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My China Story: Via Guangzhou

Popularity 3Viewed 14412 times 2013-8-14 08:52 |System category:News| unexpected, family, father, before, wanted

Via Guangzhou

(My China Story)

One day I received an unexpected phone call from India. My father was very ill, critical and in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of a hospital in Delhi. My family in India told me that if I wanted to see him before he passed away, now was the time to make a trip. They were not sure how much longer he would live.

I scrambled to make arrangements, find my passport and buy a ticket as soon as possible. Direct flights and seats on most airlines were booked out for weeks and the available tickets at short notice for flights were about three times or more as expensive as the regular price. My children had school holidays and they wanted to come with me to see their grandfather for the last time. My daughter was unwell herself and could not come. My teenaged son desperately wanted to come with me. The only two seats available in economy class in two-day’s time were on China Southern Airlines. They were the most I could afford at short notice and it involved a longish lay-over in Guangzhou for about 12 to 14 hours each way, to and from India. The flights were all late night ones. We did not mind, we booked the tickets.

I had told my son before we flew that we would be tired and probably exhausted, if not sick ourselves, by the time we reached Guangzhou. We would have the daytime to pass and fly out the same night without a place to rest and sleep. I wanted to be able to head out to see my father in the hospital straight from the airport after we landed in Delhi. We prayed that he could hold on to life until we made it to see him. My father too was aware of the situation. My son, as the young thankfully can, was also keen to see mainland China as we would be there for the first time, even as we were headed for a sombre visit to likely say our final goodbye to my father.

My son was understanding and accepted that being in good condition to see my father was the first priority. It was his grace and youthful curiosity to see a new country that made me want to accommodate his desires too.

I reckoned we would spend the 12 hours or 14 hours of lay-over time in Guangzhou at the airport, hopefully lying down to rest our bodies in some corner of the airport. Our backs would be hurting with the pain of sitting up all during the flight. I could not afford to book a hotel and room. The money we were carrying would be more useful for my father’s medical treatment and for our arrangements in India. But to satisfy my son, I thought we might explore the possibility of having a look outside the airport if it were near the city.  I enquired if it were possible to get a short term visitor visa at the counter as we checked-in at Melbourne airport, as we began our journey.

They said we would be provided accommodation for sleep because the lay-over was long. I imagined it would be a hotel somewhere close to the airport and not perhaps in the city that my son was keen to see. Someone handed me a sheet and form, half in Chinese and half in English and I could not quite figure out the details.

It was a longish late night flight of about 9 hours from Melbourne, sitting up all night. We arrived in Guangzhou early morning, having hardly slept for two previous days and nights in all the preparations.

 I reckoned that after we cleared the immigration check we would look to see if we can get to sleep somewhere to while away the time. It was a strange experience to hear an unfamiliar language all around and very few signs in English.

It was at the passport check that the official said we could get a short-term visa free to spend the day in Guangzhou. I said I could not afford to go there and to catch some sleep at the accommodation the airline apparently could provide. I was told that the short-term visa would cost me nothing and the airline would provide a bus to take us to a hotel in the city and bring us back in time to catch our connecting flight and that too would not cost us anything! The hotel even would provide a complimentary breakfast since we were early! I was blown away by what fate had cast my way. It was just perfect! If we had flown through Malaysia or Singapore it would have cost us a lot to have such an option.

As we left the immigration counter after filling in a simple form for this short stay, we were a bit confused as to which way we should head towards. Some people were lining up at some counter, some going towards exits and others toward the shops. There were no clear signs in English. One young lady in the uniform of the China Southern airlines directed us to go to the bottom of an escalator and there were a couple of lines there. One was apparently a domestic check-in counter and the other was where we were supposed to wait. We found a number of European and western looking people lined up. We did too.

When we reached the head of the line, someone took our tickets and passports. While we could not understand anything being said among the bunch of people behind the counter, they wrote something on a print-out from an old-fashioned dot-matrix printer. My son was intrigued and I was impressed that they still put a good old printer to good use.

Someone wrote stuff on the print-out in Chinese and asked us to wait on the side.

After about 40 minutes, a young lad came and asked us to follow him. He spoke very little English, but led us outside the terminal where coaches and mini-buses stopped and picked up passengers. We were led to one. It took us on a lovely long drive to the city, past well-maintained lawns, roads and buildings.

It was a treat to go to a decent hotel room, just lie down and sleep for about 4 hours and feel more normal and rested. My son and I had warm showers and felt refreshed. We looked out the window at a nice, old-fashioned part of the town, on the way to the airport. The folk at the reception of the hotel were very kind and with the use of a little English and a lot of sign-language, pointed us in the direction of shops and restaurants. I and my son took a walk and saw many interesting shops and buildings. The golden arches of a McDonalds restaurant beckoned to him. We headed there for some comfort food for my son. We tried some local foods too. It was a well laid out city.  There were a lot of people going about their business. Most people seemed active and slim. Many passed us by with mildly curious looks. If we smiled, they inevitably smiled back, even if some appeared a little taken-aback at first.

There were electronics shops, clothes and we bought a couple of things as souvenirs for my daughter.

Everywhere that I looked, I could not but help compare it to cities I grew up in India. Many areas looked like cities in India in the 50s, 60s or 70s in terms of the orderliness and spaciousness. Indian cities have gone downhill since. This part of Guangzhou still had that old character. 

We were very impressed with the friendliness and helpfulness of the people. It was not an artificial, professional, sophisticated friendliness. It was genuine, sounded a bit rough or unpolished and reminded me a lot of India. They were very thoughtful and obviously understood what a foreigner without the knowledge of Chinese would face. The young man at the foreign exchange counter wrote bits of information in Chinese and his phone number (they had a lot of digits) so that if we were stuck, someone could read it and help us or call him without having to understand our English! He would then tell them what to do. I was properly impressed with his thoughtfulness. It seemed that the Guangzhou airport organisation could use a bit of such thinking and put up signs in English and other languages at appropriate spots after the immigration clearance so that people know where to head to by themselves and make Guangzhou airport look more professional.

They had such a wonderful program of free promotion for tourists in transit to see the city, but did not know how to present it for maximum effect. If the same program were being run in Melbourne or in some western country, I would imagine there would be highly visible boards, signs and they would publicise the whole thing as well. But it would have been made easy for tourists to follow the signs so that they would make their way themselves mostly and not need human guides.

We flew out that night to India. We rushed from the airport to see my father, who was on a ventilator and could not speak, but could see us. He was happy to see us. We spent a few days in Delhi with him at the hospital ICU. We had to return soon, while he was still alive. We said goodbye for the last time and returned in good spirits since we got to see my father and he got to see me and my son.

During the transit on our way back, we were put up at another hotel in Guangzhou, near the shops. My son was thoroughly impressed at the variety of electronic good available in the stores and advertised on the Chinese television at the hotel. I started to notice the variety of clothes and accessories available that girls and women would love. I knew that my special someone would love to visit this place with me. We took the subway trains to the modern and newer parts, near the river and a lovely bridge across it. It was quite modern and clean. We shopped a bit and vowed to return another day with my daughter, who would feel bad about not being able to see her grandfather and Guangzhou.

A bunch of us transit passengers from the hotel met up as we were driven back to the airport, in good time to check-in and catch our flights. We were all of the opinion that it was some of the best value for our ticket money and that we would definitely recommend it to others who fly to Asia or Europe from Melbourne. We wished that the signage and presentation of this visa-free transit stay promotion at Guangzhou were done better. My son and I discussed where they could put the signs at the airport.

As we flew out that night, back to Melbourne, we looked out the plane windows and saw the night lights of Guangzhou city, with a brilliantly coloured lighting of the bridge over the Pearl River. It was a lovely sight.

Epilogue:    Not long after that trip, my father passed away from his illness. But it was a memorable trip for me and my son and holds memories of traveling through a good city and being looked after well on my way to seeing my dying father. I recently noted in the news that many Chinese cities have a 72 hour free tourist visa for people traveling through. Good!


(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Comment Comment (7 comments)

Reply Report youknowhat 2013-8-17 00:12
NOW y'all know how the chinese feel 'bout ev'rything is in plain english...just try some chinese for now & see how you'd like it       
Reply Report KIyer 2013-8-17 18:17
you are absolutely right!! i like to see many languages all over the world, in all important and busy places!
Reply Report Nicole1989 2013-8-20 17:16
So sorry to know you dad passed away.
if you plan to live in China for a long time, maybe you can try to learn a little simple Chinese words.
Reply Report KIyer 2013-8-20 17:40
Nicole1989: So sorry to know you dad passed away.
if you plan to live in China for a long time, maybe you can try to learn a little simple Chinese words.
Thanks for your comment Nicole! I stil have good memories of my father and my last visit to see him. He was happy to listen to my description of my visit and stay in China. He had once worked on the Indian border with China in his younger days. He always never let political issues between nations come in the way of appreciating people and cultures for who they are.
I now live in Melbourne, but I would love to visit China in the future and write about it in more detail. Who knows what might lie in the future!
Reply Report Nicole1989 2013-8-20 18:02
KIyer: Thanks for your comment Nicole! I stil have good memories of my father and my last visit to see him. He was happy to listen to my description of my vi ...
I Suddenly Realized you just via Guangzhou, not live in China after I submit my comment, so stupid.
plans usually can not catch change in our life.
Reply Report KIyer 2013-8-21 07:38
Nicole1989: I Suddenly Realized you just via Guangzhou, not live in China after I submit my comment, so stupid.
plans usually can not catch change in our l ...
That is OK Nicole! We all have little slips, it is not important. What I appreciate is your kindness and sympathetic outlook. That IS important. And yes, I intend to learn Chinese, starting with a small simple vocabulary and then hopefully more. I am motivated to read and publish in Chinese, thanks to the good reception I have had on this forum and in Guangzhou!
Reply Report Joseff 2013-9-11 12:45
a nice eassy ~  I wil  go to UK this 20th, expect my free transit service in Dubai!

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