Yes, I am back in China, proud owner of a three month employment visa, which is valid until September 18th. That’s how long I have to go and get the work visa I TRIED to apply for two months ago! Getting the visa was a very simple process – I went in on my first morning and then just had to wait around while it was processed. As it turned out, the flight I’d booked back to Beijing was the earliest one I could have taken after I got the visa, so I felt good about that. Since the visa was no trouble, I got my quota of mafan from the flights! On the way to Australia our plane was late arriving so we boarded half an hour late and then sat on the tarmac for two and a half hours due to a large thunderstorm that stopped all landings and departures for half and hour (after that we were 37th in line to take off!) This made us so late into Sydney that by the time I got to a phone in the airport, my Mum had gone to the airport in Canberra to collect me, discovered that I wasn’t on the flight, found out from ground staff that my flight from China had been delayed, AND made it all the way home again! Having rushed off the China flight and through customs, I managed to get on the next flight to Canberra and had only 15 minutes to kill before boarding. The way home… well, that was QUITE a story – it’s at the bottom of the email.
While in Australia I was able to spend time with my family (including an overnight visit to my grandparents in the Hunter Valley) and I saw most of the friends I’d hoped to catch up with. I was also VERY well fed, and bought a LOT of stuff to fill my suitcases with! (Mostly chocolate and hair care products!)
There’s one other thing I did while I was home…. I got a haircut! Amanda took me to her hairdresser and we had fun! I had them cut off half my hair and got blonde hilights through the whole lot. The poor lady kept asking me if I was really sure I wanted to cut it off! She finally relented when I explained I’d been thinking about it since Christmas. Actually, I planned the haircut two weeks before I left China, I just didn’t tell anyone so I wouldn’t have to debate it with anyone! It was just time – I was ready. It’s been over 8 years since my hair was this short. Oh, and for the record, I absolutely love it :)
Getting home… (and by home I mean China!)
So when Carla and I were driving to the airport we learned that one of the major arterial roads near the airport (a large expressway) was shut in both directions, causing traffic chaos. We managed to avoid most of the overflow traffic, but she only lives 15 minutes from the airport so it wasn’t a big deal. The Qantas technicians, however, weren’t so lucky. Our flight was delayed two hours because the technicians were caught in traffic and couldn’t check out the plane before take-off!
Once we’d been on the plane a few hours, an announcement came over the PA “If there is a doctor, nurse, or other medical personnel, paramedic, and you’re willing to be of assistance, please make yourself known to one of the flight attendants.” A few hours, while flying over Indonesia, the decision was made to turn the plane around to get the sick girl to hospital. I saw flight attendants bring oxygen back twice druing the flight. We landed in Darwin 90 minutes later, just after sunset, with some serious braking. Once we arrived at the gate 6 people came on board – 2 St John’s Ambulance, 2 Fire&Rescue, and 2 ground staff. They used a plane wheelchair to take the sick girl off the plane. She was on oxygen and looking quite unresponsive. Later we were given the news that the paramedics in Darwin said that she would have been in a really bad way if we’d continued on to Beijing instead of turning back.
We sat on the ground in Darwin about 2 hours while they took care of the girl and got her off the plane, and then as the Qantas staff worked out what to do next (included filing a new flight plan). While we waiting, groups of fighter jets (I heard another passenger call them F16s and F18s) were taking off from the main runway we’d landed on. From my seat I could clearly see them lifting off, with their huge flames as long as the jets themselves. When we first arrived it was light enough to see the whole jets, by the time we left all I could see was the flame.
Finally, we were told that there was a problem. The flight staff could not continue on to Beijing without surpassing the legal limit for consecutive flight hours. Since there was no way to help us from Darwin, we would go as far as we could that night – Hongkong – and work things out from there. The Chinese girl next to me (from Inner Mongolia, had lived and studied at the University City in Langfang where I live now, and had been studying at Macquarie University in Sydney for the past two years) had been calling her family in Beijing to update them since we landed in Darwin, and when this announcement happened she offered to lend me her phone to call and cancel my pick up from the airport that night – an offer I gratefully accepted.
Halfway to Hongkong, we were informed that no filght crews could be found in Hongkong to take the plane to Beijing. Instead, we would have to stay overnight, wait the minimum rest time and then continue on to Beijing the next day with the same flight crew. Qantas would put us all up in an airport hotel for the night. So we got off the plane in Hongkong, went through customs, collected our bags, and walked down the corridor above the carpark and into the airport hotel, where four desk clerks were set aside to book us in. It was quite a crowded flight (on an A330) so I wasn’t surprised to see a good 30+ people in line ahead of me. I didn’t think I was near the start of the line (I hadn’t rushed off the plane when we landed), but when I left the desk with my room key and breakfast ticket, I saw the line had tripled behind me!
The hotel room was very nice – a big bed, a couch, a nice bathroom, and even a little courtyard looking into the pool. It was raining in the morning though so I didn’t go outside. The breakfast cafe was quite full in the morning, but the food was quite good. Qantas also offered to fund a 5 minute call for each of us to let people know what had happened – so I was able to call and let my company know when my new scheduled arrival time was. The flight wasn’t until early afternoon so I had time to relax in my room before heading back to the airport. When checking in, we all received a token for $90 HK to spend on lunch.
I was thinking the whole experience wasn’t a big deal – until I met a mother and daughter from Sweden (?) who had planned a two day stay in Beijing on their way home… there went their whole Beijing experience! We were due to land in Beijing after 4pm and they were due to leave at 2:40pm the next day.
It still wasn’t over, though – thunderstorms delayed our take-off from Hongkong and lengthened our flying time to Beijing. We didn’t land until after 5pm Thursday – 21 hours later than the 8pm Wednesday arrival originally scheduled!