Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Never again: Air China

Lately I had my first flight with Air China and I thought it worth a blog post. This in mind and encouraged by Maryam's post about her bad experience with Turkish Airlines I came across Kim's post about the best and the worst international airlines and her link to airline quality surveyor Skytrax. I checked some of the over 260.000 airline reviews by independent travelers. I saw that everybody who travels can tell good and bad stories about airlines, even about the same airline. There are some real strange stories that made me I feel lucky to not have experienced worse.

The thing is, the more I fly the less I am looking forward to all the hassle. Until you board you are often already exhausted and thirsty. With all the worries I have about arriving safe and sound, the first thing I do when coming on board, I look at the flight attendants. These are the ladies and gentlemen I am depending on in the next hours. Will we get along? If they are nice and attentive it gives me a better feeling. Also everything should be clean and tidy. If it looks already bad from the inside, how was the plane serviced from the outside?

So far I have always avoided flying Air China as it is well known that 90% of their pilots speak and understand only poor English. Communication problems between the tower and the pilots during take off and landing as well as between the pilots and the air controllers in the various air spaces that the plane has to fly through can be fatal.

But from Rome back to Beijing I had no other chance then to fly with Air China. The flight that was code shared with Alitalia. I upgraded my son and myself with miles to Business Class to have a relaxed night flight.

And here is what I did not enjoy:

- The big Chinese group that tried to cut the line at the check-in counter. It has nothing to do with Air China, except that it is a Chinese Airline with many Chinese passengers, so you get a quick introduction into Chinese habits.
- First shock: old uncomfortable business class seats like 20 years ago with foot rest only and the least legroom I can remember. If the passenger in front of you leans back with his seat he lands in your soup (I talk about Business Class)
- The toilet already smells from urine before passenger board
- one out of the two available toilets in the BC has a broken water supply, only boiling water comes out, washing hands is impossible!
- The only Chinese flight attendants do not smile and their English is very limited. One even seems to avoid servicing me and my child in order to avoid any language problem.
- Before take off the lights go out completely (no emergency light on the floor), we are for several minutes in the dark, no captain announcement
- No individual entertainment program, no magazines. The two overhead monitors show a Chinese folklore performance, later one movie
- Bad behaving Chinese passengers: using mobile phone through taxi although flight attendant had finally repeated the regulations. And later at night, shouting passengers, almost rioting and using the English "f" word, waking everybody up. It seems that a Chinese man felt disturbed by a Chinese woman behind him nestling in her seat bag and interrupting his sleep. No flight attendant in sight.
- Repeated smoking in the toilet. I can smell this through 5 rows - however indifferent pilot and flight attendant, 2000 yuan fine is ignored. I can smell that the flight attendant himself had smoked.
- More dirty toilets and toilet seats as the Chinese stand on the toilet seats....
- Before landing wrong English announcement (suggestion not to wear coats because it is warm outside... the opposite is the case, it is winter). Okay minor, but in emergency case I hope for the right announcements in English.
- After landing in Beijing, Air China's home base, we are on a far away outside position and need to wait for stairs and bus which does not bother me anymore.

BTW, the food seemed okay. I only had lost appetite after a couple of visits to the toilet (I am travelling with a child).

Am I spoiled? No. If you book business class it is because you want to rest and sleep and arrive relaxed. Other Asian airlines (e.g. Cathay, Singaporean, Emirates) are providing a better Economy Class then this Air China Business Class.

Why is Air China not using their new airplanes on all international flights? I heard that they have the newest seats on flights between Shanghai and Beijing. Air China, although an international airline, seems not yet prepared to serve international passengers.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Beijing vs Dubai

Beijing is not the biggest construction field on earth. It is Dubai.

Last year, when I travelled for a short trip to Dubai, I learned that 30% of all cranes in the world are located in China (less than half of these in Beijing).

However in Dubai alone are 15% of all cranes in the world!

Friday, 22 February 2008

Beijing: Expat Interview

A while ago I was asked by Lizza from Expat Interviews if I would agree to answer an email questionnaire for a website she has created with her friend Victor. It features interviews with expats in various countries. The objective is to give readers a glimpse into what it's like to live in a certain country, as told by an expat who already lives there.

So in case you plan to move to China or even to Beijing my interview about my "Creative Experiences" in Beijing and more might be helpful.

And if you are living abroad, why not tell others about your experiences through Expat Interviews?

Thursday, 21 February 2008

No more Sleepless in Beijing

One of the last fireworks tonight.

It is midnight and almost quiet ! Only some single far away detonations here and there... Tonight was the last day and this year there is a regulations: after midnight no more shooting. Oh, I am not reporting from a war zone, I am reporting from Beijing, China. Tonight we had non-stop firing since sunset. Not to forget that this all started over two weeks ago. Since February 6 every day and every night fireworks, firecrackers and these bomb like detonations... this is China. The highlight of a around 20 minutes firework at midnight of New Years Eve that we know from Europe or other countries is what we have here for hours and days.... and beautiful fireworks just in front of your windows on all sites of the house, every minute... it is soooo cheap here and Chinese love the noise!

Our driver bought tons of firework-boxes, no need to have a pyrotechnician. Our son preferred to watch from the car - too loud, too dangerous (some rockets explode too low and burning things might fall down) - and the air is totally polluted. A volcano eruption could not do much more harm to the air (today I really have breathing problems). Well then I should not go outside, but we did for some minutes and I took some pictures (above and below):

One of the biggest firework boxes I have seen (front left), around 600 RMB (60 Euro) for 100 rockets.

Full moon over Dongzhimen with firework and leaveless trees. The full moon tonight (lantern festival) marks the end of the New Year celebrations in China.

Just in case you are curious: 434 is the number of Beijingers injured by fireworks during the first seven days of the Spring Festival (People's Daily via That's Beijing online from Feb 14).

BTW, sleepless in Beijing - the other night I could not sleep because I was too busy and too much thinking about our housing project in Pizzo. This also kept me away from posting here.

But things are calming down. Good night from Beijing and Happy New Year !!

Monday, 4 February 2008

Chinese New Year 2008

Firework sets and boxes are for sale in the streets of Beijing

We are leaving the city for Chinese New Year, as are millions and millions of other Chineses and laowai, foreigners.

I read that 200 million Chinese are travelling home this year. As you have probably read, heard or seen in your international media this year has the worst winter conditions since 50 years. Millions of migrant workers want to go home to see their families. It is the most important Chinese holiday. Some see their families, including their young children only once a year. Heavy snow and ice in many parts of the country (except Beijing) have blocked railways and shot down power lines, thus millions of travellers got stranded.

My ayi left last Saturday together with her husband, who works as a carpenter in Beijing. They went home to see their 8 year old son and their parents and siblings in Anhui province. I am really releaved to hear from our driver, who brought them to the railway station that they made it home. She text messaged him that she had arrived, after a train ride of over 30 hours.... last year it took her 17 hours. We gave her extra money to be able to buy a better ticket in the sleeper on her way back. Apparently it is not possible to buy a return ticket in Beijing, only in her home town. Or it has to do that her husband's company only buys one way tickets to go home. Anyway, she will be anxiously awaited here in Beijing in two weeks. But I told her that I do not mind if she cannot get an earlier ticket... I feel bad that she takes care of my son while she cannot see her own son. It is one of the problems that migrant workers are facing. Chinese kids only can go to school where their parents are registered and the registrations seems for some too expensive - but more expensive than that are the school fees in Beijing in comparison to the schools in the countryside.

I also feel sorry for the 12.46 million migrant workers that will remain in Guangdong for the Spring Festival due to the bad weather. It is not only that they probably face terrible conditions during their stay, but that they miss the reunion with their beloved-ones.

China Daily, an English language newspaper, does report factually about that subject. I guess other international media are jumping on that subject and reporting individual fates. But also Chinese media seems to report more. The picture left shows a soldier with a flame thrower melting ice off frozen power-lines in Yunnan on the cover of Qilu Evening News of February 4th (photo via Danwei). It looks like James Bond is fighting for China. I heard also from my neighbour, who is Chinese, that the people who got stocked for 40 hours in a train couldn't use the bathrooms and used noodle cups instead... Now we have arrived at one of my favorite subjects... the Chinese loos... However I could not get the confirmation of another rumor that was reported a year ago - that people on a train would wear adult diapers because the trains are so full that there is no way to make it through to a loo.

But when is Chinese New Year after all?

This year New Year's Eve is on February 6th. So beware, the fire crackers will explode all day long! And for those who do not know, fire works are on sale since some days in front of supermarkets or at street crossings (above picture from last Friday night). You can buy the biggest red box with thousand of rockets that fires for 20 minutes for 50 to 80 Euro. Amazing. That is why you hear fire works already now every evening, even during day time. Althoug it seems to be illegal to fire your rockets before the 6th when you live inside the 4th ring road. But the higlight will be the night from the 6th to the 7th, when the year of the Pig ends and the year of the Rat - or more cute, the year of the Mouse - starts. The 7th is the first day of the New Year and is a real holiday. Even Yashow market & company closes its doors. The staff will stay home, just for one day.

The celebrations will go on for a week, meaning more fire works during the evenings. If I remember well, the lantern festival, this year on February 21st, will be the last day and showdown of fire works. Two years ago there were "detonations" all day long until around 2 am.

This last weekend were two working days. And who has not left yet is leaving on the 6th, like we do. There are an estimated 22 million people using the plane to travel home this Chinese New Year Holiday (10% more than in 2007). Hopefully not all on the 6th from Beijing airport...

Xin Nain Kuai Le!, Happy New Year


Chun Jie Kuai Le!
Happy Chinese New Year!

Friday, 1 February 2008

Beijing: February Urbane issue

The February and second issue of urbane is out. I checked it online today - the whole magazine can be read online - and saw the Water Cube on the cover (I posted about it before).

They feature an interview with John Pauline, the architect from Sydney-based architecture firm PTW, which is in charge for the project.

They also feature my article about my German friend's house in Lanebridge. She is a fashion designer and I posted about Ira Walendy before. She moved with her husband and two kids to Beijing in 2005 (like we did). It was really interesting to do a "homestory By Design". I got the chance to work together with talented photographer Judy Zhou and was asked to advise on rooms and angles. We had far more great shots then got published. Regarding all the beautiful pictures, the editor made it a 6 page story instead the usual 4 pages.

See below how an expat family - whose housing is covered by the employing company - could live in Beijing. Not too bad! Read the article online here, page 48 ff OR click below on the pictures to enlarge:

One of the pictures that did not get published is the minimalistic fire place with a free floating stone shelf (photographed by me):

And here a list (left) that I deem very interesting for travellers :
It is the latest list of   Beijing Boutique Hotels   - published by Urbane magazine.
(click on the list on the left to enlarge !).

I found Urbane today at Jenny Lou. It is distributed again together with That's Beijing.


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