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Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: Beijing, 2011 Part 3

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Location: New Delhi

PostPosted: Sun Jul 22, 2012 7:32 pm    Post subject: Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: Beijing, 2011 Part 3 Reply with quote

Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: Beijing, 2011 Part 3
Welcome to Part 3 of my trip report to Beijing, in September,
2011. Part 1 of this report is

North By, AI and CA: Beijing, 2011 Part 1

and can be found at the following URL:

Part 2 of this report is

No Panda-monium: Beijing, 2011 Part 2

and can be found at the following URL:

The URL for Part 3 (this report) is:

``Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: Beijing, 2011 Part 3''

The title comes from the joke about a Panda going to a
restaurant and having food there. He suddenly pulled out a gun,
fired a few shots in the air, and walked out. When the perplexed
waiters looked up the Encyclopaedia entry on the Panda, they see
the following entry:
Panda: eats shoots and leaves.
Yes, if one is familiar with the primary ambitions in life of the
person keying down this piece, you would agree. The shooting in
his case was with his analog SLR and camera cellphone, and
describes the concluding part of a very memorable trip.


Overall, the city was very neat and clean (at least, the areas I
went to), and the weather was excellent: the temperatures in the
daytime were in the early 20s (Centigrade/Celcius), the early
mornings and nights were a bit chilly at around 11 degrees. There
are flowers all around the city. I have committed to describing
the sights, sounds (and needless to say, the smells and tastes,
as well) of everything around me.

I had heard a few strange things about Beijing: that it was a
relatively silent city (all the birds had been eaten), that they
ate strange things, and many more - jokes abound. I saw a few
Chinese Magpies around, with their distinctive loud and harsh
call. This is larger than the Indian Magpie Robin (`Doel', to
people in eastern India), though it looks similar - with an
additional dash of brown in the plumage. The reader may well be
intrigued as to how Sumantra is showing off his plumage passion:
The Wife would clearly vouch for his greater interest in birds of
the non-feathered kind: both what is usually meant by the term,
and of course, the `heavy metal' kind.

Among the exotic things I ate, I must mention preserved eggs,
Chrysanthemum stems and leaves (this tastes quite good,
actually), and Kelp. Some items which in continental fare are
mostly had is salad form - watery vegetables (lettuce,
watercress) for instance, are often lightly tossed in oil, and
then put in soups, or light gravy-based curries. Indians
typically do not do this - ah, the cucumber-based curry is
something modern, and does not taste much different from the
corresponding one based on bottle gourd (lauki/ghiya for the
Delhi'ite), for instance.


In my travels through this enthralling city, yes, I had my analog
SLR around my neck all the time, and shot lots of pictures. I
also had my cellphone with me, which I used to take a sampling of
pictures all around the place, and went almost berserk at the
Beijing Capital International Airport, and the Hong Kong
International Airport, once again.


I set out from Beijing very early in the morning, for the BCIA on
23 September, 2011 - with many sweet memories. This would
conclude an official trip, for which I had set out late on 15
September, 2011, and reached New Delhi, on 23 September, 2011, at
night. I was also looking
forward to the two flights, to take me back to my hometown, New

All right, enough of general summarising statements - let me get
back to the time-line, and some facts.

20 September, 2011.
I headed off for the Metro station close-by. I had chalked out a
plan for visiting the Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden Palace, Mao's
Mausoleum, and the Temple of Heaven. I got down at the Tiananmen
(West) stop, and looked for direction to the Tiananmen Square,
which was supposed to be close to the Forbidden Palace. It was in
fact, right in front of it. Across the road, was Mao's mausoleum.
The `Tiananmen Gate' opens to the Forbidden Palace. The place was
so named because commoners could not enter or leave the place,
without the emperor's permission. the wall has a portrait of Mao

I entered the place, with my head full of historical events of
this place, and its surroundings. The place has been a
beautifully restored to something like its former glory, and is a
major tourist spot in Beijing. The crowds were enormous, and
tourists from all corners of the world had come to visit the
place. The Tiananmen Gate was the standard entry point to the
Forbidden Palace. This has a picture of Chairman Mao Zedong
adoring its walls.

Here is the entrance to the complex:

One of the most famous icons of the Forbidden Palace was there,
right inside:

The inside had elaborate carvings all over the place. The
reflections were simply breathtaking.

There were some familiar symbols of the time and place, the

and the Dragon-tortoise:

The place is full of exquisite staircases leading in and out of
the various parts of the complex.

Most of the halls, and ceremonial thrones of the emperors had
really exotic and exalted names, which I quite lost track of, after
some time. The roof details are very exquisite.

I finished a really rushed one-way tour through to the other end
of the Forbidden Palace. There is a wall of stones, and some
beautiful gardens, done in the traditional style of the time.

Another interesting exhibit was a metal peacock, in front of one
of the palace galleries.

As I rushed back - (I was getting late!), I remembered that
the area is dotted with musea/museums, most of them with an entry
fee. This time, I was carrying small cash on me, so I did not
think twice before entering the places, and admiring different
facts of the royal life. There was a museum of jade items, with
the scale of the artifacts going from the absolute miniature to
the huge.

There was the Hall of jewellery, and the Hall of clocks. The
latter is one of the finest collection of European clockmakers'
masterpieces of that era. The clocks ranged from the tiny to the
massive, and had many interesting movements associated with them.
One of them for instance, features a porcelain figure coming out
at the stroke of an hour, and writing a message after dipping his
pen in ink. There were many such toys that used to enthrall the
royalty for long periods of time, so proclaimed the signs. There
were many halls full of items of daily use of the royal family,
their dresses, and a complete section devoted to staging of plays
and dramas. This was far too much for me to see within the time I
had set myself for, and I rushed through the treasures here and
there, clicking numerous pictures from my analog SLR, and a few,
from my cell-phone camera.

There were also stories of tyranny, such as the well where the
powerful empress, had her son's fiancee drowned after quelling
his revolt. There was the small monument erected in her honour
after her violent death, by her sister.

I had a somewhat rushed visit to the Forbidden Palace - there is an
incredible number of sights inside it that are worth seeing, yet
I did not have the time for it. I came out into the Tiananmen
Square, and rushed to the Mao Mausoleum. I had reached on the dot
of 12 noon - the time for closure. I was quite disappointed at
this, but comforted myself with the thought that at least I had
seen the Lenin Mausoleum in Moscow, a few months back.
The square itself has many interesting sights.

I had missed a sightseeing point by a minute. I had earlier had
the disappointment of not being able to see the Summer Palace,
which I have described in Part 2 of my report. The Temple of
Heaven was another world heritage site in the city, which I did
not want to miss, by any chance.
As it is, I had reconciled with the fact that I would not be able
to visit the Peking Man site outside Beijing - I simply did not
have any more time. This was something I had read about in our IX
standard history book, and I had looked forward to going there.
I took a decision there, to skip lunch, and head off towards the
Temple of Heaven. In retrospect, this was a very good decision,
since many places of interest in the huge Temple of Heaven
complex close by 4pm. I was well in time, at least.

Just after entering the complex, I came across a beautiful copper
plated sign, which informed visitors of an automatic audio guide
which could be purchased from there. Not one to spend my precious
forex, I decided to go by what I had read about the place on the
Internet, as well as the signage around the place, which was
superb. Directions were quite clear, and descriptions, very
detailed. As I was about to embark upon my journey to the main
complex, the last-but-one language on the left column surprised
me a bit - Bong! This reads, `Bangla bhasha',
literally, the Bangla language.

After a second's surprise, my mind stabilised into
logical conclusions. No, it was not because of the fact that
Bangladeshis were out to conquer the world. They have far
outnumbered and almost displaced the other South Asians, the
Indians and Pakistanis from most of their traditional haunts. On
my second visit to Singapore in 2004, I was simply amazed at how
many Bangladeshis were around in the Little India part, when just
two years back, there were hardly any. The US, and a large part
of Europe have seen such immigrations, both legal, as well as
otherwise. No, that was not quite the reason.
The actual reason was that Bangladesh had deep ties with China on
the Defence front. Much of the military hardware in Bangladesh is
of Chinese origin. In fact, while on the Great Wall, some of my
acquaintances from Calcutta were quite surprised to hear Bong
being spoken around. Many people from the region have quite
distinct characteristics. One of them struck up a conversation
with a man who had come to visit the place along with his family.
The man was on leave from the Bangladesh Army, and had come on a
training mission to Beijing, as had a few others in his
delegation, all of whom were visiting the Great Wall, that day.

The Temple of Heaven was actually a place where the Chinese
emperor prayed for good harvests for the nation, along with
elaborate rituals, and as was common in other parts of the world
at that time, animal sacrifices.
There was a very long corridor with intricate designs on the
floor (all of which had been lovingly restored). It was along this
corridor that the sacrificial animals were led along. There was a
massive kitchen for the royal feasts, beside it.

Here are two views of the magnificent structure.

There is a little museum complex beside the massive structure,
which houses two interesting replicas of the structure, one of
them a cut-away view of the intricate construction. This place
also has many historical photographs, including one of four
people standing in front of the structure at that time - including
Chairman Mao Zedong, and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek!

To the side there is a structure, which has a collection of items
used in the worship.

There was a lovely stone carving there!

The ceremonial altar has three rows of ringed structures, leading
to the top.

Before the elaborate prayer ceremony, the Emperor was supposed to
spend some time in the `Palace of Abstinence', which is a huge
complex in itself. This did not have too many visitors, though.
The reason for abstaining from this part of the complex I guess,s
is the incredibly large size of the whole complex, which had even
an enthusiastic tourist like me, get quite tired.

One of the more recent restorations involved the Divine Music
Administration. Photographs document the razing of the encroachments
around the area, and the painstaking restoration of the place,
along with the numerous instruments and music literature of the
period. The entrance to the section has pieces of jade in
elaborate scaffoldings, which are gold coloured. Each of these
makes a particular note when struck.

A highlight of the visit for me, was figuring out where the
merging pavillions were, and taking photographs of the unique

On the way out, I spotted a section close to a rose garden (with
an incredibly large number of roses in full bloom!), a lush green
lawn being watered. A little rainbow came into view:

On the way out, I did not want to miss the `asteroids', which
were little more than some carved stones.

After all this walk around the place, I was going about as if I
were on steroids, or a-steroids, if you please. I felt like an
asteroid: a falling star!

The last day at the conference (22 September, 2011) saw me
noticing a mouse at the registration desk, which was shaped like
a car. Here are two photographs of the same:

23 September dawned.
The alarm had gone off at a quarter-to-four in the morning.
And for a change, I got up almost immediately, completed my
morning duties, and headed off to the hotel reception to check
out, and await my pre-booked 6am taxi. I had gouged on some
nutrition, lest my tummy send signals upward, at the wrong time.
Of course, I had to be careful about the amount as well, lest it
send some signals in exactly the opposite direction.
I finished two oranges, and a tub of noodles, which needed hot
water to be poured in, and the lid closed.
I was a bit early, but so was the taxi driver, who took me around
in a Chinese-made mid-sized car, which was fast, but quite rough
on the edges, especially the suspension. The reader may recall
that I had been looking forward to a trip on a Chinese-made taxi.
No, it is not that we human beings are unfamiliar with vibrations.
As someone has pointed out, tapping out a controlled amount of
sugar or salt, from its container without a spoon, is a common
practice (with occassional disastrous results).
After the journey, I had had enough of it.
Especially, my backside, which had borne the brunt of most of it.

I recalled that I had a similar desire to take a famed London
taxi. The first ride on the 1989-built Fairway did not make me
year for more, on my last trip in 2009. The suspension was the
culprit, again.

I had reached the Airport Terminal 3 (The BCIA, the Beijing
Capital International Airport, Terminal 3), well in time. This
was the costliest transportation option from the hotel to the
airport (103 Yuan RMB), as opposed to the airport shuttle bus, or
the subway-Airport Express Train option. The hotel staff had
dissuaded me from the former option, since the frequency was not
fantastic, and standing on a dark road without a clue about
Chinese signs was not advisable. This would have cost 17 Yuan
RMB. The subway option I was not looking forward to, as I had
three bags with me - one on my back, and two other strolleys. I
did not quite fancy alighting a crowded metro train, and reaching
the airport all haggard.

No, that did not prevent a very haggard Sumantra from yawning
into the yawningly large space of the BCIA T3. I found my
Bengaluru acquaintance finishing an apple. His luggage had been
through checked-in all the way to Bengaluru, and he had got three
boarding passes as well, all on Air China stock. PEK-HKG,
HKG-DEL, DEL-BLR. He was impressed. He was yet to clear the
Immigration and Customs, so I requested him to set out, and not
wait for me, since I had a bit more time on my hands. I checked
in. Luckily, the baggage was well within the 20kg limit, that has
become the norm now-a-days. Not just would my luggage be tagged
all the way up to DEL, I also got both my boarding passes. Since
the ticket was the same, and I had already set my seat
preferences with both Air India as well as Air China, All got
printed correctly (except the boarding gate at HKG, of course) on
the two boarding passes. All was fine, except that the Air China
system would not print my Air India Flying Returns number on the
second boarding pass. Only my Air China Phoenix Miles number. And
what could I do to alleviate the problem? I would have to rise
like a Phonenix from the ashes at the Hong Kong International
Airport, and ask the Air India counter.
That meant, the Air India transfer desk, located at point W1.
More about this, soon.

It was all fine that I told my Bengaluru acquaintance not to wait
for me. The immigration lines were very long, even this early in
the morning. Further, the lines moved slowly. The Chinese
appreciate the turtle/tortoise - for its longevity, certainly not
its speed. When I finally reached the security check, I found
that there was no correlation between the gender of the
passenger, and that of the person performing the body scan with
the metal detector, I got scanned by a lady. The drill has a
dance-like routine of very quick hand movements all around a
person's body. Many international flights used Concourse E at T3,
with the notable exception of Air France, Air Maldives, China
Eastern, China Southern, Air Algerie, and perhaps a few more.
I roamed about T3, concourse E.
This huge structure gives one some nice spotting opportunities.

The first thing that caught my notice again, was the Maruti-800
derivative! Incidentally, beside it stood a Chinese-made
mid-sized car, the same type that had bumped me from the hotel to
the airport.

Air China is one interesting airline - it has both the Boeing
737, as well as the Airbus 321. Here are pictures of the A321 as
well as the B737-800, standing at adjacent gates.

Soon enough, I appreciated the large size of the whole structure,
in just Terminal 3. There was some interesting international
traffic. A Finnair A330-200, in the new colours:

One of the many Air China Boeing 777-200ERs, parked all around
the place:

There was a nice piece of sculpture at this part of the airport:

Bright colours! There was a lime-green S7 Airbus 319 parked at a
gate towards the end of one finger of the terminal:

There was an Air China Boeing 777-200ER in a special colour
scheme, parked with the ATC tower visible in the background.

There was an ANA Boeing 767-300 in the Star Alliance livery,
parked next-door:

An Air China Airbus 330-200, in the normal plain-Jane colour

An Air China Boeing 747-400 was parked nearby, as I tried to make
my way towards where my boarding gate would be located.

This was wide-body land...beside it was a United Boeing 747-400,
in the old colours:

A Lufthansa Airbus 380-800:

I had run out of time much before I had covered all gates.
Clicking cellphone pictures takes time, and I suddenly realised I
could have to rush, since boarding time had already passed. As I
rushed in unfamiliar directions, I was hailed by a
battery-operated golf cart. The charge was 10 Yuan RMB, and I did
not have that much with me!

By now, I was quite late, and was simply unable to locate the
boarding gate. As I rushed around, I saw a golf-cart, waiting to
take in passengers. As I rushed towards it, I also observed that
there would be a 10 Yuan RMB charge to use it, which I did not
have in my pockets. I had emptied my pockets of all Chinese
currency, converting it to US Dollars (at the airport itself),
and was only left with small change.
And a few more minutes - boarding had long started.
I ran even harder, and finally... huffing and puffing,
I was luckily able to spot some familiar landmarks (I had earlier
been to this gate, while wandering around), and got more than a
few stares, as I was sweating profusely (at all the exertion). I
was not the last person to board though, as quite a few people
boarded after me. This was a full flight again.

Like the inward journey, this was an Air Macau `leased' Airbus
320. As I squeezed into my pre-assigned seat, I became acutely
aware of the leg room, or the relative lack of it. Here is a
picture of the same:

The itinerary for this leg of my return journey was as follows:

Set out 23 Sep (Fri) for Hong Kong from Beijing
Beijing Capital Airport Terminal 3, Beijing -
Hong Kong International Airport Terminal 1, Hong Kong
CA 111: Air China (A321) [PNR: MTYYZF, Seat 13F, Class L]
Beijing [PEK] - Kong Kong [HKG]
[09:30 am - 01:05 pm] {03:35 hours}

This flight would have a snack, and not lunch - the next flight
would have had the lunch option, but would have made the
connection very tight. Needless to say, I had had some bare
minimum nutrition (relative to my size, that is)
since the beginning of the day, and I was hungry.
We had taken off with a nice view of the BCIA, and soon were over
the mountains. I had hoped to catch a glimpse of the great Wall,
but that was not to be. I drifted in and out of sleep.
Somehow, I did not take down notes of this snack.
Additionally, this was not really anything to write home, about.
I had opted for the main course as fish, which was quite
well-done. There was the rock-hard bread, which I had devoured
before. I like stone-ground flour bread, but not when the griding
stones themselves make their way into the oven, are packaged, and
make their way to my plate/palate.
I had two glasses of orange juice during the journey, served by
a(n) (un)reasonably uninterested member of the cabin crew. As in the
previous leg, the service was quite sluggish. The `entertainment
programme' on the common drop-down screens was a pain to watch,
except for the part on tourist attractions. I drifted into sleep
again. As before, there were no announcements from the captain,
just the bare minimum needed before take-off, and landing.

The captain again made an extremely smooth landing on the Hong
Kong sea-side runway, and in a first for me, the plane docked at
the an extreme gate at the other building (the smaller one - is
this called `Terminal 2'? The `Terminal 2' building is on the
other side of the Airport Express train station. Are all
passengers transferred by bus to this other disconnected structure
beside the sea-side runway? We docked at an aerobridge gate, from
where taking the signs towards the transfer desks and immigration
took one to a bus gate, from where were were bused to the larger
building - to one of the bus gates, in the Hong Kong
International Airport's unique bidirectional buses.

As I walked around the arrival level (which is a one level below
the departures level, which is much more spacious, and has much
better views outside), I decided to catch up on the action from a
height which is normally not experienced. There were few windows
around, and I made the best of whatever opportunity I had. the
weather was quite cloudy, and I would have to take pictures in
this very environment.

A very familiar sight, a Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300:

An Air Canada Boeing 777-200:

There was an all-white Boeing 737, possibly a 737 `Classic'. I am
not too good at identifying these - from this angle, it looked
more like a 737-400 than a 737-300 to me.

There was an ANA Boeing 777-200 beside another of the very few

Another Japanese visitor, a JAL Boeing 777-200. Note an Eva Air
Boeing 747-400 taxi'ing behind it.

More of Japanese visitors, here is a Boeing 767-300:

A Korean Airlines Airbus 330-200:

One of the more common sights, but from a not-so-common height, a
Cathay Pacific Boeing 747-400:

And from the other side of Hong Kong, a Malaysian Airlines Boeing

The reader familiar with the HKIA would have noted that something
was clearly wrong. Indeed, it was. I had covered almost all the
windows in the arrival level, which had interesting traffic
visible from it. Why?

Immediately after landing into the arrivals level,
I had headed off towards the familiar transfer area, which
unfortunately turned out to be E1/E2. Jardine Air services
coordinate a large part of the check-in process at the HKIA on
behalf of various airlines (including Air India). I was pointed
in the direction of W1, which is quite a walk from the E1/E2
side. The travellators also do not go in that direction from
E1/E2. So I headed off in the direction of W1, as soon as my
burly frame would allow me.
There was no board which said anything close to `Air India'.
There was a separate counter for Jet Airways, a common counter
for Kingfisher and five other airlines. I was sure that the
Kingfisher flights left close to the Air India New Delhi flight,
and the Jet Airways ones, much after the Air India one. I spotted
some Air India stationery behind a Jardine agent, and requested
him to do the needful. He said that he was not in charge of the
Air India flight, or the counter.
So, who would be?
No idea.
Which counter would open as the Air India one?
No idea.
When would that counter open?
No idea, perhaps around 3pm, around 3 hours before the flight.
Could he contact his supervisor, and prevent my wait at the
arrival level, where I did not have access to any food and drink
(which anyway I would not - I had to preserve my hunger for the
Air India flight!). Of course, I did not tell him this.
What would I do till the counter opened?
No idea.
I finally showed him my Air China stock boarding pass, and said
that I could go in and clear the security check on this alone.
Would he be able to help in some way?
Frustrated, I had gone around the arrivals region, from where a
few windows (there are not too many on that level) gave some nice
and never-photographed-before scenes.
And planes, of course.
During the course of my wandering about, I finally spotted a
counter that said, `Air India'. There I exchanged by boarding
pass on the Air China stock, for one on Air India stock, with my
Air India Flying Returns number on it.
It was around 2pm by now.
I felt free, and crossed the security check, and triumphantly
entered the departures level.
Trumpeting triumphant elephant.
And immediately started spotting.

The JAL Boeing 777-200 again, from a higher perch:

A Finnair Airbus 340-300, in the old livery, which in my opinion,
looks much better!

A nicely coloured China Eastern Airbus 321:

The Airbus 380 gates saw a common sight at this time, a Singapore
Airlines 380-800. I clicked a few pictures of the same:

A nice sight was an Air China Airbus 330-300 in a special livery:

Hairdryers need occassional maintenance.
As I headed off towards our boarding gate (which was at the end
of the terminal finger), I noticed a Cathay Pacific Airbus 330,
with its Rolls Royce `Hairdryer' engines being serviced.

Nearby was an Eva Air Boeing 777-300:

...and a beautiful Qatar Airbus 330-200:

I went to the other side to catch an Air New Zealand Boeing 777-200:

I was to figure out from my Bengaluru acquaintance that he had
decided not to spend time on the arrivals level, but try his luck
on the departures level. It worked - he tried this at the
boarding gate, about half-an-hour before boarding was called.
Yes, the Jardine Air Services agent gave him a new boarding pass,
with his Flying returns number on it. Not one, but two - one for
his DEL-BLR flight the next morning, too.

After a long circuitous overview of the very impressive HKIA, I
had clicked many photographs, and roamed about a lot. I was
tired. I sat down, and used the free wireless Internet at the
Hong Kong International Airport airside for the first time (the
last time, I had tried it land-side, and the speed was quite
pathetic). It was quite good, and I read my favourite aviation
website from there (no guesses as to which one it is:, perhaps better known as

The itinerary for this leg of my journey was as follows:

Set out 23 Sep (Fri) for New Delhi from Hong Kong
Hong Kong International Airport Terminal 1, Hong Kong -
Indira Gandhi International Airport Terminal 3, New Delhi
AI 317: Air India (B77W) [PNR: HQBCF, Seat 42A, Class V]
[06:05 pm - 09:10 pm] {05:25 hours}
{Seoul Incheon (ICN) -} Hong Kong (HKG) - New Delhi (DEL)

The crowd at the Hong Kong International Airport looked fairly
moderate. There had been a gate change - we had first been
allotted 43, this then shifted to an extreme gate having the best
possible view of the runway threshold, gate 48. I sat there
briefly with may acquaintance from Bengaluru, watching planes
coming in to land from the sunset, and taking off from there.
When I had reached gate 48, the crowd was waiting patiently.
Right on time, an elderly gentleman (he seemed to be the Air
India station manager) came up, and started the proceedings. The
moderate load was still playing in my head. I was to be
pleasantly surprised on boarding the plane - to note that there
was no empty seat in the Economy class. I repeat, absolutely no
seat was empty. The plane had a good load from Seoul, and there
was a large delegation of Korean monks on board, along with other
Koreans. This was really a pleasant surprise! On my Hong Kong
trip almost a year back, I had noted that the loads on both
flights were quite good. The plane for the journey was `Nagaland',
one of the newer 77Ws in the Air India fleet. the parking slot
was not amenable for a good picture, however here is an attempt:

We had the now usual Air India secondary check. There was a bag
search on the aerobridge, and just soon after, a body check with
a metal detector. We boarded a very clean and spic-and-span
plane. Some nice boarding music was playing: some light music
based on some popular and not-so-popular ragas (there was one in
the raga which is referred to as `jhinjhoti' in the Hindustani
system.) The plane was quite cool inside. The PTVs were in good
working condition. Captain Manhar Manish
was in command, and he made a powerful take-off from runway
07R. I noticed two Jet airways planes on two adjacent
aero-bridges: a 332, and...a much-talked-about 77W!

Food? When would it be meal time?
We had pushed back 15 minutes behind schedule owing to congestion
around the scheduled take-off time. The Kingfisher Mumbai flight
pushed back on time (05:45 pm), while the Kingfisher Delhi flight
pushed back just before us, and as we were holding short of the
runway, it took off into the skies. This was supposed to take off
5 minutes behind us, but was on time - I wonder, why. All
passengers had been on board, all cargo loaded, all fuelling
done, we had been ready to take off right from about 10 minutes
to 6 onwards. Here is a picture of the two Kingfisher Airbus
330-200s, in the failing light. The Delhi flight is to the left.

The In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) had been switched on, so I
quickly clicked a few pictures of the same. I was pleased to note
that all was well again, there was a very long list of choices in
each section!

As the reader would have guessed, I was hungry.
As the seat belt sign went off, the crew got into action.
First came the usual bolts and nuts serving.
There was a small pack of sealed nuts (precisely, groundnuts, or
what the Americans call, just in order to be different from the
British, `peanuts'). I had this with my favourite orange juice.

A word about the crew. While we were waiting for the boarding,
the crew had come in. I observed that yet again, the crew was a
mix of youth and experience (intriguingly again, nothing in
between). There were no middle-aged members of the cabin crew. I
was on one of my two favourite AI 77W seats (42A, the other
being 42K - the ones where there are two seats next to the window
instead of three, owing to the proximity to the last-but-one
galley). Why do I choose these seats on AI's 77Ws?
Yes, proximity to the galley - exactly.
It does not do any harm to smell the goodies first, to set the
machinery into action, raising anticipations, as the food would
come in relatively quicker. The other reason is of course, the
nice view out of the window, relatively unobstructed by the 77W's
large wing. The last reason is the proximity to
the lavatory - and relatively easier access, as compared to the
block of three seats.
Ah, back to the crew. Unlike the previous leg, the crew did not
seem to seamlessly divide tasks among themselves - this was done
rather conventionally this time. But there was no let-up in the
efficiency. My request for a pair of headsets was met cheerfully,
and very promptly by a young gentleman. I checked the headset
once again - no break in it, or any missing part.
Good. So far, so good. The bolts-and-nuts run
was done by a very senior gentleman at my side, while the meal
run was done by a very senior lady, who would have been the chief
of the cabin crew on this flight, judging by the authority she
silently commanded among her colleagues. She was very prompt and
efficient, and quickly distributed the vegetarian meals - by
hand, not from the cart. There were apparently, not too many in
the rear economy section, who would opt for this - in their
booking preferences. She had a list in her hand. She promptly
came out with the cart, and asked passengers about their meal
choices. She was not too chatty, and I did not see her smile even
once, but one could not find any other fault with her. When I
requested for the non-vegetarian option, she further asked me if
I would like the oriental (lamb-with-noodles) option, or the
Indian (chicken-with-rice) option. I had suspected that another
common option had been loaded on this flight (possibly due to the
large number of Koreans on board) - this had the main meal box in
golden foil. The chicken-and-rise option was in a silver
container, with red stripes. The vegetarian one had green stripes
in place of red. There must have been at least one more option,
as my Bengaluru acquaintance had specifically requested for a
Jain meal. (On landing, and meeting him, I asked him the question
- yes, he had had a very hearty Jain meal.)
The lead lady then described the contents of the box
to me - it is nice to see Air India again offering a further
common choice, just as on some US and European routes, they offer
a continental option with some exotic fish dish. Yes, all this in
the Moo-Bleat cattle class (Economy). The elderly gentleman was
chatty and had a smiling face while talking with passengers of
all ages - right from the young, to the young at heart.

Air India take the warming instructions quite seriously.
No, the main foil packet was not just plonked onto the main tray,
it was set on a smaller tray, so that the foil container could be
moved around without touching the hot foil. Thoughtful, quite
unlike some airlines who do not follow the above-mentioned
procedure. But before I come to the main course, let me start
with the starters. Ah - there was real cutlery: real metal
cutlery with the new Air India insignia, when most airlines go in
for plastic options. There was a bun. I approached it with some
trepidation - judging by my finding out about the bread offering
`the hard way'. This was a pleasant surprise - a brown bun, with
coarsely grounded wheat (`atta'), rather than refined flour
(`maida'). This was fresh, though not warm, it was not ice cold.
The butter was, however - befitting of that adjective. I
personally like the butter to be cold and rock-solid: rather than
warm and semi-solid.
I enjoyed this bun first with the butter, then with the nice
yogurt. My attention then went towards the salad. This had two
types of capsicum (or `bell pepper', if one is more inclined to
use the language spoken on the west side of the north Atlantic.)
There were two long and thin slices of the red and yellow
varieties. There was some chopped Chinese cucumber (a small and
dark-green-skinned variety)
with the skin on. There was a cherry tomato on
top, and some lettuce base on the bottom. There was some nice
Heinz Italian salad dressing to go with it.
This done and dusted with, I opened the main foil container, to
be enveloped with some exotic smells.
The middle had some rather ordinary-looking medium-thickness
noodles. To the left was a medley of lightly stir-fried greens,
with a nice light oriental combination of spices. There were
capsica of all three colours - green, red, and yellow. There was
lettuce, some celery, some pickled cucumbers (with a light
vinegar being an active ingredient of the preservation process),
squash, and tomato. The light tang of the vinegar went well with
the other light spices, and I enjoyed it with the noodles (which
had long and thin shreds of carrot - much finer than the noodles,
incidentally). The dish to the right was the lamb curry. This was
just superb. Thin slices of soft lamb had been cooked in a
sweet-and-sour gravy. This had been heated just right. Had it
been over-heated, the noodles would have gone dry, and the above
gravy would have lost its semi-fluidity. Now, I have not
(knowingly) had Korean dishes to make out anything else, but this
was something I really enjoyed: both the sides of the box, as
well as the centre-spread. The dessert was - as is usual on Air
India: an Indian delicacy. However, this was a bit different. The
taste was a bit like what people in north India refer to as
Gajar-ka-Halwa - not the usual way in which it is currently
served in North India: grated carrots cooked in a sugar gravy,
and some solidified dessicated milk (`khoya'/`khowa') added to
it. No, this had been done the traditional way - the finely
shredded carrots had been cooked over a slow flame, allowing the
milk to solidify at its convenience, without rushing it. So,
what was different here? The above dish usually has a pinkish
tinge to it - this had an orangish hue. Was it the mood lighting
on board the plane? No, my taste buds sensed some finely shredded
orange rind also among the ingredients. Now, how had they managed
to cook in something with citric acid, without spoiling the milk?
I guess the rind would have been processed to remove traces of
the aforesaid villain of the piece, or there must be some secret
recipe, where possibly the rind is added after most of the
boiling part is over, so as to gently persuade the milk, not to
go bad. I had woken up at a quarter to four in the morning
(Beijing time), and had run around both the Beijing Capital
International Airport, as well as the Hong Kong International
Airport. The lack of sleep and tiredness had vanished with this
lovely meal. The parting piece was certainly not the
piece-de-resistance kind: it was an instant coffee (going by a
sharp look at the coffee jug from which the concoction was being
served), but it was not too bad, either. Sometime soon after the
meal, the lights were dimmed. The cabin crew did not all
disappear in a stealthy huddle - I saw some requests for an extra
post-meal tea, water, and cold drinks being catered to. I sat
down to key in this part of the report. With about an
hour-and-a-half flight time remaining, I was feeling a bit
thirsty. I tried the orange juice test. I requested the young
lady still around the galley, for some orange juice. This request
was cheerfully catered to. She had a bottle of water in one hand,
and paper cups in the other. There was some delay, but I figured
out that she would have fetched me the glass of juice from the
rear galley, and handed it over to me, with a smile. Full marks
here - she could have gone to take some rest (as did some other
members of the cabin crew), but she remained on her post,
fulfilling numerous requests, with a smile.

Captain Manhar Manish made a very smooth landing on IGIA's new
runway 29-11, coming in from the east. There were quite a few
queues at the Immigration counters in the Mudras hall, but the
lines moved quite quickly. By the time we arrived at the baggage
belts, the luggage was already going round and round. The crew
baggage had been taken out, and put aside, as the cabin crew, and
the three- and four-striped gentlemen also came in, took their
bags, and walked out. Our bags finally made it towards the end -
yes, they must have been among the first bags to have been loaded
at Hong Kong. We made it towards the Meru cabs post outside -
that concluded a very memorable trip to Beijing.

Links to my previous TRs, in reverse chronological order:

20. No Panda-monium: Beijing, 2011 Part 2

19. North By, AI and CA: Beijing, 2011 Part 1

18. Going Bananas over Oranges: Nagpur, Aug'11

17. To the City of Joy and back, on Air India: Aug'11

16. To Chennai, Mar'12 with a Celebrity Captain!
(This is out of sequence owing to sheer excitement, and nothing

15. Marble Rocks, Marbles Rock; Jul 2011

14. The Fish-Eye Beckons! Madurai, on Air India. Jul 2011

13. To Russia, with Awe: Moscow, 2011, Part 3: Monino!

12. To Russia, with Awe: Moscow, 2011, Part 2: The Central Museum
of the Armed Forces

11. To Russia, with Awe: Moscow, 2011, Part 1: The Overall Trip

10. The City of Lakes: Mother's Heart, Heart of the Motherland

9. Mostly Indoors, in Indore:

8. Inter-metro Shuttling on AI: DEL-BOM on AI810, BOM-DEL on

7. On the cusp: DEL-BOM on IC863, BOM-DEL on AI660

6. DEL-BOM on IT308, BOM-DEL on IC166

5. DEL-MAA on IC439, MAA-DEL on IC802

4. DEL-PNQ on IC849, PNQ-DEL on IC850

3. DEL-MAA on IC429 (A321), MAA-DEL on IC7602 (CRJ7)


1. IGI T3, AI 314 DEL-HKG and AI 311 HKG-DEL

Last edited by sumantra on Mon Jul 23, 2012 10:46 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2012 4:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote: As I was about to embark upon my journey to the main
complex, the last-but-one language on the left column surprised
me a bit - Bong! This reads, `Bangla bhasha',
literally, the Bangla language. After a second's surprise, my mind stabilised into
logical conclusions. No, it was not because of the fact that
Bangladeshis were out to conquer the world. They have far
outnumbered and almost displaced the other South Asians, the
Indians and Pakistanis from most of their traditional haunts.

As you have observed in Beijing ,I also observed in Toronto in our last week trip. Large gangs of Bangladeshi people were roaming around the city. Perhaps Bangladeshi’s have no other choice but to export its surplus population to all over the world. I have no problem with that but have you noticed that they are asking for material help from India and military hardware from China. By investing in Bangladesh army , China is setting up a client state without much effort. India should oppose such a duplicitous practice of Asia’s largest power!
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2012 10:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sabyasachi, things like that are bound to happen. Single-sided alignments are rare: smaller states always try to leverage the best from siding one way, and then, another.
Cheers, Sumantra.
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2012 8:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Top pictures Sumantra! Your best TR yet.

No issues clicking pics in PEK I presume?
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2012 8:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

stunning TR Sumantra! Brilliant pics!
Causal Determinism : We are hardwired to need answers. The Caveman who heard a rustle in the bushes and checked out to see what it was, lived longer than the guy, who assumed it was just a breeze.

- Greg House
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Location: Pune,Maharashtra

PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2012 10:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Brilliant pics !

I had time only to quickly read it but not understand .. which i will may be tomorrow.. but simply great experience.. 3 part series has been really nice...

while sometimes the live reporting thing works, this works better, because there a whole new perspective in sight when you write after a while. The KF birds i am referring to. How much has changed in such a short span of time !

Just tells us how difficult it is to make money in aviation and how different business that is !
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 23, 2012 10:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great report Sumantra - thanks for posting. Sounds like you had a great time in China!
We miss you Nalini!
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2012 8:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks a lot for your very kind words, Varun, Rishul, Ameya, and Nimish!
Varun and Rishul yes, PEK seemed like any other airport, and I cautiously saw some people using their mobile phones to click pictures, and I did not see any `photography prohibited' signs anywhere. Further, I had seen some photographs on the Internet from PEK, which gave me some confidence.
To nearly miss my flight Smile
Ameya - no, nothing else can be a substitute for live reporting - the type you do, and what Varun and Rishul did with their recent trip reports. It gives a completely different flavour of the trip altogether. I should be more regular in keying in reports, I have quite a few lined up, semi-written.
Yes, Nimish thank you - this was a nice trip, but many a wish remained unfulfilled!
Cheers, Sumantra.
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2012 11:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sumantra, I have just finished reading the final part of your Beijing trip trilogy. I must say that final part was the best of the three, very well composed and lots of nice pictures to go with it. And also the innovative titles need special mention ("Eats, Shoots & Leaves"- being the best).

China would be a food lovers paradise, you do full justice by describing some of the delicacies you had. After reading some of the descriptions, I couldn't resist myself going for a quick "chinese lunch buffet" yesterday Very Happy . It may not be authentic but it took control of my saliva secretion Smile

In fact, while on the Great Wall, some of my
acquaintances from Calcutta were quite surprised to hear Bong
being spoken around. Many people from the region have quite
distinct characteristics. One of them struck up a conversation
with a man who had come to visit the place along with his family.
The man was on leave from the Bangladesh Army, and had come on a
training mission to Beijing, as had a few others in his
delegation, all of whom were visiting the Great Wall, that day.

Well, Bangladesh being the most densely populated country on earth, what else one can expect? Just like our guys from Hoshiarpur, Punjab- the only aim a Bangladeshi has after achieving adulthood, is how soon (s)he can leave that wretched, polluted, crammed piece of land called Bangladesh.

The "mouse" looks pretty innovative unless you set it up on reverse gear!
Tally Sheet:
41 Countries ||55 Aircraft types ||60 Airlines ||75 Airports

Last edited by PAL@YWG on Wed Jul 25, 2012 9:25 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2012 9:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks a lot, Mr. Pal - the title was actually a rip-off from that joke, and also, something that I forgot to mention, the title of the famous 2003 book.
Did I persuade you to go to a Chinese buffet lunch? Oops - it looks like my bulging belly and craving for food is crossing all limits!
The mice in reverse gear? I hope that their suspension would be better than the taxi I rode Smile
Cheers, Sumantra.
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 27, 2012 3:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

and i finaly get time to see the pics and read the report well. - Fantastic !

It is lately that there are ties between china and india, for long china has been into that list of countries where hardly anybody visits and more so because of its communist culture.

Amazing report I must say !

Few points if I can add to, from a operations perspective. You mentioned that there was congestion for departure, however KF went before you inspite of STD being later than you.

KF birds being on ground means that they know the all up weight and pax weight much in advance as compared to AI. Also the paper work required, time taken to board etc is lower for KF since its as good as a fresh flight with no turnaround involved.

SO they would be ready before AI and allowed to leave before.
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 27, 2012 4:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Trust the ever brilliant Ameya to come up with the technical reason for most of what ordinary passengers cannot fathom! There are very few things we can explain - for everything else, there is (the) Mastercard, Ameya!
Cheers, Sumantra.
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