So, where do I start? The great, the grand, the fascinating or the exquisite? The modern or the ancestral? The efficient, the dynamic or the well-organized? Do I sound like I liked it? Good. But that’s an understatement. I was bowled over by China.

Of course, this comes  from someone who’s spent the last ten years of her life calling Nigeria, India, and now Bangladesh, home. Not that comparing is ever fair. Bangladesh is a small, young country, for instance. Still : small and young are not excuses for the appalling governance, lack of even basic infrastructure and general chaos that plague this country. Nigeria is huge, and don’t start me on the governance or chaos there. India is even bigger, even though I found it much, much more user friendly than Nigeria. We often hear of India and China in the same breath when it comes to talking about the economical powers of the future. That’s where avoiding comparisons becomes difficult.

As an Indian lady who’s been working for UNICEF in Beijing for two and half years put it when we had dinner with her : “China has left us (meaning India) in the dust.”

I’m not going to dwell on the human rights issues (most intolerable, definitely). Nor can I pretend to have an exhaustive, and informed opinion about China. I was there as a tourist, and only eight days. All I know is : We’re already planning to go back, next time to Shanghai and the south, and I know it will be another wonderful voyage.

I’ll try and post some vignettes in the days to come. Just one aside, and it will only serve to emphasize my point. The flight there, and back, was the stuff of nightmares. And not only because I find it increasingly difficult to fly overnight.

China Eastern has got to be one of the worst airlines I’ve used in my many years of traveling (and that includes some pretty scary flights out of Sumatra or into Pnom Penh, some seventeen years ago.) Just as an example, they didn’t spray the cabin after all the passengers boarded the plane in Dhaka.

Dhaka is infested with mosquitoes, the type of infestation that has people swiping the air constantly in order to push swarms of the buzzing dengue or malaria-carrying blood suckers away (quite inefficiently, I might add). For almost an hour after we boarded, we were surrounded by clouds of mosquitoes, and I had to use the aircraft safety card as a fan to shoo them away. And of course, the airplane attendants, although perfectly polite and charming, barely understood or spoke English. Only once in the air, and the air conditioning working full blast, did the mosquitoes seem to go into hiding – I have not figured out where.

The return flight from Kunming was another adventure. Again, flying around midnight, we reached an airport that was packed with people, showed our tickets, and several attendants instantly tied purple satin-like ribbons around our wrists. We were then lead to a counter. Only it was the counter for passengers to Bangkok (not that we would have minded flying to Bangkok rather than going back to Dhaka). We had to visit another counter before we ended up at the right one. There, we learned that the plane’s departure had been advanced by 45 minutes and we had barely made it on time – of course, there had been no email, nor sms to warn us. We were rushed to the gate, only to have to wait, and wait, and wait, and in the end, the plane left later than the original time.

This type of anecdotes travelers collect by the dozen, I know. But I’m getting older, and we’re traveling with two children. Most of all, I use these examples to emphasize how even these inconveniences couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm about China.

More to come…


2 thoughts on “China

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