Sardine Can To Adventure
Well there I was in China! Beijing to be precise, but don’t worry you haven’t bought the wrong book; this is simply part of my story. On my way to the other side of the world I had thankfully needed to change planes. My flight departed from Heathrow and was now making a short stop in Beijing before finally taking off for Sydney Australia. I only had a short time back on the ground, but it made a great break from the twelve hours that I had just spent sitting like a battery farm hen, caged by only an inch of personal space. Mercifully the mind numbing dullness of being trapped in the airborne sardine can had been broken just before we started our decent. As I stared at the beautiful country side which was coated in a thick layer of frosty snow, I began to notice the man in front of me pointing at something excitedly. I looked down straining my eyes to find the cause. We were flying over the Great Wall of China. I couldn’t believe it not only was I in the privileged position of having a year to travel Australia, but my connecting flight had allowed me this added bonus of getting a quick glimpse at the ancient Asian orient. I was delighted and surprised to see the wall in fact even snow itself had come as somewhat of a shock. For no reason what so ever I had always presumed the china was a permanently hot country. I guess this assumption was not unlike my childhood belief that the world used to be in black and white because of course that was how it was shown on TV. All this had been leant and viewed before I had even stepped off a plane, oh they joys of travel.
On arrival in Beijing I experienced another lesson on Chinese practice. Their airport security is rigid. I followed the ant like queue as it wound its way through the corridors before we flooded out in front of customs. My first startling observation was that all the staff were wearing face masks. Was there some kind of plague gripping the people of china that had suddenly out broken during my plane journey? Why didn’t I have a mask? I tried not to breathe the air too deeply for fear of becoming contaminated. As it turned out swine flu was the latest epidemic and over in China they were obviously taking it far more seriously than back at Heathrow. Like reluctant school children we all sat down and filled in forms to prove we didn’t have any form of cold and flu. I swear my nose involuntarily made a sniffing noise just as I signed on the dotted line. The Chinese must have been onto me and just in case any of us were telling porky pies, we had to walk through a scanner which checked our temperatures. Fortunately my sniffing must have been a temporary side effect for the air-conditioning on board the plane and I made it out the other side without any dramas. Then in one swift swoop the Chinese went from evil interrogators to my saviours as I came upon cute little shopping trolleys in which to ferry my hand luggage around. Due to the fact that my giant green suitcase (yes this is a backpacking story, so I will explain the suitcase later) which was hopefully also currently changing planes, was already up to, if not over the weight limit, I had been a little generous with the volume of my hand luggage. I had tried my best to make it look as if it weighed the 10kg limit and not the more truthful 20kg, as I heaved and hauled it up into the overhead lockers on board the plane, but attempting to carry it across the endless terminal was not going to be so easy. With my mini trolley pushed out in front of me and a literal load off my shoulders I set off on a mission.
I was looking to dine on some Chinese food, which I guess would just have been called food here. I wasn’t a big fan of the stuff, but you’ve got to try cultural experiences when you can, even if it’s only at the airport. I glanced at a menu only to be met but pretty little drawings that although were atheistically pleasing, didn’t mean a bloody thing to me. The food was priced in Yen, of which I had none, things were not going to plan. A little disheartened, but lacking the time or skill to translate Chinese, I decided to head off across the vastness of the terminal, to find my next departure lounge. I was most excited to find a small cafe right next to my boarding gate where they were happy to accept Euros, giving me change in local currency. Cuddling my cup of tea, I cossied up in a corner gazing through the window at the perfect icy snow. The idea of local food was out and English breakfast tea was in. I figured there would be plenty of time for new experiences and at least the tea was keeping me warm. Having dressed for Sydney summer weather, my feet were only clad in flip flops and even with the vague attempt at heating within the airport my little fleece wasn’t much use. Thankfully as all the English will tell you, a good cup of tea solves all problems and having warmed up, I turned my new shinny coins over in my hand, before dropping them into my wallet. Inside was a jumble of Euros, Pounds, Australian dollars and Yen. Looking through them all I felt like a true international jetsetter. Why Euros? You may ask. How did an English girl on her way to Australia end up with Euros? Well, fortunately I hadn’t got lost along the way. I may originally be from the not so sunny county of Kent, England, but travel certainly wasn’t a new past time for me. I was now the grand old age of twenty seven and during in the last ten years I had mostly been travelling or living abroad. Much of this time had been spent living in Spain and the Canary Islands, hence the Euros, but I had always set off on backpacking trips whenever I got the chance. Now, after a year of planning and saving, I was headed to the land down under on a one years working holiday visa.
As my next plane began to board, I made a quick final dash to the toilet, in the hope of avoiding having to use the miniscule cubicles whilst in the air. I pushed my trolley through the swinging door to be met by a blaze of shinning white cleanliness. Six cubicles were manned by two staff who rushed in to clean the booths as each occupant left. I perched on the seat which was protected by a disposable cover and did my business extra carefully. Upon standing back up, I jumped in shock the toilet flushed all by itself. The taps were also automated and the second I moved away from the sink and attendant rushed over to clean away whatever evil germs I may have left there. These toilets seemed cleaner than some restaurants I had experienced over the years, another brownie point for the Chinese. Also waiting for the flight were approximately ten other backpackers. Well I could only guess, but the loose khaki trousers, slouched positions and t-shirts with Thai beer adverts upon them certainly gave that impression. And, oh yes, they were all about ten years younger than me. Like myself, it seemed that the thrill of a new adventure had clearly been dulled and then stamped upon by hours of planes and airport lounges for them too. We stood around tired and lifeless awaiting another session of endless cramping and praying for sleep. Certainly none of us were looking forward to the next ten hours on board the cheapest airline I could find.
Whilst waiting I pondered over what I was about to embark on. I had been researching this trip for nearly a year. I had read my guide book from start to finish giving me a rough idea of what I would like to see, taking note of climates and seasons. I am a Virgo and although not a big believer in star signs in my case the profile fits well in the fact that I tend to be organised, thorough and occasionally a little anally retentive. I may have had notes, maps and colour coordinated climate charts, but my only solid planning on a daily basis had been to book a Sydney hostel for my first week. For the rest I had the luxury of being able to take as it came.
My last long haul flight had been to Thailand eight years earlier and things had certainly up graded since then. My second plane had video players in the back of the seats, a choice of music channels and even computer games. I have never been able to sleep on planes and therefore had now been awake for over twenty four hours. As the flight bounced off the run way, I did my best to rest and waited for my mind to settle, but an hour later sleep still eluded me. I finally gave up and turned on my brand new netbook computer upon which this book was to be written. I tapped away on the keys, rejecting the in-flight music and instead selecting some of my own. After a couple of hours I could ignore my bladder no longer and I pulled the headphones from my ears on route to the loo. I was horrified to find that they had clearly not been plugged in correctly and Tiesto’s club mix had been playing out loud for all to hear. I can’t believe that no one complained, maybe I had accidently converted a flight full of people to the joy of trance. I quickly slammed the computer closed cutting off the sound, although I think after the last few hours it was a little late to worry. I then kept my eyes to the floor, my cheeks burning as I headed to the claustrophobia of the aeroplane loos.