Monday, May 21, 2012

NZ Adventures 1: China Southern Airlines and Guangzhou

Earlier this month I left Japan for an adventure in New Zealand, to see my friend get married. Those posts will be coming up, but before we get there to NZ, I have to share about the short adventure in a Chinese Airport.

I feel the need to share about this part of the adventure because before I booked a flight on China Southern Airlines and Guangzhou Airport (CAN airport), I could find very little information about either that seemed to be up to date (review at the bottom of this blog).

I decided to go this route and with this airline because it was significantly cheaper than going with another airline. I’ve heard several people say they wouldn’t do it again. I’m not entirely sure – it is just 24-ish hours of my life. If circumstances aren’t perfect, it’s not the end of the world.

My trip with China Southern Air started in Osaka (I flew Skymark for the first leg).

At first I was seated in an aisle seat on the big block of four in the middle. The flight was open enough, I managed to move no problem. When the Chinese ladies in the row saw me though, each one had to get a picture with me. Though I didn’t speak the language, I smiled for all 5 to get their pictures taken with me.

On our short, four hour flight, we were served lunch – a roll, noodles, veggies (aren’t they cute?) and a main entrée.
2012-04-19 New Zealand 006

I picked my entrée by asking the flight attendant which one he preferred. He said pork, so I decided to try it. It was pretty good, though the best part of the meal is that the veggies were still slightly crunchy – instead of being so over cooked they had no texture.

2012-04-19 New Zealand 007

When we got close, I started watching China go by. I can’t say I had a major desire to go until I saw it.

2012-04-19 New Zealand 0152012-04-19 New Zealand 021

I loved this patch of clouds – the sun was just beginning to set and they all looked like slightly yellow cotton candy.

2012-04-19 New Zealand 043

As I was clearing security, I made friends with a couple of guys who work at a university in Kyoto. They were very friendly and the one on the left spoke really good English. Oddly enough, the one on the right was on my flight back from Osaka at the end of my trip.

2012-04-19 New Zealand 072

After we left security, we continued to hang out and they had a good laugh as I began taking photos of every store we passed, I realized there were more than three stores (as I had read) in the whole airport.

2012-04-19 New Zealand 061

We did realize that only about three were food-related places and that most were gift shops. As we looked around for a comfortable place to hang out (they had a 4 hour layover to wait for and I had an 8 hour layover), the place with the most comfortable looking chairs made you buy a bottle of wine. One of the guys decided it was worth it and bought some wine to drink.
This is my glass which I didn’t even take a sip from.

2012-04-19 New Zealand 067

Before their flight, they wanted to get dinner, so we decided to get extra bowls and share dinner. We decided to try Chinese ramen – since it’s different from Japanese, but where Japanese got ramen from to begin with. The noodles are a lot thinner, but it was really good – they’re like somen or angel hair pasta.

2012-04-19 New Zealand 068

The ramen came with Kimchee (a Korean dish) and seasonal fruit, apparently in April, that’s a banana.

2012-04-19 New Zealand 070

After we said our goodbyes and they headed for their flight, I made another attempt at using the wireless. The English button didn’t seem to work on the site for connecting and I couldn’t figure out what to put in the blanks, so I waited on that and decided to find a bathroom.

The bathrooms in the international section of the airport are all downstairs, along with the smoking areas. I headed downstairs to one of these areas and easily found the bathrooms. Unfortunately they didn’t smell very clean. They had 3 or 4 western style toilets, and 2 squatty potties (what foreigners have nicknamed them in Japan). But instead of being clean and flushing every time, these seemed to open directly into what they were flushing into – hence the smell down there. The other issue with the bathroom is everything seemed to be wet – I wasn’t sure whether that was due to a different style of cleaning or something else. 

After my somewhat scary trip to the bathroom, I made a stop at the store to get a snack. The airport was a bit humid and I wanted a cold bottle of water. That and some chocolate was easily found and paid for with my credit card – I kinda wanted some Chinese money just to see what it looked like, but I didn’t have any cash on me (NZ does debit).

After that, I headed back to the waiting areas to find try to connect to the internet again. I found one of the areas where they had power you could use and hooked up my laptop – hoping to have more luck than I had with my phone.

When I sat down to make another attempt, I started talking with a group from Perth (Australia) who had been traveling in China for 10 days and weren’t entirely happy with their experience. From them, I found out that to use the wireless in the airport, you had to have a Chinese cell phone, so they could text you the password. Unfortunately at this international airport, any foreigner was out of luck. I did have my kindle and the 3g worked there, so I was able to post to facebook that I had arrived safely.

We chatted more and we ended up hanging out until my plane left. Including them inviting me down to eat when their long-delayed airplane was sharing food with it’s very tired, very bored customers.

We were sitting at the gate my plane was supposed to be leaving from, so when no one was there about an hour before we were supposed to board, I found out that they had changed the gate with out posting anything – they may have made an announcement, but the announcements were so constant I blocked them out.

The flight to NZ was completely packed, so I ended up with people all around me. It was a long, flight (at about 11 and a half hours), but it wasn’t too bad. The food wasn’t exciting – is airplane food ever exciting? But it really wasn’t bad either.

2012-04-20 New Zealand 001

I ended up making friends with the high school kid who flew with next to me and we were surprised to find that we were taking the same airport shuttle after – him to his house and me to the rehearsal dinner for the wedding.

Some notes on the airline and the airport:
China Southern Airlines
  • The short-distance flight was in an airplane that seemed a bit on the old side, many of the seat-back pockets and other minor things didn’t work quite right. It was also only about half full. 
  • The long-distance flight was on a really nice, really new airplane. They also gave us a little pack with ear plugs, an eye mask, a tooth brush and toothpaste. These flights were packed. 
  • In the NZ direction, the flight attendants seemed annoyed when I asked for anything. ANYTHING. I went back and asked for water a few times throughout the flight and they seemed annoyed – this didn’t happen on the way back, so maybe it was because I was more tired.
  • On the way to NZ, on the bigger plane my overhead light was pointed at my neighbor’s lap instead of mine – meaning I annoyed him a bit and reading my kindle was a bit more difficult than it should have been.
  • Chinese customs are VERY different from the US and especially Japan. During the flight on the way back, I found myself a bit annoyed with the lady in the window seat in front of me and the lady in the window seat behind me decided to stand up in their chairs and talk to each other quite loudly, over the seat in between – I was in the aisle seat between them.
  • Whether I would fly with them again or not would mostly be dependent upon prices – if I’m feeling poor and need to keep a trip cheap, I probably would. If the prices for the next airlines up aren’t too different, I would probably go a different route.
China Southern Airlines and Guangzhou Airport
  • The international terminal is one long hallway. It has 10-15 shops and restaurants in it. Most of them close as the late evening hours approach. Most are also souvenir and snack shops, not the kind of place to hang out.
  • The seats are the kind with arm rests between each seat, if you are aiming to sleep in the airport, this might not be you best choice.
  • They make announcements regularly, which very quickly feed into background noise.
  • There are several wireless connections that don’t have a password, but even those didn’t seem to work.
  • They conveniently have several kinds of power connectors at their power stations – usb, ones that take almost anything and a couple of other connectors. I don’t remember whether they were 120 or 240 though. But, if use the US kind of plug where one side is bigger, it won’t fit. (This was easily remedied by using the connector I bought for using NZ power). I never went to one of the power stations and found all the power connectors full, even though there were probably about seven in the whole airport.
  • The bathrooms seemed a bit dirty and didn’t have many dry places to put something down – oh how I missed Japan’s love of hooks in the bathroom during my trips to this airport’s bathrooms.
  • Despite being an international airport, one of the two guys at the information desk didn’t speak any English and the waitress at the restaurant ate at spoke very little as well - remember gestures go a long way! 
  • In future flights, I will probably try to avoid having a long layover at this airport – it’s not so bad if your layover is shorter.