Writing the first blog post for my Year Abroad in China from flight HU422, London to Changsha! Unfortunately no window seat, particularly disappointing since flying over London at night is always fun and I won’t be seeing the city again for at least 10 months. My seat in the middle section of the plane proved to be particularly unappreciated since one particular passenger decided to use my row as a sort of corridor between the two aisles- therefore clambering all over me, without warning, at various intervals throughout the flight.
From leaving home this afternoon, to taking my place in seat 36D, the whole process was far from straight forward and I just hope that it’s not some sort of pathetic fallacy for the year to come. The journey to Heathrow included a detour to Tesco to take another set of passport photos, at the insistence of my father who claimed that the 13 I already had was not going to be sufficient. Of course the machine was out of order and after the involvement of several members of staff, although to no avail, we were running late. Arriving at the airport to meet Caitlin and Rory who had 6 and 4 photos respectively proved that with my set of 13, this had been an unnecessary ordeal.
Unfortunately, it was not only passport photos that I had over packed since my suitcase weighed in at 29kg, a whole 6kg over the weight limit and resulting in a £50 charge. Despite my insistence that my bulky hairdryer, assortment of clothing and 2 bottles of fake tan (it’s near enough impossible to buy in Asia) were all essential items, this fine was far from ideal. Annoyingly it was only at this point that we found out that if we had booked our flights direct with Hainan airways – telling them that we were international students – we could have had a second suitcase for free.
The hand luggage security check was not any simpler as my tray was chosen to be searched. Whilst this would not normally be much more than a minor inconvenience, I was in the queue behind a couple who seemed to have the entirety of Superdrug’s travel size toiletries range packed in various locations around their hand luggage – each item having to be thoroughly investigated. 20 minutes later I was told that my tray had only been chosen because my laptop was on top of its case and my bag was not searched at all – fantastic.
Finally arriving in departures, there was just enough time to spray ourselves with perfumes we cannot afford and grab a bite to eat. Sitting at gate 30, waiting for the flight to be called for boarding suddenly felt very surreal as the realisation began that I am not going to be back in England for almost a year. Of course this moment also called for an insta story to ensure that everyone was suitably aware that today was the day that I was moving to China!
There was not too much time for sentimentality before boarding and suddenly I was stepping off English soil for the last time. Upon boarding I was both shocked and impressed that I was approached by two different air hostesses, before I’d even sat down, to confirm that I had ordered the ‘vegetable special’. The ‘vegetable special’, as pictured, turned out to be a pretty tasty thai curry of sorts although I was disappointed that the chocolate truffle dessert that everyone else was enjoying had been replaced by a rather uninspiring fruit salad.
I’m pretty sure that this flight was the first time that I have ever been completely surrounded by the Chinese language, without a single English voice being heard (since I was not sitting with either Caitlin or Rory). Trying to tune in to the language, I was surprised by what I could actually understand beyond xiè xie (thank you). My particular favourite was when the air hostess pointed out the jug of green tea on her trolley to the man sitting in front of me before he replied that he did not like lù chá (green tea).
Unfortunately my newfound (albeit completely unfounded) belief that communicating in Chinese for a year was going to be easy was very quickly crushed when it was my turn to order from the drinks trolley. As soon as I could see it at the end of the aisle I started practising to myself: ‘wǒ yāo yī bēi kělè’ (I want a glass of coca cola) or ‘wǒ yāo yī bēi hóng pútao jiǔ’ (I want a glass of red wine). Nevertheless, I unsurprisingly spoke in English. Whilst I’m blaming it on the fact that I just really fancied some orange juice but the only fruit I know how to say in Chinse is apple, really, stringing together my first Chinese sentence in a semi-real situation seemed all a bit too much given that we were still flying over the Netherlands.
I attempted to sleep for the rest of the flight before landing at Changsha-Hunan International Airport, ready to join the wàiguórén queue for a quick transfer to our final destination – Shanghai!