is that it is usually not as politically controversial as other genres and therefore not likely to be subject to any kind of censorship or restrictions. (Icelandic singer Björk got herself banned when she mentioned Tibet in one of her appearances.)

While we keep an eye on them, a friend bought us a cold drink, a kind of milk shake with beads made of paste of some beans. Quite new for me but refreshing and tasty, great to finish off the night!