The four days with my customer were tiring but fruitful and they took care of me very well. Hearing of my travails with the taxi driver they drove me to the bus station on the day of my return and even made sure I got on the correct bus.
Hangzhou definitely is worth coming back to, even though I saw so little of it and what I did see was either from the rear seat of taxi when I wasn't in the best disposition to appreciate it, or shrouded in a mist most of the time. The Holiday Inn was also a nice hotel, albeit the restaurant was poor (but our lunches paid for by my customer were superb) and the bar was populated by opinionated ex-pats. However the staff were lovely and it had a great minibar; (decent size bottles of wine, cashew nuts and Dove chocolate bars - as good as it gets).
The day was cold with persistent sleety rain yet the bus had no heating. I was later told that the China government discourage (read execute) people who do not reduce their energy consumption, which explained the lunches in restaurants where everyone sat with their coats on huddled around the soup burners. This bus was a stopping coach and the trip to Pudong airport took 3.5 hours. At some point the temperature suddenly rose to above freezing as the bus driver must have accidentally switched the heating on, something he quickly remedied, but it left the windows steamed up and running with condensation.
A Hangzhou-ese man sat next to me but he spoke very good English having lived in Connecticut for half his life and he worked for a company that was an offshoot of Philips in Eindhoven which I knew well, so we had a nice conversation for most of the trip, something I am usually adverse to.
I found the Thai airways check-in desk but there were no staff there. I looked across the aisle to the Singapore airlines desk where they were checking people in and sighed. I queued impatiently for what was probably only fifteen minutes or so, checked in, passed through immigration and security with little hardship and found a coffee shop to have a cheese and tomato sandwich and a beer.
The flight boarded on time but left thirty minutes late for no specified reason. It had given me time to come to the slow realization that this was a plane from the pre-war era. No seat back TV, just the bulkhead displays, the one immediately in front of me was tearing making the display unviewable and the only other display I could see was the main central projector display which was emitting about four photons a minute and was almost completely invisible to the naked eye. I later heard, after a passenger complained about the display in front of me, that the intended newer plane had some technical problems which is why we had this one - how bad the new plane had to be to warrant bringing this one into service is beyond comprehension.
To make matter worse, either because of head winds, going the scenic route or the older plane, the trip was to be over an hour longer than the outward trip. As we went to full thrust the engine noise rose appreciable and there was a vibration throughout the plane. The noise sounded just like one of turbines blades hitting the side of engine casing. We continued to climb and I looked furtively out the window at the accused engine. Then a faint, but none-the-less detectable smell permeated the cabin. It was the smell of turbine blades hitting the side of the engine casing. As we throttled back after the climb both the noise and the smell dissipated. None of the other passengers seemed the least disconcerted but then the Chinese were probably grateful for the fact the plane had heating and didn't care about anything else.
And already the seats, sat on by a million bums before me, were beginning to be uncomfortable. And I had a monkey sat next to me. Not a large man he none-the-less had an inability to bring his arms close to his body so his right elbow prodded into my side throughout the journey no matter how close I tried to hug the window. Luckily he turned out to be vegetarian (although his eating produced Magnus Pike like arm motions) but when it was my turn to order I chose the rare calves liver and asked for the cow to be slaughtered in the aisle which they obligingly did. The food turned out to be inedible although the bread role could have been made by my mother. Unfortunately she died over fourteen years ago so it left a little to be desired.
Actually that was one benefit of the old plane, it was not made for midgets and there was a bit more room to stretch out, although not so far as to avoid the projecting limbs of my neighbour. The modern plane had no room to slaughter a calf.
Because I had no TV to watch I quickly finished my book and was left to try and guess what the pale flickering images were on the projection screen whilst listening to the jazz channel on the plane's audio.
It was 12.30 by the time we got home, although we had stopped to grab a very late supper in Saraburi town. Pinky greeted me with her usual effusion after I have left for any time out of over a hour, so we played with her a little and made it to bed by 1.30a.m. Once again I reflected as I lay in bed, I had left my hotel at 9.30.a.m (although I had been awake since 6.30) to arrive home 15 hours later. Ah, the joys of travel. And there is a distinct possibility I may have to travel to Shenzhen, Taipei and Brazil in the near future. If only Pinky would show more interest in the business.
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