I was reading a travel magazine the other day and the author mentioned that
you could fly between destinations in China quite easily. This brought to mind
the following excerpt from Paul Theroux’s book, “Riding the Iron Rooster.”
“Whatever objections I could devise against the trains, they were nothing
compared to the horrors of air travel in China. I had a small dose of it when I
left Urumchi for Lanzhou – there was no point in retracing my steps on the Iron
Rooster, I was told to be at the airport three hours early – i.e. 7.00 a.m. The
plane left five hours late, at 3.00 p.m. in the afternoon.
It was an old Russian jet, and its metal covering was wrinkled and cracked like
the tinfoil in a used cigarette pack. The seats were jammed so closely together
that my knees hurt and the circulation to my feet was cut off. Every seat was
taken, and every person was heavily laden with carry-on baggage – big skull
cracking bundles that fell out of the overhead rack. Even before the plane took
off, people were softly and soupily vomiting, with their heads down and their
hands folded, in the solemn and prayerful way that the Chinese habitually puke.
After two hours we were each given an envelope that contained three caramel
candies, some gum and three sticky boiled sweets; a piece of cellophane
almost concealed a black strand of dried beef that looked like oakum and tasted
like decayed rope; and (because Chinese can be optimistic) a toothpick.
Two hours later a girl wearing an old postman’s uniform went around with a
tray. Thinking it might be better food, I snatched one of the little parcels – it
was a key ring.
The plane was very hot, and then so cold I could see my breath. It creaked like
a schooner under sail.
Another two hours passed. I said: “I am out of my mind”. An announcement
was made, saying in a gargling way that we would shortly be landing. At this
point everyone except the pukers stood up and began yanking their bundles out
of the racks; and they remained standing, pushing, tottering and vaguely
complaining – deaf to the demands that they sit down and strap themselves in
– as the plane bounced, did wheelies on the runway and limped to Lanzhou
terminal. Never again!
My guide Mr Fang asked in a rare burst of English: “What you think of Chinese
“Lamentable” I replied.
“Thank you very much!” replied a beaming Mr Fang.
I’m sure with the olympic games approaching, all aircraft will be updated for
those planning on flying internally in China (hopefully).
L. Haime (WA Buicks)