Headed Home

Trip Start Sep 30, 2005
Trip End Jun 04, 2006

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Flag of United Kingdom  ,
Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Sometimes travelling home is just one of those things that you have to get done. Sometimes, it's full of expectation and looking forward to things and people you missed, and others times it's tinged with sadness at what you leave behind. This time, the journey itself gave me lots to remember and enjoy.

The Magnetic Levitation train from Eastern Shanghai to the airport looks a bit surreal in a highly futuristic way. If you saw it in a film like The Matrix or Judge Dread it would fit in perfectly. The journey only lasts 8 minutes, but when the top speed is 430kmh you go a long way in that time. Going at that speed didn't mess up my eyes or even give a particular sensation of moving quickly. The only time you were really aware of the speed was the bang as we passed the train going in the other direction at 330kmh. At least, I think I saw a train, but it was gone so fast you couldn't trust your eyes to confirm that with a second glance.

I said earlier that the journey was fun, but that's not quite true. I was waiting for ages in queues at Pudong Airport, first to check-in and then to go through Chinese Immigration. I suppose to some extent it was my fault for assuming I'd be able to check-in 3.5 hours early for my Lufthansa flight. Unfortunately for me and numerous other European travellers in the queue, an airline running only one or two flights a day out of somewhere that isn't a significant hub isn't going to have desks open, so all we could do was wait and watch as the Germans got frustrated at Chinese queue jumpers! So much for simple national stereotypes not holding true...

When I boarded I was getting moody because I thought I'd been given the middle seat of three, when I'd been promised a window. What I didn't know is that at the back of a Jumbo Jet the fuselage tapers and there are only 2 seats between the window and aisle and there's ample extra space to store bits of cabin luggage like books, clothes and papers. I know where I'll ask to sit in future unless I'm forking out extra for seats up front. Whilst I was thanking my luck a Chinese girl sitting on the aisle in the middle block of seats was also feeling lucky that on a busy plane, she'd have a free seat next to her to spread out in. And then, the last passenger boarded. He was the biggest Chinese man I've ever seen - probably about 6 foot cubed. It was as if Jabba the Hutt was walking down the plane. The poor girl knew that her neighbour for the 12 hour flight was arriving and her face dropped. She caught my eye as she stood up and a watery smile crossed her face. The stoicism was admirable as Jabba spilled over the arms of his seat. In a year in China I could count on my fingers the number of obese Chinese I had seen.

Sometimes flying is as boring as hell. Sometimes you meet great people. Here, I was fortunate to have cloud-free skies outside and for hour after hour I gazed out at the landscape below. Beijing was still trapped in the tail-end of a series of sandstorms and the swirling red dust was clearly visible as we headed towards the flat grasslands of Mongolia. The flight was following the route of the Trans-Siberian railway I'd travelled 8 months previously, only now there was a blanket of snow covering much of Mongolia and Siberian Russia. Lake Baikal, where the first snow of the winter had been falling when I left the large waves beating the shore, was now frozen with sledge paths across the lake visible in the snow. Only when we were well West of the Ural mountains did the snow disappear.

Arriving in the monster that is Frankfurt airport is always interesting. It goes on for miles, but I'm glad to say I've not yet got lost. As I expected it would, my bag didn't make the flight connection, but in a way that was a bonus seeing as I didn't have to wait for it or carry it back into London. Getting back to London became more of a pain when the ATM in the arrivals hall swallowed my card. I was glad to be coming home. Imagine if that happened to you on the first day of your trip in a foreign country!

Abstract thought for the journey: - I was reading about the use of gender in the Australian Aboriginal Dyirbal language and learned that the female gender is always used to describe dangerous things. What can we read into that............?
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