FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Plan B

Posted in China, Harbin by folkestonejack on January 10, 2011

After a somewhat sleepless night I headed down to the foyer to meet the guide who was there to get me started on the Plan B that Bernd had devised.

Up to now I’ve only travelled in China by plane, train and the occasional minibus but today I got to experience the bus. The guide took me to the bus station (a little more chaotic than the railway stations I have seen but with familiar elements such as security scanners to check all luggage) and put me on the 7am bus from Harbin to Jixi. In theory, it ought to have got me to Jixi by 1pm…

The bus set off at 7am and began working its way through the city – giving me a small taste of the ice scupltures that Harbin is famous for. However, it was soon evident that all was not well. The bus made two short stops followed by a lengthier one hour stop to try and fix the non-existent heating. Surely, I couldn’t have more bad luck – could I? After all, I had barely got out of the city!

The sight of a man wielding a toolbox didn’t seem an altogether encouraging sight at first – but to his credit he got everything working and the bus got on its way again. The passengers seemed altogether happier as the interior temperature rose too… it would have been no fun to complete a journey of that length with the temperature matching the outdoors at -27!

Finally, after crossing a snowy landscape for many hours I reached Jixi at 2.20pm. I might have been eight hours late getting here but in the end I was just pleased to have arrived after everything that had happened along the way!

A tale of three airports

Posted in Beijing, China, Harbin, Netherlands, Schiphol by folkestonejack on January 9, 2011

My morning began with an early morning trek up to London City airport to start my long journey to Jixi. This should have involved three flights and one overnight train…

Step 1: Cityjet LCY-AMS

Arrived on schedule at Amsterdam Schiphol airport armed with a saturday newspaper and found myself a comfy spot to rest and have a good cover-to-cover read. I had a good number of hours to kill but it was actually quite relaxing after a fairly intense week at work… it has to be said that if you have to spend time at an airport then Schiphol is not a bad place to be! I was surprised how quickly the time passed, assisted occasionally by distractions such as the air side outpost of the Rijksmuseum.

Step 2: KLM Asia AMS-PEK

My flight KL897 departed on schedule (around 17:40) with KLM Asia Boeing 747-400 Combi ‘City of Freetown’ and I settled down for the nine hours or so that the flight would take (assisted by some favourable tailwinds). It landed a good half an hour early in Beijing – around 9.15am. I didn’t need to hurtle through the whole arrival process as my next flight was some hours away…

Step 3: China Southern PEK-HRB

It all started to unravel with the third leg of the trip as the 17:20 China Southern flight remained stubbornly on the ground with engineers crawling around one of the engines. It didn’t look especially good as time ticked by and no word came back on the unspecified mechanical problems. Usually I am fairly jumpy about this sort of thing but I have latterly come to realise that you can’t do much in this situation and instead buried myself ever deeper in a good book (The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafón).

I was quite convinced the flight would be cancelled and was already steeling myself for that moment when suddenly a shout went up and everyone was boarded in a hurry. The flight eventually took off at 19:25 instead of the scheduled 17:20 – landing at 20:55. Time was now working against me.

I hurried up the air bridge at Harbin (which resembled the inside of an fridge that had been awaiting defrosting for years), collected my luggage and headed over to the driver who was there to get me to the train station. It was a hopeless mission… despite the best efforts of my driver the distance from the railway station was simply too far to reach in time for me to make the 10pm hard sleeper to Jixi.

The driver turned off at the nearest hotel on the road between the airport and the station then helped me to get checked in (with a fair degree of confusion all round). And that’s the story so far…