Apologies for the extended radio silence, for those of you that don’t know me (or aren’t one of the three family members who feel obliged to read this), there have been a few changes recently and I am no longer crew. I do however have a few jaunts that I still want to write about so you haven’t got rid of me just yet.
Either way. A couple of months ago I went to Beijing. How exciting. It’s a long way to Beijing, not quite as far as it is to Shanghai but still a solid 10 or so hours. I don’t remember a huge amount in particular from the flight so it must have been reasonably uneventful. I always find flights to China a bit of a struggle, you leave Heathrow mid-afternoon and serve the customers a very early dinner. It then gets dark very quickly as you fly east and to all intents and purposes, is the middle of the night over whichever empty corner of Siberia you happen to be flying over. You then go on your break (generally about two and a half hours on a flight of this length) where you toss and turn and can’t really sleep because it’s actually only about eight o’clock in the evening, but then come back from your break at around midnight UK time (obviously now feeling exhausted) but it’s now sunrise and everyone is waking up in a very confused state to be offered a slightly damp croissant and an English breakfast. And in my albeit limited experience there is nothing that will confuse people, especially Chinese customers with limited English, more than being offered an English breakfast at one in the morning. Pretty decent views at that time of the morning though.
Anyway, we obviously got to China without too much ado, quickly through Customs and onto the train that takes you to arrivals but frankly feels like it’s taking you to the other side of Beijing. An hour or so’s bus ride later and we arrived at the hotel around lunchtime.
I’m going to be completely honest here, because I know there are quite a few new crew or people coming through training that read this blog and I think it’s only fair to prepare you…you will literally hate your life and the rest of the world when you get to China. Possibly even more than you’ll hate your life on your first three day Vegas. You will be so tired and confused I can’t even begin to tell you. But it’s fine. Honestly. Once you’ve done two or three you get used to it and begin to embrace the exhaustion. My best advice is this; have a nap, for an absolute MAXIMUM of two hours. When your alarm goes off get out of bed. Get. Out. Of. Bed. You will feel horrendous. I know its awful, but get up, go for a swim (the pool in the Beijing hotel is bloody freezing, sorts you right out), or the gym or for a walk. By the time you’re back in your room the idea is you’ll be reasonably awake (or delirious, either way you’re upright and your eyes will be fairly open) and it’ll be time to get ready to meet in the bar for a drink before dinner.
We had a couple of drinks at the bar and then had the standard ‘Mixed Fleet in China’ conversation of ‘where shall we go for dinner?’. It’s important to note how this converstion differs according to each destination. For example in Cape Town its ‘Shall we go to NV80 or Hussars?’. In Shanghai it’s generally ‘1221 or Grandma’s Kitchen?’ In States its generally just ‘Cheesecake Factory anyone?’. We’re an adventurous bunch. Beijing was still a pretty new route for us at this point though, having come over to Mixed Fleet only a few weeks earlier, therefore the dinner situation was still very much an unknown. Luckily though the flight crew had some mates that also fly planes who knew a good restaurant, so off we went in search of proper Peking duck.
We found the recommended place (don’t ask me the name, I don’t know, I just blindly follow whoever is going in the direction of food and a beer generally) and it was pretty decent actually (anyone who has been to China will know why I sound surprised), all the food we got following the standard procedure in China, point at the picture on the menu and hope for the best, was good. Bar the Peking duck which is just nothing like the British version of Peking duck, turns out actual Peking duck is just incredibly fatty and a bit grim. We lasted until about 11pm and then headed back to the hotel to attempt to sleep before our trip to the Great Wall in the morning.
If you’re lucky you might sleep for three or four hours, once you’re awake though you may as well give up because the jetlag will just finish you off otherwise. We were being picked up at seven the following morning to go to the Wall, about an hour and a half from the city. We had been told to get there as early as possible to avoid the crowds and the heat. We arrived at the section of the wall we were going to see, known as Mutianyu in the Huairou District, just before 9 in the morning. It’s quite a bizarre situation when you get to the Wall, they’ve created a sort of Disney boardwalk type affair at the bottom complete with Burger King, Pizza Hut and souvenir shops (including a tasteful variety of ‘I heart BJ’ t shirts…excellent entertainment value).
You get up to the wall on a chair lift, manned by two elderly gentlemen who take their job extremely seriously. Nice views from the lift though. Lots of trees and other such greenery.
We were taken up to the section of the wall by our guide, we named him Simon, who spoke even less English than we spoke Mandarin. He did seem to enjoy taking a lot of pictures of us on his phone though.
So. The Great Wall of China. Bloody hell it’s steep. Seriously, wear sturdy shoes because it is all steps and it is very very steep! It is impressive though and the views are amazing, especially from the watch towers. Once you’ve admired the views and walked along the section you can walk along though there isn’t really a huge amount to do apart from get back down to the bottom. On a toboggan. The toboggan ride down to the bottom is included in the ticket price and really is hilariously good fun, you can actually pick up quite a bit of pace on it although the corners are policed by similarly serious gentleman to those at the bottom of the chairlift.
By the time we got to bottom we had realised why we had had such an early start, there were what can only be described as hoardes of people coming up to get their very own edgy instagram shots. At the bottom we had some lunch, not burger king, but ‘western chinese food’ as the restaurant was called. They know what we want. Well played people of Beijing, well played.
By the time we got home it was late afternoon so after another quick swim (staying awake is key) it was back down to the bar for a quick drink and dinner before an early pick up in the morning.
I know I’ve harped on about it but the jetlag in China is truly horrendous, so after a very broken few hours sleep it was time to get up and get ready to come home again. The flight home was long, just over 11 hours I think, and it’s a day time flight so people are awake and want feeding and entertaining. A slightly unfortunate turn of events had meant that we ended up being almost two hours delayed leaving Beijing, although we managed to make up a bit of time en route home we were still going to be about an hour and a half late into Heathrow. This made for the usual customer based, missed connection drama. Although I obviously appreciate it is frustrating, the customers had been told why we were late (accident on the motorway to the airport meant it had taken us nearly 3 hours to get to the airport, hence we were late getting to the aircraft) and there was really nothing anyone could do about it. As a word of advice to all, if you are booking a long haul flight, or any flight, where you have to make a connection, 45 minutes is not enough time. Ever. Let alone from a long haul flight arriving at Terminal 5 to a short haul flight on a different airline departing from Terminal 2. This is not my fault, nor will I engage in any discussion with you about how it is potentially my fault. Rant over.
Either way, 12 hours later we were home again, just in time for tea. I enjoyed Beijing, not quite as much as Shanghai, it’s certainly a lot greener than Shanghai, but I think Shanghai just has a bit more of an ‘edge’ to it. Shanghai feels like a much younger, more international city than Beijing with a lot more going on. But still, another of the Seven Wonders to tick off the list!