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Monday, September 24, 2007


Leaving Xiamen

I came to Xiamen because I had booked a flight by AirAsia to Bangkok. AirAsia flies in and out of only two cities in China and Xiamen is one of them.

As I had an evening flight I left my bags in storage at the hotel for a few hours while I took one final look around town. I was quite early getting to the airport, perhaps my first mistake, but I figured I had a few things to do once I got there. I am used to international airports that have many facilities. At Xiamen I got a surprise.

On entering the terminal there are service counters and also a restaurant. There were customs forms for departing passengers that basically required you to declare that you weren't carrying anything that was detrimental to the reputation of the People's Republic of China. I figured I should get that out of the way and move inside the international section, perhaps my second mistake.

No problems getting through customs. They accepted my form and ushered me on. I was then faced with a couple of hours waiting for the AirAsia staff to arrive so I could check in. There was not much to do in this section. There was an overpriced souvenir shop and some very basic seats.

Yep, this is all there was to sit on and that's the souvenir shop in the background. If you ever fly out of China from Xiamen don't, I repeat don't, come early—not unless you want to be bored out of your mind until the check-in crew arrive.

There are always bookshops in airport lounges, right? (Sorry, lounge just doesn't ring true.) I figured I'd be able to buy something to read while I waited and to amuse myself on the plane. I guess that was another mistake. I'd sure had a dearth of reading material while I was in China. I couldn't even read 99% of the signs. I was looking forward to finding an interesting book or magazine but once again I was wrong.

I don't usually use my computer in public places. I know many people are comfortable with this but I figure there is no point in making myself a target for would-be thieves. This time I made an exception. I found one of these bench seats that was against a wall, got out my laptop and answered a few emails. It was a good decision. It made the time go much faster.

Got through check-in without any hassles. That got me entry to the next section of the airport. I got to go up an escalator, fill in a departure form and show my passport to immigration. No hassles.

I had a minor problem going through the security check. I had a little bottle of a herbal mixture that I've been carrying since I left Australia. I have not been able to buy this stuff anywhere in Asia. I forgot that there is now a ban on bringing liquids in with hand baggage (another mistake) unless they are in a sealed plastic bag. When I flew from KL to Hanoi this requirement had just come in and the security staff were providing the bags so that no one had to throw out anything important. They weren't providing this service at Xiamen.

I gave up my water bottle and pleaded to keep my herbal mix. They relented and let me bring it on board. Fortunately I wasn't a terrorist with some explosive mixture.

There was another lounge to wait out the rest of the time. This one really was a lounge but nothing special. It was dinner time and I hadn't eaten. The restaurant in this section had sandwiches that looked like they'd been sitting there all day for which they were charging (from memory) about 35 yuan. I had no intention of paying over $A5 for a stale sandwich that had no appeal at all. I decided to wait and see what was offering on the plane. (Perhaps not a mistake.)

I sat in a reasonably comfortable lounge, got out my computer again and wrote a few more emails. An announcement came saying that the plane was delayed due to late arrival. When it finally did arrive all the Chinese people got up to grab their spot in the queue for getting on. AirAsia has a policy of free seating. First in best dressed. I guess they all wanted to get the best seat. After a minute they were sent back to their seats. The arriving passengers had to get off first. I was surprised, they actually came through the same door that we were departing from. After about half of the arriving passengers had come through the door the Chinese once again got up and formed their queue. Don't they realize that we were not going to be allowed on until the others were all off and the plane was cleaned? They might as well sit in comfort.

There seemed to be three groups of passengers. Those in the queue, those in the restaurant and three others who were still sitting in the lounge. The three others included a monk, one Asian man and me.

Finally they allowed us to board. First those in the queue hurried on and the people in the restaurant were now coming to join the queue. The man sitting not far from me got up at this point, wandered over to a point about half way along the queue and calmly pushed his way in. No one said anything.

I joined the queue when almost everyone had gone through the door. A few stragglers from the restaurant and the monk followed at the end.

When we reached the plane the front half was full, chock-a-block. And the back half was almost empty. I was able to get three seats to myself and spread out. After the plane took off a few of the people squeezed into the front realized they could move down the back and spread out. They didn't even wait for the fasten-seat-belt light to be switched off. Staff ignored them.

Once we were on our way the cabin crew came through to offer us meals, an optional extra on AirAsia. I was happy to accept some jok even though the price was ridiculously high. Jok is Thai rice porridge, perhaps pretty boring as far as Thai foods go. But it really tasted Thai, way better than that sandwich I rejected. It was worth every baht I paid for it.

The flight was pretty boring, much longer than I had expected. There are no movies on this budget airline and I still had nothing to read. Despite spreading out I couldn't sleep. I arrived in Bangkok a little before midnight feeling very tired but pleased. Home sweet home.

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