Asia 101: How Not to Get to Paris

Beijing, Tuesday morning

Why are we in China?  From Sydney, Beijing is not on the way to Paris.  It’s 17 degrees Centigrade, with sunshine and bright blue skies.  Paralympic greeters are all around us.

What’s happened so far:

Update from Paris, Tuesday night:  the Air France flight from Beijing to Paris was fine.  Our journey time was 42 hours, door to door.  As ever, I’m overjoyed to be here.

  • overly-optimistic flight itinerary, with only a 75-minute stopover in Singapore (lesson learned:  never again)
  • Qantas delay in Sydney.  Classic case of 3 bags loaded in error, no passengers attached to them, so had to be off-loaded
  • One hour late arrival in Singapore.  Air France won’t wait 15 minutes despite 50+ connecting passengers.
  • Routing through Beijing “best” of alternatives offered by ground crew at Changi Airport

Changi Airport, Singapore

I’ve always liked Changi Airport.  It’s much like Singapore itself:  well-ordered and clean, with excellent choice and quality of Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, and Western food; enough shopping to keep you busy for days (including a favourite book stop); and state of the art technology and customer service.  It’s the first airport I can remember that had free Internet everywhere.

While waiting to learn our fate last night, just looking at the Changi arrival and departure boards reminded me it’s truly at the crossroads of Asia.  Flights to and from around the world arrive and depart 24/7.  From my first business trip to Singapore over 12 years ago, I was hooked.  The names still excite me, whether relatively close, like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, or farther away, like Shanghai or Dubai.

Asia 101

Singapore is to Asia as London is to Europe, a sort of “Asia 101,” especially for Australians and Americans.  It’s a good introduction, because almost everyone speaks English and the central city retains its Asian flair, despite being Westernised to the point that one of our Australian friends said, “I used to like Singapore, until they turned it into Chatswood.”  Chatswood is a Sydney suburb known for its Asian population and vast shopping malls.

Singapore and its airport may not have the funky, developing character of other Asian capitals, and its spotlessness and efficiency reflect its tightly-controlled government state.  But it’s easy to get around, and I’ve always felt safe here, whether arriving with my family at a peak travel time, or by myself on a business trip, alone in the middle of the night.

In the wee hours of this morning, the airport was well-lit, shops open, and staff visible and walking around.\  We weren’t the only passengers, either; a large group bound for Rome was also departing after 1am. 

A Sensual Impression

Changi even feels like Singapore’s hot, steamy self.  From the moment you get off the plane, you can sense the humidity in the air, on your skin, and as you breathe it in, along with the heavy, floral-y smell of the tropics.  I love coming upon the central gathering area, with its stands of purple orchids and green ferns, and sounds of softly-falling water.  In the middle of hundreds of thousands of criss-crossing travellers, it’s an oasis of beauty and peace, if only for a few minutes.

Orchid Garden, Changi Airport Site Photo

 

There used to be a little Jim Thompson silk shop at Changi, where I always wandered around and once splurged on a zippered make-up bag that cost $34 Australian dollars.  It was beige silk with a cobalt blue elephant print, luxuriously soft inside and out.  I delighted in using it every day until I wore it out.

Exception to the Rule

Unfortunately, our experience at Changi this trip was one of utter frustration.  It began with the discovery that although we disembarked the Qantas plane 15 minutes before the Air France (AF) departure time, AF had closed the flight.  We are believers in on-time departure in most cases, but have also understood the situation when we’re due to depart and a pilot announcement comes on about waiting a few minutes for a large group from a connecting flight.

Singapore Airlines ground staff was left with 50 tired, disgruntled passengers, and was unable to cope.  When one French passenger complained, the response was a shrug and, “that’s Air France.”  As time ticked away and nothing happened, it became clear to us that waiting passively was not an option.  It was only because we asserted ourselves that we got tickets and boarding passes for the first flight to Beijing.   

In the interest of not turning this post into a whingey, whiney recitation of every detail that followed, suffice it to say that in both Singpore and Beijing, our group was led all over creation and back again, to waiting areas, ticketing, check-in, passport, customs, baggage, transit areas, transit busses, and airport trains.  As happens in these situations, it became quite amusing at times – like when, with another couple, we practically had to tackle one of the Chinese ‘leaders’ we were following, so she would slow down enough to allow the rest of the group to catch up.

Despite the uncharacteristic inefficiency of the ground staff in Singapore, we did have the unexpected pleasure of the always-outstanding cabin service of Singapore Airlines on the flight from Singapore to Beijing.  If we had only known we’d end up here, we would have gotten a visa and spent a few days in the city.

Welcome to China

We have a 5-hour stopover at Beijing Airport, where I’m writing this.  The terminal is very modern with striking architecture and soaring ceilings, clearly updated for the Olympics.  We felt relatively confident we’d eventually get boarding passes for the Air France flight, and we did.  The Chinese staff are still in friendly mode, with Olympics just finished and Paralympics starting soon.   

I did however try to access WordPress, my blog host, from inside Beijing Airport, and while I could reach other Internet sites such as International Herald Tribune, I wasn’t able to view, let alone get into, my blog or anyone else’s.  I don’t think I was doing anything wrong, so it was most likely “Internet restrictions.”  It was a reminder that personable, English-speaking staff notwithstanding, we still live by their rules.

Our group is significantly smaller in Beijing.  Several members estimated at least 20 of the original 50 didn’t make the flight due to the dithering in Singapore.    

Onward to Air France and — joy of joys — Paris.

All’s Well That Ends Well

Update from Paris, Tuesday night:  the Air France flight from Beijing to Paris was fine.  Our journey time was 42 hours, door to door.  As ever, I’m overjoyed to be here. 

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2 Responses

  1. Well at least you got to Paris safely..Sounds like a nightmare to me. Not much of a good traveller!

    Look forward to reading more about your travels later.

    Take Care
    Anne

  2. Thanks, Anne! Hope all is well in Oxfordshire whether you are having American food or French cheeses :) Cheers.

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