China Visit – 2010
For this excellent trip to China, I went with the British Aviation Enthusiasts Society - their Tour Report is here.
16:30 departure from Heathrow Airport on British Airways flight BA039 for Beijing. A long 10-hour flight, arriving in Beijing at 10.30 local time on Friday 12th - where we were met by our Chinese guide, Kaidi and taken to our hotel. After checking in we took a stroll around the local area to get our bearings - before returning to the hotel for an evening meal - the last western style meal on the whole trip.
A bright but cold day for our first visit - to the Miltary Museum of the Chinese Peoples Revolution - a large imposing building with dozens of side halls display all kinds of equipment and artifacts of Chinese military history.
In the afternoon we switched to 'tourist' mode and went for a rickshaw ride into the Hutong area to visit a typical Chinese family home, followed by a trip to the Drum Tower to see the water clocks and hear the drum beating display. The climb up the steep 66 steps was worth the effort.
The evening saw us visiting the first of many Chinese restaurants for a delicious meal of Peking Duck - followed by a visit to the Beijing Chaoyang Theatre to watch a superb acrobatics show.
Today was to be one of the many highlights of the tour - a visit to the magnificent China Aviation Museum at Xiao Tang Shan (Da Tang Shan) - with its collection of some 309 airframes. A full morning was spent viewing and photographing the collection in bright, but cold, sunshine.
As well as the hundreds of airframes in the outside display, Xiao Tang Shan is famous for its underground cavern containing a large collection of airframes and exhibits. Although it is poorly lit for photography, I did the best I could with my camera's built-in flash - post-production work on my PC did the rest!
Unfortunately, some of the exhibits were not on display (MiG-9, Spitfire, Zero etc) - an excuse for a future visit, maybe?
Leaving Xiao Tang Shan, we were taken to a Jade factory and restaurant, after which we visited the Badaling Section of the Great Wall.
Dean & I climbed the steep steps to the watch tower, but time constraints prevented us from venturing further - honest!
Still I got the badge and tee shirt.
Returning to Beijing, we visited yet another fabulous Chinese restaurant for our evening meal.
No aviation today - just visits to the tourist attractions of Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the exquisite Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven
Another cold but bright day - I had neglected to bring a hat or gloves, so was cold all day. The morning was spent at the Forbidden City and after visiting a restaurant for another Chinese meal, we were taken to the Summer Palace and finally on to the Temple of Heaven
The evening was spent at the Red Theatre to watch an awesome show - 'Chun Yi - the Legend of Kungfu' followed by another great meal.
A leisurely breakfast followed by a journey to the airport to catch our flight to Shanghai.
After saying farewell to our guide, Kaidi, we boarded the China Eastern Airlines flight to Shanghai.
Arriving at mid-day, we were met by our guide Leo and transferred to our hotel.
I met up with an internet pen-pal who very kindly visited the hotel to see me, but, sadly, time constraints prevented us from meeting up again - thanks Yufei.
Our first full day in Shanghai saw us on a 60-minute drive to the 'Oriental Green Boat Park' - a large sports and leisure complex some 16km from the centre of Shanghai.
The purpose of our trip was to see the "military education center" within the park featuring a large "life-size model" of an aircraft carrier.
This isn't a full-size model of any particular carrier - but is a generic design intended to educate the youth of China about such things. It bears a passing resemblance to the Russian Admiral Kuznetsov - but without the bow ski jump.
Berthed next to the 'concrete carrier' is a real boat - a Chinese PLA Navy Type 33 diesel-electric submarines - a licence-built Soviet 'Romeo' class sub.
After touring the carrier, we squeezed down the tiny forward torpedo loading hatch into the submarine to take the tour. I banged my head and skinned my knees a couple of times going through the small circular hatches, but it was worth it.....
Driving back into Shanghai we took the lift up the Oriental Pearl Tower to visit the glass-floored viewing gallery. The evening was spent walking along the Bund before partaking of another excellent Chinese meal.
First call was to the Shanghai Aerospace Enthusiasts Centre close to the Jinjiang Amusement Center.
After circling the amusement park a couple of times, we eventually found the entrance and drove the mini-bus inside - only to be met by an official who told our guide that the museum was closed for renovation.
Despite the protestations of our guide, Leo, we were clearly not going to be allowed inside - until our tour group leader Paul's persistence paid off and we were met by a pleasant, English-speaking lady who was happy to show us around. Her kindness and polite conversation was much appreciated.
The next port of call was to Jiangwan Stadium - where there was supposed to be a collection of airframes, but despite our best efforts, nothing could be found!
Leo then suggested we try the Civil Aviation of China (CAAC) Vocational School - where a polite enquiry resulted in us being allowed inside to photograph the civil aviation exhibits on display - despite the fact that the compound was under renovation. Another example of the kindness shown to us.
From there we drove out to the Shanghai Aerospace Museum - but despite their being a metro stop of the same name, the museum itself is not yet built!
Returning to the city centre, we took a stroll along the Bund before being taken to yet another restaurant for great Chinese meal.
A leisurely breakfast, followed by a drive to Shanghai's Pudong Airport, where we said farewell to Leo and prepared to board our 11:55 departure for the 2.5 hour flight to Zhuhai.
Unfortunately, due to the airshow at Zhuhai, our departure was delayed for two hours - and on arrival overhead Zhuhai, we had to circle for another couple of hours, waiting for a landing slot - soby the time we arrived at Zhuhai airport it was early evening.
We were met by the very worried, but delightful Lein, who gave us all a big hug before escorting us to our hotel - unfortunately we wouldn't see her again until departure day.
We ventured out from our hotel in the evening and amused the staff and diners at a Chinese restaurant as we ordered our meal from the menu - luckily it had photographs of the selections - complete with captions in English.
An early morning one-hour drive to the airshow - the day was hot but hazy, not ideal for photography - plus we were shooting into the sun.
Still, it was a good day, the locals were friendly and many of them insisted on being photographed with me - I don't know if its the white beard - or maybe I just look strange?
Highlights of the flying display were the J-10's of the 1st August aerobatic team who put on a polished routine, the Pakistani Air Force JF-17 Thunder was trailing vortices throughout most of his display and the two Christen Eagles of the American Red Eagles wowed the crowd with their noisy aerobatics.
The evening saw us at another Chinese restaurant, another selection from the photographs on the menu - but this time without the captions. Still, we kept the staff amused.
A second day at the airshow - the weather was still very hot, but slightly less hazy. I bagged a better spot for photography - and amused the locals by squatting down by the crowd barrier until the flying display started.
Pretty much the same routine - although by now most of the trade stands were empty, but the crowds were bigger.
The journey back into Zhuhai city was a nightmare - it took longer than on the first day - despite us leaving earlier.
The lovely Lien arrived at the hotel - and after more hugs all round - escorted us to the ferry terminal for our 70-minute fast catamaran ride across the mouth of the Pearl River Delta to Hong Kong.
After clearing immigration at the Hong Kong ferry terminal, we were met by our final lady guide - intriguingly named Jupiter. On the coach journey from Hong Kong to Kowloon, she pointed out the sights and checked us in to our hotel - the BP International on Austin road.
This was one of the highlights of the whole trip for me - as I was returning to Hong Kong after a half-century gap!!
My father was in the British Army - and was stationed in Hong Kong for 3 years - from 1957 to 1960. I was 10-13 at the time and have vivid memories of the place.
The place has changed almost beyond recognition in 50 years - but there were some places I still remembered. I pointed out that Kowloon Park, just behind our hotel, used to be a British Army barracks - but this was news to Jupiter who doubted my memories. The place was called Whitfield Barracks when I was there - and some of the buildings in the Park were part of that barracks.
I was in danger of boring Jupiter and the rest of the guys with my reminiscences - it became a standing joke with them saying 'Have you been here before, Ken ??
Still I was in my element and the 50-year old memories came flooding back - including half-remembered Chinese phrases - most of them rude swear words that young boys pick up!!
From now on, no more aircraft - just a happy trip down memory lane........
Our first full day in Honkers - with organised visits to Victoria Peak, Stanley Market and Aberdeen Fishing Village - all the usual tourist attractions.
We stopped at Repulse Bay - where I got my shoes wet paddling on the same beach that I used to visit 50 years earlier (did I mention that I'd been there before??)
Stanley Market brought back more memories - we were stationed at Stanley Barracks in 1960. I visited St Stephens beach were we used to swim, but the barracks itself was sadly now out of reach.
A sampan ride was organised at Aberdeen - to take us round the fishing village and we were taken to a jewel 'factory' to tempt us into spending money.....
The late afternoon was free, so we took in the sights and went on the famous Star Ferry across to Hong Kong to find a restaurant for our evening meal.
Sadly our last day in Hong Kong. We had a free day to kill before our 8pm departure to Chek Lap Kok airport for our 23:25 flight back to London.
Jupiter offered to organise a minibus to take us up over Hong Kongs tallest mountain - Tai Mo Shan - into the New Territories - another place where I had lived as a small boy.
The price was reasonable and I was dead keen, so we agreed.
We travelled over the TWISK into Sek Kong - where I saw the old married quarters where we used to live still standing. From there we went to an old Chinese walled village and on to the Lok Ma Chau lookout point overlooking the border and China proper.
With the minibus hire time running out, we visited the visitor centre for the bridges linking Kowloon to Lantau island and Chek Lap Kok airport before heading back to our hotel to pack our bags.
Fourteen days, four cities, 3,922 photographs, 16+ Chinese restaurants, great companionship, fantastic, friendly people, loads of aircraft, lots of tourist attractions and gazillions of re-awakened memories made this one of the best aviation trips I have ever been on.
My thanks to BAES and George Pick for organising it, to the four travel guides (Kaidi, Leo, Lien & Jupiter) for being so helpful and informative, to room mate Dean for putting up with my snoring and coughing and to Paul, Jim and Arnold for their companionship - and to all of them for putting up with my constant 'Did I tell you I've been here before' tales in Hong Kong.