Monday, 4 March 2013

Qingdao to Shanghai in 1985 - third post on China

View first and second posts here 
Initially, we had set out for China 12 months earlier. We had arrived at Heathrow ready to travel to Paris where we would be catching an Air France plane to Beijing, only to find that the French Air Traffic Controllers had gone on a lightning strike. There was nothing for it, but to return home and for the UN to contact China to inform them. Our travel arrangements in China were quite complicated and it took another year to rearrange everything.
A year later as we once again embarked on our Chinese odyssey, 'China' the very first edition of the Lonely Planet guide was published. The book was packed with everything you needed to know when travelling in China. It became compulsive reading, our bible, which we always kept close at hand. 
On our last evening in Qingdao before flying to Shanghai I looked up what the book had to say about CAAC - Civil Aviation Administration of China - these carriers are the only domestic flights available within China. I learnt that CAAC also stands for China Airlines Always Cancels (the biggest excuse being bad weather) but more importantly China Airlines Almost Crashes. This information was the last thing that I needed to know. I said to H "have you read the chapter on CAAC?" his reply "it would have been far better if you had not read that!!!"
The tales surrounding CAAC were legendary, the one that I particularly recall is this one: passengers watched the pilot returning from the toilet to find he was locked out of the cockpit by a jammed door. The co-pilot opened the door from within, then both men fiddled with the catch and succeeded in locking themselves out of the cockpit. As passengers stared in disbelief the pilot and co-pilot attacked the door with a fire axe, pausing for a moment to draw a curtain between themselves and the audience.
This story made me feel even more nervous, but for goodness sake these were just folktales!!! weren't they?
On looking out at the night sky everything appeared to be looking good for the following day.
Evening in Qingdao
In the morning we gazed at a brilliant blue cloudless sky, the air was calm, nothing stirred, and thought the day could not be more perfect for our trip. We came down into the hotel foyer to be greeted by our hosts who informed us that CAAC had cancelled our flight due to bad weather conditions!!! and that they would return for us in the morning - alarm bells began seriously clanging in my head. 
H took advantage of this time to relax a bit and decided to take a swim in the sea. We had been watching people swarming all over the beach every day turning over every stone and boulder in search of anything that moved to put in their baskets for the cooking pot.
I watched H walk back up the beach from his swim when suddenly he became surrounded by young men. They came up to the middle of his chest, all I could see was H in his swimming costume surrounded by a ring of heads. They wanted to know whether there was a 'backdoor' to success in Britain and his views on so many different topics.
The following morning we came downstairs in perfect weather again only to be told the flight was cancelled, but finally on the third morning we were on our way.
We never imagined the airport would be such a long journey away. Our vehicle bounced along deeply rutted mud roads with big old trucks abandoned along it. Some had men crawling all over the bonnet in a vain attempt to get them moving again.
The airport was an eye opener. A vast area of scrubland covered in Russian military MiGs under wraps, but where was the airport? There was only one small building not much bigger than a public convenience and that turned out to be it. It was dark by the time the Shanghai plane arrived, there was no runway, just a rough area  that was lit up by switching on the lights from parked lorries.
Our plane was a vintage Russian turbo-prop. The services - basically there were none. We climbed up a ladder to get in the plane, and to our dismay discovered that all of the passengers luggage was in the cabin with us sitting loosely on the spare seats!!! now I was getting really anxious and wondered whether I would ever see my two beloved sons back home in the UK again.
via wikipedia
The air hostesses handed out little bags of strange White Rabbit creamy sweets - our only form of refreshment. I sucked hard on them as I noticed via the light of the moon string tied around the turbo-prop as if holding it together. 
What a relief to see the bright lights of Shanghai and to land safely.
Having passed through customs our next surprised was to find that the Harbour Master of Shanghai and his retinue had been waiting for us at the airport for the past three days. Nobody had bothered to inform them of our delay, we were upset for them, but it was all out of our hands. They just accepted it in a good natured smiling spirit as if it was normal, and then hastily whisked us away for our first Shanghai banquet.
courtesy wikipedia
Shanghai today, definitely not the Shanghai we saw.
Next post Shanghai to Hangzhou

60 comments:

  1. You've had quite an adventure! Have a great week, Rosemary!

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  2. What an entertaining read! I'm glad airlines have improved since then, although our only internal flight was canceled, but it was legitimately foggy. I'm not sure I would have been able to get on the plane when you were there....scary!! x

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    1. When you are younger you think that you are invincible, it is only as the years creep on that you realise you are not.

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  3. Goodness me Rosemary, what a nerve-wracking time it was in China! I had to keep reminding myself you ended up safely, and lived to be a blogger... The photos are very evocative.

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    1. I love that Patricia - 'I lived to be a blogger' - I feel a song or a post coming on - thank you for the smile.

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  4. Hello Rosemary, Fascinating to hear more about your trip. I used to buy those White Rabbit candies in Cleveland. They are still sold (I am sure you can get them in London), but I have given up eating that kind of sticky caramel because of dental crowns.

    Another thing that has changed since your trip is that Chinese men are not so short anymore. I guess it comes from drinking milk--many high school boys are over six feet high, with some much taller. The girls are taller, too, but not to such an extent.

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    1. Hello Jim - I had noticed that Chinese athletes were getting much taller when seeing the Olympics. H towered above them when we visited which made him look like a giant.
      I don't think that I will be seeking out the white rabbit sweets, I think that I was able to recall them because of their strange name.

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  5. My that is very interesting reading, the way it was back then...must have been quite and experience.

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    1. Glad you found it interesting - hopefully it was worthy of recording as things in China have altered so drastically since then.

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  6. Dear Rosemary,
    What an odyssey indeed who had.
    I missed your first two post, as I was in england.
    I have read through them all now.. and cant wait for the next chapter.
    What an incredible experience.. an experience of a lifetime.
    I can relate to some of the stories of old china, as Mr M, was with the Portuguese war Navy and was stationed in Macao for some time. He had visited Hong Kong and china all those years ago.
    Its a place I would love to see.
    At the moment here on our local TV station.. they are advertising holiday's in Quangdao.. It looks interesting.
    I relate of course to the Pallisy ware.. from 'Caldas da Rainha'... M's brother in law, has some very rare pieces from the first editions of the snake and crab ware.. You will have no doubt seen some on the walls of some restaurants while here in Lisbon.
    The first time I saw a china man, was in south Africa. (thats a long story) they were considered second class citizens at the time.
    I have a very good friend who teaches and lives in Shangai. She told me, its an amazing place.
    until your next post..
    Really enjoyed these.
    val

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    1. Dear Val - thank you for taking the trouble to read all of the posts. Obviously these are just very brief impressions of our trip as we were there for a month. H had been twice previously in the early 1970s when the country was still firmly closed to tourists.
      Imagine them advertising holidays in Qingdao, but now of course it is a top resort following on from the Olympic sailing taking place there. The airport will not resemble the one we flew out of. When we were there we were a curiosity there were no other western people around the place.
      On the last post I did I heard from the editor of a website in Qingdao wanting to show my 'retro' photos as he called them on their web. The post is now on the Qingdao website as he thought the photos were a unique record of that time.
      My Palissy war tobacco jar is now being researched by a Portuguese man and the curator of the Ceramics Museum in Caldas da Rainha having been seen by him on my post showing the Darwin connection. You might like to read about it here:-
      http://wherefivevalleysmeet.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/darwin-tobacco-jar.html
      Mine is made by the most famous Portuguese Palissy maker called Manuel Mafra. There is also a similar piece that I saw in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon.
      Only one more post to go Val and thanks for all of your interest.

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    2. I will be looking the post up Rosemary.
      I know this ware very much. If you have had it for many many years.. it will be a collectors.
      as does Manuel's brother have.
      He started collecting over 60 years ago.
      How amazing Rosemary.
      So very interesting.
      I must say, I had a little laugh about the air flight. My gosh! and the train ride with everyone cooking on the floor.. I can just imagine it. Probably like the old trains that ran in Kenya yonks ago.
      more please.

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    3. Dear Val - the man doing the research has told me that the tobacco jar is dated around 1859 from a photo of the marks on the lid which I forwarded to him. I am waiting to hear back from him, and will let you know what he says.

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  7. No Thank You. Do not like to travel that way. The saying, nothing ventured, nothing gained does not apply here, at least not for me. But I realize, dear Rosemary, that you and Mr H were on an exciting assignment. Thank you for sharing this hair raising adventure...no wonder some people never leave home. ox, Gina

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    1. Sitting in the comfort of your lovely home is the best way to read this Gina. I know you do not like flying at the best of times.
      I wonder how I would have felt about it if I had known before I left home!!!

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  8. Really enjoyed reading this. My husband visited China whilst travelling around the world as a backpacker some 30 years ago and recalls it as a rather frightening experience, especially when his passport was taken by 'an official' and not returned for 6 days!

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    1. Dear Marina - he must have been there about the same time as us. I think the Queen went a couple of years after us, so we got there before her.
      You should get him to write down some of his experiences, your children would enjoy reading his memories about it in the future. May be he would even do a guest post about it on your blog!!!

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  9. I used to be a very nervous flyer, although have never let it stop me getting on a plane. I may have had second thoughts about this one though. I bet you were a nervous wreck when you got off safely. My hariest flight was nothing in comparison.... a 12 seater plane from Schipol to Arhus, where the luggage was stored behind a leather flap just behind the 12 seats. The in flight refreshments were provided from a flask....all very civilised compared to your flight ! Jx

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    1. Dear Janice - it is surprising how things have changed so much. I have had other hair raising flights to Russia and various communist countries before the fall of the Berlin wall.
      On a flight to Romania I asked a young couple sitting next to me, who were on their honeymoon, "have you visited a communist country before?" The girl went pale, and then grey before saying "are we going to a Communist country?" I suppose it was the innocence of youth.

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  10. Hi Rosemary, you came across quite some adventures on your China trip, didn't you? The CAAC story sounded quite scary to me. Usually I am not afraid to fly, but that would have been definitively out of my comfort zone. Glad you made it home safely!
    Christina

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    1. Hello Christina - it was a bit anxious making on the plane, but we landed safe and sound. When you are younger these things do not necessarily have the same impact on you as when you are older and hopefully wiser.

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  11. How brave of you to get on that plane even after what you'd read and heard. You must have wonderful memories and certainly many great stories to tell about your time in China. I look forward to your next post about Shanghai.

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    1. Thanks Paula - Really we did not have any other means of getting to Shanghai, we were completely in the hands of the Chinese government.

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  12. Rosemary,

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading about the China trip. My daughter S has been been to Beijing three times in the last year. She works for a large US bank and has been writing leadership programs for a bank in China (actually on loan to them) It would be fun to compare how things have changed since your husbands visit.

    Thanks for your visit...and for joining my blog!....Janey

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    1. Hello Janey - Thanks for your visit and welcome.
      I am sure that your daughter would not recognise the Beijing we saw, which was probably before she was born. Now it has the same shops as other big cities and the girls are fashionable. When we visited, Mao suits were the style that was worn.

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  13. Dear Rosemary,

    Your amazing account of traveling by air in China reminds me of a most interesting book by Malcolm Gladwell, called "Outliers."

    Basically, it talks about how the path to success is not always what we imagine it to be. In Outliers, there's a chapter entitled, "The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes." It relates that some cultures are so geared to top-to-bottom authority that situations requiring frank team communication (like in a cockpit) suffer. It also refers to how some cultures and countries have more ambiguity built into their language. At the time that you were flying in China, a plane's navigator would never have countermanded a captain, even in a life and death situation. Instead of saying, "Bring the plane up!" he might have said "Perhaps we should consult our radar again."

    Your story is right out of the book.

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    1. Dear Mark - they do say that truth is stranger than fiction - what I did not add was that the pilot on our flight also left the cockpit to talk to one of the air hostesses. When he returned I had my beady eye on the door catch, and believe it or not, it stuck. Eventually after a bit of tugging he succeeded in opening it. I turned to H and remarked that I thought that they had a problem with their catches and perhaps they should use some WD40. WD40 is my solution to all sticky mechanisms.

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  14. Hi Rosemary,

    Wow! What an adventure! A lot to remember, I bet, and some you'd probably want to forget (re: flights!). But, safe and sound in the end.

    Your newest follower,

    Poppy

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    1. Hello Poppy - the trip was nearly 30 years ago now, so things have changed, hopefully. I can't say that I did not have my concerns throughout the flight, but we lived to tell the tale!!!

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  15. Weren't we brave in those times ? I remember flying some African airlines (only because they were cheaper to get from England to Italy)... I wouldn't do it nowadays ! Fascinating account, I can't wait for the next instalment and may I apologize for the Paris strikers, still very much a feature here, "plus ça change...." !

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    1. At that time we did not have the Health and Safety Police breathing down our necks all of the time telling us what we could and couldn't do.
      I may be mistaken but I have a sense that the French workers are, in fact, striking a little less during the credit crunch!!!

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  16. Dear Rosemary, what an adventure! We can only think of those airport delays and long journeys as part of the adventure or we will just not travel again. Amazing photos of China. My best friend who travels to Shanghai many times for business told me that the Speed trains there were built immediately without any years of environmental assessments that's why she said it is really risky to ride then and that you just pray. Herein Canada, all of those Environmental studies, inspections etc take years before they allow passengers to ride them. Well, that is China now. Progressing so fast.

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    1. Dear Pamela - the next post will include Shanghai - definitely no speed trains then, mainly bicycles. Who would have believed that a country could change so much in under 30 years.

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  17. Thank you for sharing your experience of air travel in China, which raised a smile. It must have been a unique experience once you got to each destination!

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  18. Quite a story and an adventure Rosemary! Thank you for sharing. I'm already looking forward to your Shanghai adventure.
    Bye,
    Marian

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    1. Thanks Marian - that will be the last post.

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  19. It must have been so worrying getting on the plane especially after that delay! You have given such an insight into China, as it was!
    Sarah x

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    1. I can't pretend I wasn't anxious especially as our sons were back in the UK. I liked the comment Patricia said - "I had to keep reminding myself you ended up safely, and lived to be a blogger... "

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  20. Oh my gosh, what a story ! I would have been SO scared ...can't even think of it ! But you are here to tell us the story so all's well that ends well. xx

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    1. That is right Jane - older and wiser too.

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  21. That was obviopusly a truly memorable holiday, Rosemary, though perhaps not in the way you would have wished at times. Still, you came home with some wonderful photos.

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    1. Lots of interesting memories of people and places. It was a holiday trip for me but H was working for the UN whilst we were there.

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  22. A fascinating post, Rosemary. I have never visited China, but I also know that its young men are often 6 feet tall now. A nearby private school has a large number of Chinese and Russian students who have great fun shopping at our local supermarket. Their taste in food is very Western - today I noticed crumpets in their trolleys!

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    1. You are right they are much taller than they used to be. H looked like a giant when we were there and I felt very tall too. I wonder if they know how to do their crumpets or if they have their own way of eating them.

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  23. Eek, you are brave Rosemary! It must be amazing to look back on this trip to China and wonder at how much things have changed in such a short time.

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    1. There was no bravery involved Rosemary, there was no other choice available to us!!! but you are right it is astonishing how much the country has changed.

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  24. Dear Rosemary,very interesting post!I have'nt been in China, but i enjoyed readind your memories from your trip there!Thank you for sharing!Have a wonderful day!
    Dimi..

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    1. Memories I thought I had forgotten Dimi - glad you enjoyed the read.

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  25. Rosemary, when we have lived situations like these, we become more wise, more mature. We are lucky and blessed I think. There are people who never made a step in their lives... Take care !

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    1. Very wise and thoughtful comment Olympia - thank you.

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  26. You have been so far a way into the world. So much experience about the world. I have not most of my time spending in safe world, my little garden. It's wonderful to read about China.
    Have a wonderful evening Rosemary.

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    1. Most of my little adventures Marijke are as a result of accompanying my husband whilst he was carrying out his work with the UN.

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  27. What an adventure! I enjoyed reading this travelogue to China written years later when you’re composed to see and think things more objectively. The government is one thing and its people and nature is another. There seems to be many myths about China still currently. I think we need to dispel our myths and at the same time there are proper reasons behind such myths are created. Now that China has developed to the industrial country, air pollution is a big problem, which would be a process every developed nation went through. Japan’s sky is getting hazy because of yellow sand and polluted substances including PM 2.5 from China.

    Yoko

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    1. Dear Yoko - you are right it is much easier to be objective about these things 30 years down the line, I am surprised how much my memory had retained and the detail that I was able to recall once I started writing the visit down.
      The industrialisation is, of course, a very frightening development, and I did not realise that the skies were getting hazy for Japan as a result. When we visited, Beijing still had blue skies and clear air, but I do remember there was talk of possible problems with the air quality during the Olympics.

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  28. To be more accurate, Japan’s air quality is affected “seasonally” by the yellow sand which originates in Mongolian deserts and carried by prevailing winds eastward. It is not a new thing but the wind has come to carry toxic substance contained in polluted air of China as China grows industrially. The very tiny particles like PM 2.5 are risk factors especially to children and those who have respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

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    1. Thank you for that clarification Yoko - however, the tiny particles of pm 2.5 must be of great worry to Japan. I remember that 35 - 40 years ago when we still burnt coal in the UK it was causing acid rain in the Scandinavian countries, and as soon as we stopped it everything reverted back again to the way it had been, so it is possible to reverse things.

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  29. Rosemary - being a person who is frightened of flying the info in the Lonely Planet guide (survival kit is the correct word!) would have been devastating for me. I guess I would have stayed there or walked home! ;o) Christa

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    1. This has made me laugh Christa - I was so much younger then and just went with the flow hoping for the best, and I am still here to tell the tale.

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