ROCKET MAN – THE RETURN COMMUTE

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Sunrise onboard Flight CZ 0381, Airbus 330. Copyright Lloyd Marken

CZ 0304

We’ll skip ahead now gentle reader to the return commute as it won’t hold much interest in comparison to once you have read about my time in England. I was scheduled to leave Heathrow 22:35 local time CZ 0304 travelling 5911 miles in 11hours 10minutes to Guangzhou. I noticed this was a shorter flight than the one I took over and put it down to the aircraft now being a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The 787 is a newer aircraft but not the true successor to the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet. Boeing instead designed this to replace their 767s with technologies that made the plane weight less and travel more efficiently. The Airbus A380 is the biggest passenger jet now as the Boeing 747 starts to be retired out of service and even it is in a battle to draw a profitability for Airbus. That makes me very sad. We used to build grand things, now we just build efficient ones but as a passenger who knows nothing I was happy to catch the 787 to get home faster but probably enjoyed being on the A330s more.

Upon boarding I noticed I was now on the right hand side facing the front and the side rows were 3 abreast and the seats had coverings that were more purplish than blue. Alas no Angry Birds. I was seated between two young men in the centre but they couldn’t have been nicer. We did fine accommodating each other but barely spoke. People don’t get names or make small talk anymore, if they ever did, everybody locks into their screens and politely gestures to each other and that’s about it. I had my meal which was lovely and then tried to sleep but I couldn’t, my legs were stiff and sore and I just couldn’t nod off. So I went to the bathroom and stood outside for half an hour stretching and generally just standing hoping I didn’t look weird. Eventually I returned and did manage some sleep, I think at some point Daddy’s Home 2 (I hadn’t even watched the original) and The Foreigner with Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan were watched and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Or maybe that was the last flight. The windows were tinted out blue rather than needing actual shades to be pulled down, the kind of technological breakthrough that amuses some and befuddles me.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

I’m a strong believer routine makes new realities lived in very quickly and I was coming off the end of a long week where a large part of it I had been a passenger with Southern China Airlines and I was getting used to it. The ads you couldn’t skip that ran before each movie for Lexus in Chinese, the safety videos at the beginning of the flights and the terminals at Guangzhou. I was going to miss it you see.

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Dreamliner parked at Guangzhou. We exited the pictured ramp on a outside stairwell. Seeing ahead I got myself ready to take this shot at the bottom of  the stairs before racing for the bus otherwise there would be no good photo of the only 787 I’ve ever caught. I’m glad how it turned out. Copyright Lloyd Marken

We landed 16:45 local time and I promptly went to the toilet after clearing customs. Changing my socks and undies in a vain attempt to make up for a lack of shower facilities I charged my phone and read my Michael Caine biopic. I returned to the shops to pick gifts for loved ones, my only regret is that I had to limit myself due to carry on weight and money, Chinese pizza will have to wait for another time too. In my earlier trip I had noticed a smartly dressed Panda and fell in love with the idea of getting it for Karen. I have since discovered her name is Pia.

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Not the plane I caught, just a shot from the airport. Copyright Lloyd Marken

 

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No good shots of this spectacular main thoroughfare but hopefully you get the idea. Copyright Lloyd Marken

The airport made me think of a real cool idea for purgatory. I don’t mean it was unpleasant to be there, the place was sleek, modern, glass and steel with planes lifting off into the heavens outside. Brightly lit stores and eateries beckoned and small nooks of carpeted corners made me think of cool hiding places for kids. The smog outside and the unfamiliar surroundings were very atmospheric to me along with all the strangers that surrounded me. I was alone but there were clearly families and couples. What if there was a way station like this in heaven? There is a film from the 80s called Heavenly Kid which has a subway station as purgatory, why not an airport? Once again reading Michael Caine made me sleepy so I went for a walk but this time I was only in China for 4hours 45 minutes and they start boarding before then. To be quite honest it struck me that 5 hours was a perfect break for such commutes rather than racing to your next flight to save a couple of hours in transit. Again I recommend China Southern Airlines and the Canton Route although I was grateful I had not been there for a 17 hour stop over.

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CZ 0381 Copyright Lloyd Marken

CZ 0381

We were scheduled to fly out of Guangzhou at 21:20 in an Airbus A330 with CZ0381 to cover 4388 miles in 9 hours and 5 minutes. On my fifth and final flight I got the window seat with a young Asian woman sporting heavy make-up next to me. We didn’t talk much either but she didn’t get grumpy when I had to wake her to get past her. Before we left we were told there was a hold up due to some kind of activity around Hong Kong. I started to nod off and continued as we taxied but managed to be wide awake as we flew down the runway and up and away. The meals offered for dinner and breakfast are usually of a Western and Asian bent. I had tried them all and enjoyed them but decided to pick the Asian ones after getting a noodle soup for breakfast on the Dreamliner. I had previously been worried there would be too much liquid and was worried about spilling it but this wasn’t the case at all and it tasted fantastic. When I got the meals this time the flight crew member serving me smiled and said “You always go the Asian one.” approvingly which just tinkled me pink for some reason. Maybe that was unusual.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

As the sun rose I took some photos and also as my homeland finally came into view making use of my window seat.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

When we reached Australian shores a lot of the flight was still to come which gives you a sense of the distance you have to cover in Australia to get anywhere. 20180407_072312In an afternoon I had walked over 10kilometres, last year in a day I had driven over 900 kilometres and in my last plane flight I was covering 7061 kilometres in about the same amount of time as the driving to Newcastle took. 20180407_073845The Captain apologised for the delay getting us to Brisbane but these things happen and again I was very happy with their service.

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Not long before home and having to turn phones for the descent. As exciting as the landscapes of foreign lands thrilled me, there was something comforting in this sight. It can’t be the only landscape that looks like this but it felt like home. Copyright Lloyd Marken

During our descent at 4,000 feet we went past the airport and banked right the 240,000 odd kilogram passenger jet over Moreton Bay with me looking right out the window at a sea of water. I quite enjoyed that and then we came into land.

It was a beautiful sunny Saturday morning and I looked out the window to see aircraft personnel loading and emptying cargo in shorts and polos with bronzed arms and legs. How Australian I thought. There was something that felt very Chinese to me in Guangzhou, very Dutch to me in Amsterdam and very English to me in Heathrow too. How to describe it I don’t know but I find something comforting in how all of those airports and all those people were the same and yet through some kind of quirky thing different. It’s something we should celebrate too and one of the joys of travelling far and wide. But I was home now as I got into my car with Karen and drove to our apartment.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

Total distance traversed within the week in planes was 20,607 miles or 33,163 kilometres. I had been in London just under 58 hours, my total commute time was easily over 32 hours on the way over and close to 25 hours on the way back or roughly I spent 57 hours travelling to London and 58 in it. I’m actually surprised by that, I was assured my commute would be longer than my hours in country so I’m embarrassed to have come up short. Still my brother in law was right; Nadia was in Australia from Friday morning to Monday morning. 3 days and 3 nights. I had been in London 3 days and 2 nights with a slightly longer commute. If she wants to take back the title for craziest commute she is more than welcome, I’m just glad we got to go to each other’s weddings. I’ll tell you more next time about Bexleyheath, an Australian in London and one of said weddings.

-Lloyd Marken

ROCKET MAN – THE CANTON ROUTE

 

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

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.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

 

CZ 0382

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.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

 

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.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

 

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.

Image result for china southern airlines uniforms

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Copyright Lloyd Marken
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Copyright Lloyd Marken

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.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

 

CZ 0307

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.

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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.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

 

 

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Copyright Lloyd Marken

 

CZ 7858

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.

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The Bride to be with her two brothers. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

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.

-Lloyd Marken