Chinese New Year – Bird Flu and An Aviation Radish


Chinese New Year is an auspicious time and this year we were particularly looking forward to taking the opportunity of a few days off to have a much deserved international holiday.  Well, kind of international, being that our destination was Xi’an in the north of China, but still the mental break of being well outside the borders of Hong Kong and having to actually fly somewhere made us feel like we were back to our jetsetting ways.

It had been well over a year since we’d left Hong Kong and, quite frankly, we were starting to climb the walls.  Plane tickets in hand, passports freshly minted with China visas, hotel booked and the terracotta warriors firmly in our sights it was off at a mad clip bright and early on the first day of our five day break far earlier than we wanted…our employer – while thoughtfully having provided our monthly salary cheques (yes, dark ages stuff) a day earlier than normal in the anticipation of all the broke-ass teachers fleeing the country at the close of the day – had post-dated them.  Neat.  Thinking we would have just enough time to line up, cash cheques and jump straight on the airplane, we hit the streets with our luggage alas quickly discovering that the bank we had to go to was the ONLY one in the neighbourhood with a 9.30am opening time, instead of 9am like all the others torturing us nearby.  A great start!

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Worried then about not making our international check-in time, we flagged down a taxi, the rather expensive option, but determined not to risk missing our Holiday of the Year headed for the airport.  We checked in easily, with the rather large queue dispersing with that wonderful efficiency Hong Kong is known for, went through security and were off to find our gate number, which oddly wasn’t on our boarding pass, even at this late stage.  Finding a departures board, we were helpfully informed that our flight was going to be delayed by 2 hours.  Shortly after, a further 2 hour delay was announced.  Sigh.  Irate customers started lining up at the service desk, yelling and pushing, not getting a whole lot further than us who calmly smiled through the trauma.

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The delay was punctuated by the usual airport loudspeaker guff, like hearing everybody else’s flights boarding, instructions not to leave your bags unattended, blah blah, but also the new addition in light of the most recent outbreak of avian flu “Avoid chicken when travelling in Hong Kong and China.  Should you become ill, suffer from fever or flu-like symptoms, don a mask and contact a doctor immediately with full disclosure of your travel history”.

Shanghai, which was to be our connection, was covered in ‘fog’ (read: insane pollution) and all over the departures board flights there were being cancelled.  Somehow, our little flight held on and held on until finally being confirmed for a departure time of 4.40pm at which time we were bundled onto the plane.  Life was looking up again!

IMG_0460Whether or not we made our eventual connection to Xi’an that day or spent the night in Shanghai first, we were on our way out of the country!  Luggage stowed, tray tables in the upright position and seat belts fastened, we were ready to go…but apparently the plane wasn’t!  H-J fell asleep and woke up an hour later asking “are we nearly there?” to which came Dan’s reply, “no, we’re still on the tarmac”.  Where we remained and the time ticked past until possibly the worst sign short of actually being tossed back off the plane – they commenced dinner service!  WTF?!

With an outlook of growing darkness and twinkling runway lights, our tray tables were lowered and ceremoniously fell into our laps, each being broken on one hinge.  Oh well, we thought out loud, the only thing that could make this worse was  meal of chicken.

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Somewhat hysterical with the giggles by now, the mood was lightened even further by the awesome inclusion our meal trays of a little vacuum-packed bag, labelled “Aviation Radish”.  Would it have the power to make our plane fly?!

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Turns out no, as after our death-feast, a round of Haagen Daaz ice-cream tubs and a total of around a 3 hour sit on the tarmac, we were evicted from the plane back into the airport to awaiting a further boarding call.

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At 9pm it was back to the gate to board our flight again – yippee!  Here the sense of humour started to wane somewhat drastically as another considerable period time passed under the auspice of waiting for the last 9 remaining passengers to board the plane. Where the HELL had they been?!  Weren’t they around the preceding 8.5 hours where we were all trying to get out of Hong Kong?!  The long and the short of this, of course, was that the plane missed its flight cue and after more long hours of sitting on the tarmac, sometime in the middle of the night the plane actually did what planes are supposed to do and flew off into the sky.

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Somehow we weren’t surprised when just as the landing gears were shifting, we heard the captain’s dulcet tones over the loudspeakers announce that Shanghai was again now too ‘foggy’ to land so we were being re-routed to (indecipherable Chinese name), where we promptly landed and sat for yet more hours.  This even gave the flight staff enough time to sort out immigration procedures for those who didn’t have Chinese visas as it was looking like we’d be tossed out there, wherever ‘there’ was.  Through some act of the gods (aviation radish power?!) just as things were about to turn further pear-shaped, the crowd of fellow detainees started clapping as the multi-lingual announcements told us we were finally leaving for Shanghai!  We did and landed at 5.35am, 15 hours after our original departure time from Hong Kong airport.  FYI, Hong Kong to Shanghai should be a simple 2 hour flight.

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Having missed our connection to Xi’an by, oh, only 11 hours or so, we rushed through immigration to line up and await further instructions.  Aviation radish to the rescue again, we were given a flight time of 8am.  Seriously?!  It sounded too good to be true after all that had happened.  Up to the gate, which was this time clearly marked on our boarding passes, and seats were taken to await a boarding call.  And we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Turns out the flight was delayed.  H-J promptly threatened to have a breakdown and go home, but instead lay down on a comfy airport bench, pulled her hat over her eyes and prayed silently to the aviation radish.

An hour later, we were on the plane and, most importantly, in the sky headed for our actual destination!!!

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Arrival time in Xi’an – 1.35pm, 25 hours after our original departure time.  Exhausted but thoroughly stoked to finally be there, we set off for our hotel, courtesy of The Taxi Ride, full of giggles and reminiscences about those times in Hong Kong when everything went so smoothly that we had nothing to write about.

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Happy Chinese New Year to all – Kung Hei Fat Choi!

Categories: China, TravelTags: , , , , , , , ,

18 comments

  1. Now I want some aviation radish!

  2. Wow…glad you guys made it but that sucks that you pretty much lost a day trying to get to your destination. Interesting choice though, why Xi’an?

    • It was certainly frustrating losing so many hours of precious holiday! However, it all was a thing of the past by the time we got there – Xi’an was awesome!!! The decision to go there was made due to the fact we have extremely limited time left in Asia (this time round anyway) and even more limited time off in that period. Seeing the terracotta warriors was high up on our list of things to do in this part of the world and its not too expensive to get to Xi’an from HK so a plan was born. The only other remotely possible time we’ll get to do anything will be over Easter but H-J will be just on the cusp for not being able to fly, making travel a bit more difficult, and funds will be lower 😦 Still, we’ll try!!!

      • Wow to see the Terracotta Warriors must have been a thrill. Didn’t know Xi’an is where to see it but now I know! My next planned visit to Asia isn’t till the 2020 Olympics in Japan but an earlier trip to HK and Xi’an might be in order. Well I look forward to reading about them and seeing some awesome pics of your adventure there.

  3. Was it even actually radish?
    Did you have fun in Xi’an? I thought it was great. I took the train from Beijing though, which was way less exciting than your trip. 😀

    • You know what? We haven’t even eaten the radish – we couldn’t bring ourselves to destroy the now sacred relic, haha.

      When we eventually got there we LOVED Xi’an – it’s a super interesting place, the people were amazing and the food so different from Hong Kong. We spent a lot of time eating…

      • You guys?? Spent time eating?? No! 😀 Did you go to the Muslim quarter? And the restaurant with the animal-shaped dumplings?
        I showed a Chinese friend your picture of the radish and she thought it might be carrots. 😀 She wasn’t sure. Probably for the best that you didn’t eat it.

      • I know! Us and eating – odd! Haha. We ate at least once (that’s a blatant lie, at least four times is probably more accurate) a day at the Muslim quarter. Yum…We did hit a ‘famous’ dumpling restaurant but it was crappy so we’re still scratching our heads about it.

        We cannot eat ‘radish’ now – it’s like our totem.

  4. Have you ever seen the documentary “Last Train Home”? It’s so crazy. It depicts the mass exodus of Chinese working industrial jobs returning to their rural homes for New Years. It’s the largest human migration in the world. It’s really maddening + depressing + unbelievable to watch!

    • No, we haven’t seen it but will give it a whirl! We certainly felt for the (angry, overly-stressed) folk on the ‘flights’ who were getting more and more visibly distressed throughout the course of the day/night as it turned out they were all missing the important CNY Eve dinners with their families. It was actually a great time to be in a city as it was relatively quiet and provided a nice escape from the craziness of HK!

  5. And so begins the largest migration on the planet…humans during chinese new year! My brother and his family travelled over night, that with two littlies in a sleeper car to get to the inlaws…. I hear it can get super crazy!!! Really looking forward to seeing your pics from Xian and the terracotta warriors perhaps?!? (spoiler alert!)

    On a plus side, my folks are in HK and I directed them to the Mira ‘buffet brunch’ hotel, via your blog so I expect a full and delicious report from them soon 🙂

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