Real class, fake class: the flight to Shanghai

I could get used to business class. What a fantastic flight! Flying 10 hours with a toddler wasn’t anywhere near as bad as expected. In fact, it was a wonderful experience.

Now, this hotel is another matter. The room is so overdecorated that it’s cheesy. Gold trimmings everywhere in our room. Gold leaves, gold fish (fish done up in gold, not gold fish), gold knobs on the cupboards, gold swirls on the wallpaper. The “traditional Spanish design” is a bit garish for my tastes, but the locals probably love it. We have river glimpses with good views towards the Bund and the science fiction skyline of Pudong. There is a computer in the room, the two televisions have external AV inputs so Alex can watch recordings of “In the Night Garden…” but my blog and photo sites are blocked.

And the toilet stinks.

The cot is a bit of a safety hazard.

As we drove into Shanghai in the taxi from the airport we marveled at the amazing light show of buildings and other structures, of bridges that pulsate with rainbow hues, towers of light and mysterious grills of colourful lights.

But somehow it feels like the light fantastic is a facade, hiding the less attractive side of Shanghai visible by day. Like the gold trimmings of this hotel room unable to mask the shortcomings of the bathroom (and there is no visible reason for the smell!). This is still a developing country, despite its amazing progress often beyond that of developed nations.

Let’s return to the beginning now.

The taxi collected us from home at 6:30am. It was raining outside and we took the old route to the airport rather than via the M5. Check in was typically painless, even more so thanks to the almost non-existent business queue. We were issued express lane vouchers for immigration, then went off to get B some breakfast from the food court and myself a novel to read.

I told B she should just wait until the lounge.

Immigration was quick, though I had to empty my bag further at security thanks to all the wires and powerpacks inside. With less than an hour to go I hurried B up to the Qantas business lounge.

I’ve never been in an airport lounge before and I wanted to see what it was like. Nice. Lots of seating with views across the airport and a fair selection of food. We fed Alex some banana (he can say “nana” now!) and watermelon from the fresh fruit selection. I had pastries and fruit. B, a mix.

Too soon it was time to go. Again, we got priority entry into the aircraft, a Qantas Airbus A330-200. I looked longingly at the 747’s and A380’s on the tarmac. I like the appearance of the A330. It is an elegant aircraft, but it lacks the romance of its larger cousins. Plus I am bored of them, after flying so often with Jetstar and then the three legs with Cathay Pacific in 2007.

I couldn’t complaining about the business class section, however. It was nicer than it looked on the Qantas website. I couldn’t wait to play with the seats.

We were offered drinks, then relaxed and waited for the doors to close. B was sitting with Alex at the window seat, but he wanted Daddy, so we requested a second infant seatbelt. The Qantas crew in the business class cabin were all in their older years, but very friendly and professional, stopping by to chat about children and going out of their way to help us out.

The pouring rain delayed our take-off as the airport operations were slowed. After waving goodbye to a Delta flight to the US and Garuda to Indonesia it was finally our turn. We lifted off towards the south, rain streaking down our windows.

After a while we penetrated the cloud cover into blue skies and headed north towards Queensland. When the seatbelt light switched off we began adjusting our seats. I especially enjoyed the leg rests, especially with Alex on my lap.

He slept a little and I listened to some “flying” music I had selected on my MP3 player. His sleep didn’t last long, but we kept him amused with food and books and pressing buttons. He played with us. Once hide and seek, other times funny looks, only really whinging when he got tired and needed sleep. There were lots of giggles, however.

For a little while I was able to distract him with the couple of episodes of “In the Night Garden” on the inflight entertainment system. The noise cancelling headset even fitted him – sort of.

I watched about two thirds of “Up in the air”, about a retrenchment consultant who spends his life flying around the country. Considering the retrenchments at work it was a little disquieting. Most of the time, however, it was the moving map on my screen.

The food was really enjoyable. We had tender lamb for lunch. Alex was served fried chicken patties, but preferred the mashed potato and tinned fruit. Dinner was even better – Chinese duck for B and herbed fish and risoni for me. Even Alex’s cheesy pasta was delicious. The only negative was that the toddler foods had a fairly high sugar content.

Alex bit into the pepper sachet with hilarious results (for us), getting a mouthful of pepper and a big frown on his face. He drank so much water after that! With all the food there were three dirty nappies, all of which were changed in the narrow confines of the forward toilets. Gee it was bumpy up the very front, despite feeling quite smooth back where we were.

It was a beautiful flight. Especially once we swapped for me to have the window seat (so B could watch movies without sunglare) I felt like I was floating above the world. It was all so peaceful outside. I listened to music and loved it.

We cruised out of Australia over the base of Cape York Peninsula and the Gulf of Carpenteria, flat lands and seasonal river systems below. Then across West Papua, coral atolls, turning up and over the islands of the Philippines. They were fascinating from above, with a variety of landscapes, from coastal towns and farms to craggy mountains.

I reclined the chair and relaxed while Alex sat on B’s lap for a while and watched the screen. It was wonderfully comfortable and relaxing. I really could get used to it!

Clouds covered China below, but eventually thinned out as we neared Shanghai. As we descended I could see wind farms and paddy fields of water. There were canals and townships. Off the coast were shadows of islands beneath a nearly full Moon.

One fairly small island was linked by a very long causeway and bridge – must check that out later – because it looked like a total waste of engineering. A giant circular lake stood out like a crop circle in the land. Down, down, down we flew across the quiet evening lands around Shanghai’s Pudong Airport.

The airport itself seemed busy, with an extraordinarily long terminal building surrounded by aircraft. As we took a long taxi towards the other side, past the flat fields, I was reminded of my first introduction to Shanghai through J.G. Ballard’s extraordinary book Empire of the Sun and of Steven Spielberg’s perfect film adaptation. His Shanghai is very different, set during the Japanese invasion during World War II, but I felt that something remained here around the airport.

We disembarked from the aircraft, thanking the flight attendants for a wonderful experience. We couldn’t believe how well Alex had behaved, it was a joy taking him along. Hopefully he continues to be so easy during this trip.

The terminal building was beginning to feel a bit run down, with carpet that should have been replaced a long time ago. Having a child in tow proved to be a great advantage however. We were diverted directly to an immigration officer, bypassing the long queue and were waived straight through customs without needed to have our bags x-rayed.

We decided to save ourselves some hassle and just take a taxi straight to our hotel. Hopefully catch the maglev on the way back. The young lady at the small tourist stand gave us written Chinese directions to the hotel for the benefit of the taxi driver.

When travelling at 431km/h in the maglev you don’t realise just how far away the airport is from the city. It was a long drive on quiet motorways, though it was worth it for the amazing lightshow outside.

Then we reached the hotel and you already know the rest.

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