The Commute Over
Karen and I awoke just before 6am and sunrise on Monday morning the 2nd of April in Brisbane. I had stayed up until roughly 4am writing a review of A Quiet Place for Scenestr Magazine. Karen drove me to the departures drop off at the International terminal. It was to be some of the longest time we had been apart since I left a part time job about two years ago that occasionally I had stayed away on. There is a shame I feel in blasting across the world on a trip while she stayed home. It’s more complicated than that of course but I hope I can make it up to her in the future or that maybe we can work together towards a fulfilling goal in the future along similar lines.
My first flight CZ 0382 was an Airbus A330 scheduled to take off at 9:55am to fly 4,388 miles from Brisbane to Guangzhou in 9hours and 5 minutes. Disclaimer, I’m going off the Itinerary not necessarily the exact miles and times that transpired in reality. In a reoccurring theme all my flights seemed to be down the other end of terminals in far narrow corridors. I was seated in the centre of three seats on the left with the aisle seat. Next to me was a small boy of five with his grandfather on the right hand side aisle seat. Fantastic I thought plenty of elbow space. Strapped in for my first international flight of 15 years and first airplane flight in 9 years I kept my eyes peeled taking in the moment. Turning my head to the far away windows to catch a look of the passing and falling away countryside. Flight has never become boring or routine for me and I always wait with excitement for that instant where the plane lifts away and rises. The kid next to me could care less at one point taking off his seatbelt which I quickly put back on with his grandfather’s thanks. Once he was able to get back to playing Angry Birds on the screen at the back of the chair in front of him the better. I enjoyed dinner and managed some sleep amongst my own attempts at Angry Birds.
I learnt quickly if I wanted to go to the toilet go before they come out with the food since you’ll have your tray out until they come and collect plates roughly half an hour later after the all the meals have been consumed. I was also closer to the rear then I realised and had my eyes on the toilet to the front before a kind cabin crew member showed the back one was vacant. No matter, I could use the walk depending on how serious I was taking the DVT threat and how helpful I thought ten extra paces was to combating it. Since I was going on less than two hours sleep I found it easy to nod off but would always be disappointed when I awoke to find only half an hour or at best two hours had passed. I don’t remember if it was this flight or another where I slept through most of the live action remake of Ghost in the Shell but I did. I also constantly put up a 3D display of our plane and route which had come a long way since the maps I watched on a big screen in 2002 on the Qantas flights. As we landed this display seemed to interest the kid and he looked at it and outside the windows seeming to now feel more connected to the experience now he could see a rendering of what was going on outside. Fair enough, maybe I had started something. He had certainly turned me onto Angry Birds.
Eventually we landed in China and I stepped off onto foreign soil for the first time in 15 years and the first time in China. I went through customs with over 7 hours to kill in Guangzhou airport. As a man I naturally went to the bathroom opening a door to see a squat toilet. While considering the old when in Rome mentality I figured not all would be the same and sure enough another door revealed what I was more used to. That killed a good hour. I looked at the shops, considered getting a pizza in China just to see what it was like but in the end decided to hold onto my money and see how the trip panned out. Outside the air had some smog to it and gave way to night time quickly.
I had wondered if China Southern Airlines would be a cheap alternative to other airlines but I would highly recommend them. The staff were polite and spoke Chinese and English to their passengers switching from one to the other with ease. The food was great including instant coffee they served premixed with milk and sugar into a plastic cup. I could imagine true believers would think it too sweet, and horrible to have it in a plastic cup but the taste and convenience was right up my alley. Many years ago when I flew with Qantas people placed chairs literally 45 degrees back whether somebody was sitting behind them or not. I don’t know if the chairs go that far back on China Southern Airlines because nobody tried it. Everybody seemed to be on their best behaviour, maybe it was the formal politeness of the crews, maybe something in their culture but I would happily fly with China Southern Airlines again. Apparently Guangzhou is the home base of the airline and it has been aggressively seeking the Australasia market since in China the government made Air China the national carrier and it has the North American market so Southern China Airlines are trying to build up the Canton route for Australians to Europe over the traditional Kangaroo route. I even like the colour scheme of Southern China Airlines with blue chairs and blue livery on the plane and blue fibreglass on their boarding stairs and the uniforms are very umm.. smart.
After looking over the shops twice and starting to nod off reading my Michael Caine bio I decided to walk around the place again. Ending up in another area I came across some multi-coloured leds and a walkway that talked about the history and current status of Guangzhou. I enjoyed this very much and maybe one day I will check out the city itself with its large media tower.
Finally it was time to board CZ 0307, another Airbus A330 scheduled to fly 5689 miles over 12 hours and 40minutes leaving at 12:05am local time. This was to be my longest scheduled flight and so I descended some stairs to an underground bunch of terminals again away from the main fanfare. This time there was no plane outside the door but a big bus that we all squished into standing up holding onto dangling grips. We drove for what seemed like one end of the airport to the other at one point stopping abruptly as another vehicle whizzed by in front of us. We got out to ascend mobile stairs into our plane which I always find more exciting than just going down those extended walkways. Now I was on the left hand side with the aisle seat in a row of two. A small young Asian man had the window seat and seemed polite enough although he was coughing which made me wonder if I would come down with the worst of a cold on my sister’s wedding day. Again I seemed more fascinated than others by the fact that the plane was taking off looking out the windows as best I could.
I found it interesting in 2002 that I was flying over war torn Afghanistan and now I was flying over the snowy wastelands of Russia and China. It’s best not to think of what would happen if you survived a plane crash, oddly I still enjoy turbulence like it’s a carnival ride but now a little older I was more aware of how fragile the whole enterprise is. I was 30,000 feet up in the air with some tin around me. I ate dinner happily, having forgone the pizza earlier and managed to nod off, wake up, nod off. Not long after finding out I had only been asleep a little bit I would thankfully manage to nod off again. The time went and I looked down and there was Europe. I couldn’t make out if it was snow or water below when I saw Holland but whatever it was it was beautiful.
I landed in Amsterdam local time 6:45am to catch CZ 7858, a Boeing 737-800 Jet operated by the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines scheduled to take off at 8:35am local time to cover 231 miles to London in 1 hour 25minutes. I cleared customs, walked along the airport to my waiting terminal off by itself somewhere again. When we boarded I found myself in the middle for once of a 3 seated row on the right hand side. There was also no screen on the back of the chair which kind of took me by surprise, was I about to engage in conversation with my fellow travellers? I found the Dutch crew very warm and friendly, the Dutch accent and language to my ears sounds joyful and I really enjoyed my time with them.
There was a message about getting a form if you did not have a European passport. I mentioned I was Australian to the flight crew and they gave me the form as a precaution. On the window seat was a gentleman who took this as an opportunity to ask me what I thought of the cricket. I told him what I thought but ironically and apologies to my late grandfather I don’t really follow cricket and added this to the conversation. The man and I talked a bit, he had just finished working many years in warzones. I asked if he was a correspondent or been in the service, he said he’d been working for non-profit as part of his Church. He was now looking to travel the world with his family for the next couple of years. On my other side was a middle aged Kenyan man whose family was in the row in front of us.
When I boarded my flight in Brisbane I had noticed a lot of Chinese people who gave the appearance of tourists. I had wondered if they were all going home, how many of my fellow passengers would be taking the whole trip with me. I can’t tell you who did but it seemed a lot of people from the first flight had been going home to China, the second a lot had been leaving China for Holland and now a lot of people were making a connection with flights out of Africa to come to London. We were served biscuits and possibly sandwiches for our outrageously short flight, the biscuit was a Dutch brand with a caramel filling which to this ‘ere sweet tooth was delicious!
We were told by the Captain over the intercom there was some congestion over Heathrow and we would be going into a holding pattern. Fine by me, what’s another twenty minutes between friends after all this time? Sometime after 9am Tuesday London time we were landing on the runway and I looked out and saw green as only England seems to make it and wide body fire trucks that suddenly my brain remembered admiring one early morning in 2002 over the exact same airport. My brother had arrived a couple of days earlier and guided me to my sister’s car and we set off on the highway for her home.
I had made it, I don’t know quite how to describe what that meant to me. How impossible such a trip has seemed all these recent years and how much it meant to me to be in the car with my two younger siblings who I grew up with in a house all those years ago. In that moment I felt really happy. Next up we will cover the return commute because it would be really anti-climatic if that came at the end.