15 July 2011

Dubai to Seattle with Al Hepburn Part 11

On July 12, we flew from Xian to Beijing. I believe we were the first single engine airplane to be permitted to land there. On arrival the visibility was advertised as 3000m, but it was more like 1000. There is a business aviation center there and that's where we went for another big welcoming committee. Carolyn got in around 5 p.m. This stop was managed by Chinese AOPA, which has 1000 members, a beautiful magazine (at least it is nicely printed and has nice pictures - I couldn't read a word of it, of course), but I doubt if the own an airplane amongst them, unless you count Wei, who I'm sure is a member.

Next day, Carolyn and I went out to the Great Wall and there was an AOPA meeting in the late afternoon, featuring Wei. Only trouble was, he failed to show. He had taken the media out to see the airplane at 08:00, and it took all day to get permission to take them out to the ramp. He finally showed about 10 minutes before the mandatory banquet.

The following day, Carolyn and I visited Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City. We went by subway, which was an experience in itself, and a guide picked us up as we left the station. He was a school teacher, moonlighting to make a little extra money. Both sites were interesting. Lots of Chinese tourists wanting to be photographed with the round-eyes. The traffic in Beijing was heavy, but not impossible. You might credit this to the fact that, ten years ago, there were only bicycles, so the car population is relatively young. But there's another explanation. Your licence plate in Beijing is only valid one day a week!

On the 15th, we left the hotel at 05:00 to be airborne by 08:00, as mandated by ATC. Carolyn headed back home later that day. When we were ready to taxi, it emerged that there was a problem. The yellow line from our parking spot crossed another parking stand, and there was an A320 parked on this stand. No matter that there was 300 feet between it and the next airplane, and our wingspan was about 45 feet. The system says you must follow the yellow line, so if something is parked on that yellow line, you're screwed. And nobody knew when the A320 was going to move. We weren't the only ones affected - there was a bizjet sitting with his APU running as well. Finally, after 3 hours, they moved the offending airplane, and after a long delay due to departures, we were airborne for Harbin, in northeastern China.

On arrival, there was a presentation of cheques to some deserving school children to further their education. The poor kids had, of course, been waiting for several hours also. It was pretty touching, actually. One of the girls had tears running down her face as she accepted the cheque. This will probably make a huge difference to their lives.

So now, I am in Harbin, a little provincial town of 12 million or so, where we expect to see the Siberian tiger collection at the zoo this afternoon. Tomorrow at noon, we head off to Khabarovsk, Russia, assuming the permits arrive in time. The original plan was to go to Sakhalin, but the airport there is closed for runway repairs, hence the change in plan.

Stay tuned.


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