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Hong Kong - Beijing Trip October 2003

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  • Hong Kong - Beijing Trip October 2003

    I hope this will be of interest it was based upon a recent holiday with my wife.


    INTRODUCTION
    My first trip to Hong Kong was in 1997 just after the handover back to the Chinese after 150 years of British rule. Since then I have travelled to Hong Kong every year.

    My visits along with my wife have been to see my younger brother Michael, Michael is a Dragonair Airbus A.330 Captain and Training Captain and has been in Hong Kong for just over 10 years. He is also a Hong Kong Aviation Examiner. He went out as a 1st Officer on Dragonair’s Boeing 737 fleet which at the time was only 4 aircraft, they now have a mainly Airbus fleet of approximately 23 aircraft with others on order, and prior to the SARS outbreak last year one of the most profitable airlines in the industry.

    The year 2003 brought a different set of rules for our holiday as I had rekindled my interest in aviation both spotting and photography, so I had to take the opportunity to make the most of this trip.

    This diary is brief but hopefully interesting to those who wish to read it, it is a mixture of aviation, pleasure, history and a little bit of culture. For those only interested in aviation, skip the other bits.

    Total number of aircraft seen. = 231

    Total of aircraft new to me. = 179


    THE DIARY

    Friday 3rd October 2003

    The day of reckoning, even at my age (51¾) I still get a major buzz when I go flying, we left our home in Shropshire at about midday arriving at London-Heathrow at about 15.00pm.

    Took a little detour around the inner ring road, past the BA and BMI hangers and around to the ‘Pink Elephant’ car park, this was where the trusty VW was going to spend the next two weeks. We parked right up against the fence and managed to fit in a quick 1½ hours of spotting before grabbing the bus and off to terminal 3.

    As we were somewhat early for our flight (VS200 @ 21.35pm) we checked in our luggage at the Virgin all in one check in area. This was very quick, the young lady was very proficient. Now this was where we asked for the ‘Upgrade’, my daughter had purchased the tickets for us and told us to ask for an upgrade at check in. (She is a Flight Attendant with Virgin).

    The girl rang up someone and then told us to ask again at the boarding gate, she had written a special code on our tickets, which the gate staff would pick up.

    Generally hung around in the international departure lounge, looked at shops etc, etc, crammed as many cigarettes down me as I could, the next 13 hours were going to be long without the dreaded weed.

    The flight was called and we arrived at the gate on time, we than asked for the upgrade and we asked to go through but not get on the aircraft, a couple of minutes later the girl said we had been upgraded!

    I have never been upgraded in my life, and I have been on a good few flights in my time. My wife and I would not be sat together but we did not mind.

    Got on the aircraft, an Airbus A.340-642, ‘Indian Princess’ (G-VGOA) sat down, F.A. brought a glass of champagne, very nice.

    Four minutes into our upgraded heaven ‘DISASTER’…………………
    The purser came up and said that unfortunately the seats had been sold at the last minute and that we were back in economy, never mind at least we had got a glass of champagne out of it.
    To be fair I think they felt bad and arranged for two seats by the emergency exit Row 50 seats J and K, bags of room.

    After all the fuss I started to have a good look at the aircraft, there is only one word ‘WOW’, this aircraft is a beast, the length is deceptive from the outside, inside it is like a football pitch, the seat configuration was 2-4-2 and everyone looked reasonably comfortable with ample room.

    The entertainment system is something else, being by the exit the screen pulled out on an extended arm from underneath the seat and the remote control was in a slot on the inside of the arm of the seat.

    Over 50 of the latest DVD films, 12 TV channels, 20+ CD music a very interesting iMAP information system relating to your present location, airspeed, time till arrival, and distance to arrival information, your reading light is also controlled by the remote.

    All together a very pleasurable experience, smooth take off, we were sitting slightly forward of the huge engines, so noise was minimal, (Row 50 and we were still in front of the wings!).

    Excellent food and service, friendly and efficient cabin crew, in-fact the best yet of the seven trips, the other flights were with BA, Cathay Pacific, and Lufthansa.

    Saturday 4th October 2003

    Not much sleep on the flight almost all the flight in darkness, one hour from touchdown and then some opportunities to take some ‘Through the window, wing tip shots’, with contrails, I hope they come out.

    17.10pm Hong Kong touch down time, fairly cloudy, good landing, a lot of aircraft on the ground but to far away from me to get any decent shots through the window, so I gave up and enjoyed the ride along the ground to the gate.

    Having got off the plane, first thing – cigarette! In to the smoke room nice seats that overlook part of the apron, whilst smoking one cigarette I saw a Sri-Lankan A.330, a Swiss unmarked Boeing 737, (HB-IGH, anyone know who it belongs to?), two Cathay beasts, two Air China B.737, and a Government aircraft of Gabon, a Douglas DC8, wow all that in one cigarette, this could be a good omen for the rest of the trip. Through to collect the bags, through customs, and out to be met by my brother.

    Reached my brothers house in Sai Kung in the New Territories, no time for jet lag, straight out to a party with some neighbours, talk about league of nations, English, American, Canadian, Chinese and Dutch all under one roof, we had plenty of drinks and food, it has been a good day.

    Sunday 5th October 2003

    Fairly late getting up, greeted by beautiful sunshine and 28 degrees, sit on the veranda overlooking the South China Sea watching all the approaching aircraft, I ask my brother approximately how high are they, he says exactly, not approximately 4,500 feet, to far away to see registration numbers but can recognise the airline. I have just flown 6,000 + miles, and what do I see on approach, Dragonair 747 freighter, all this way and I saw the damn thing in Manchester last week.

    Get in about 18.30pm, quick shower and down to Hong Kong harbour, tonight is the first round of an International Firework competition, what a fantastic site.

    Monday 6th October 2003

    Off to a place called Diamond Hill in the morning for a spot of shopping, nothing to dramatic just looking really. I have decided that I am going to buy a more powerful pair of binoculars, to see if I can spot the aircraft coming over the house. Teatime, we go for a sail, my brother has a 45 ft Yamaha yacht based in Hebe Haven yacht club, we sail off to watch the sun go down. Come back in pitch-black darkness it is very peaceful and still very warm. Got back at about 20.30pm and had dinner at the yacht club. The place is full of Cathay Pacific and Dragonair pilots; these boys and girls earn some serious money.



    Tuesday 7th October 2003

    Up at 05.30am, my brother is working today, so we are off to Chek Lap Kok he is in the A.330/340 simulator, arrive at Dragonair House at about 06.55am it is still a bit dark.

    First treat of the day, Mike shows me round the simulators, Dragonair have two, the other is an
    A.320-1. Not allowed to take photos in the Sims but it is fascinating to see these hugely expensive pieces of hardware (Approx £16 million each). They work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and are hired out to other airlines for training purposes, my brother will be finishing the training of Australian and Hong Kong Chinese pilots today.

    At about 07.45am he drops me off at the airport, on the way he shows me a couple of possible spots which may be good for photo’s, then drops me off at the main terminal building.
    Grab a drink and have a wander round inside the airport, this place is both huge and impressive, it has won international airport of the year for 2002 and 2003, you can see why, the check in areas are vast with huge amounts of space, 288 check in desks, you can see on any day of the week every nationality known to man pass through this airport, it has its own underground rail system, this is just to take passengers to the gates for boarding, it can take up to 45 minutes of walking to reach some gates. It has over 150 shops, it operates 24 hours per day and currently handles up to 47 aircraft movements an hour, it employs 45,000 people and they have built a new town just to accommodate the airport work force. They have very impressive transport links with the city, trains, buses, and taxi cabs all easily accessible.

    At 08.30am I have still to see an aircraft come in or go out, on level 3 (Departures) I wander outside and to the end of the building, at the each end of the main terminal building there is a nice bench, I sit down and wait, It is nearly 09.00am, and I begin to think this is not going to be good. 09.00am flood gates seem to open and I see an approaching aircraft through the haze, it is a Bae Jetstream of the Hong Kong Government Flying Service (B-HRT) I was hoping for something just a little bigger, then after this goes past, another set of lights in the distance this time a Cathay B.747 (B-HUK) and then a steady stream of aircraft flowing past, airlines I have never seen before, it was extremely enjoyable.

    Time flies past when you are enjoying yourself and I had to ring my brother at 13.30pm, he will pick me up in half an hour.

    I had 5 hours of watching aircraft coming in, took huge amounts of photo’s of God knows what, I will have to wait until they are developed, I missed a lot of registrations because I wanted to get good pictures, but I was not too disappointed. In all I recorded 69 aircraft but in reality saw probably over 100.

    Another slight problem is that they use both runways at the same time, one runway for passenger aircraft, and one for the Cargo stuff, I will definitely have to get those more powerful binoculars quickly.

    My brother collected me at 14.00pm a very nice and fruitful introduction to Chek Lap Kok. In the evening we went for a night sail to watch the sun go down, perfect end to a perfect day.

    Wednesday 8th October 2003

    Another quiet day pottering around enjoying the sunshine and heat, watching the aircraft going over and not being able to see the registration is becoming frustrating, I must sort out those binoculars, I think I will go for 20 x 60 if I can find some.

    We decide to go to Stanley Market on Hong Kong Island to get a bit of retail therapy, bought Rugby shirts, Silk ties ((10 for £7), got the MTR (Underground train system) to Kowloon, and then went across the Harbour on the world famous ‘Star Ferry’ then jumped a bus to Stanley.

    A nice day out, still managed to see one or two aircraft.



    Thursday 9th October 2003

    Today is my brothers birthday he is 44, a full day sailing, plenty of aircraft coming over but still to far to read, nice meal in the evening.

    Friday 10th October 2003

    Excitement unbounded, my brother has arranged for him and us to fly up to the Chinese capital Beijing (used to be Peking when I was a boy). So we have to go to the city to arrange visa’s to go to mainland China, this takes some time, we have to have more photograph’s taken along with passports etc.

    After we have left all the paperwork, my wife wants to go shopping, I want to look for binoculars, and my brother has an appointment, we all go our separate ways, I get on the Star ferry to Kowloon to look around the stores which sell binoculars, if you have not been before, the shopping can be quite intimidating, you have to be strong and willing to walk away, everything is negotiable.

    I have made my choice, after much haggling and friendly argument I purchase a pair of ‘Fujiyama’ Infra Red Coated 20-100 x 70mm zoom binoculars, all I can say about them is that pilots should not pick their noses while I am about! I can’t wait to get them back to my brothers to see if I can see those registration numbers. I get back but it is dark, it will have to wait for tomorrow.

    Saturday 11th October 2003

    My brother is working again today, again he is in the simulator, up again at 05.30am armed with my shiny new binoculars, ‘Murphy’s Law’ states that when a Murphy buys a new pair of binoculars it will throw it down with rain and you will be lucky to see 50 feet never mind 4,500.

    We arrive at the airport at about 07.00am and I get dropped off at the terminal, I go and have breakfast, it does not look good, visibility is very poor, and it is torrential rain. The humidity is very high and the temperature is about 34 degrees, soon as you get the binoculars or the camera out the lens on both steam up.

    I sit down at the place I was at previously and wait, the rain becomes less intense and I can see some breaks in the cloud, aircraft are coming in but I can only see them at the last minute.

    After an hour or so things improve dramatically and I can now see stuff on approach, I am having difficulty in adapting to the new binoculars but I start to master them, they are superb.

    No end of differing aircraft and airlines, and I can now pick up the cargo stuff as well, it looks as though the binoculars will become a good investment.

    My brother is running late this time and it is 15.00pm before he picks me up, day started off bad, but did improve and picked up plenty of new aircraft, but not to many photographs.

    Sunday 12th October 2003

    A quiet day today, weather is back to normal, warm and very sunny, I sit on the veranda looking at the aircraft coming in, and I can see the registration number clearly, providing that they have them on the underside of the wing. However, I did read one off the side on A Lufthansa Cargo MD-11, this is good stuff. Early to bed, tomorrow we go to Beijing.







    Monday 13th October 2003

    Have to pack the suitcase again, we will be in Beijing till Thursday, we leave for the airport at about 09.45am. Arrive at the airport at about 10.45am, go to ‘Dragonair’ check in, my brother and I are on standby business class tickets, and my wife has a proper ticket in economy, my brother asks for an upgrade on the economy ticket but has no chance because business and 1st Class is full.

    We go through passport and security and through the SARS screener, (it takes your temperature as you pass through) we then have a wander about duty free etc, I see a glass window at the back of the shop, wander over to take a look and come face to face with a KLM 747 just pushing back took a couple of photographs through the glass which I hope will come out.

    We board the Dragonair A.330 registration number B-HYA and my brother swaps seats with my wife so that we can both enjoy business class. The seats are terrific, it’s a 2 hours 40 minutes flight to Beijing from Hong Kong and I enjoyed every minute, the A.330 is a terrific aircraft and only a little shorter and minus two engines away from the A.340.

    We touch down in beautiful sunshine in Beijing and my camera is busy through the window. The airport at Beijing is quite new and very modern, I wasn’t expecting it, like any other major airport it has all the up to date equipment with good buildings and facilities, it was like a scaled down version of Hong Kong.

    We get through all the formalities and have to find a cab to get to our hotel, this is a total laugh, you get jumped on as soon as you come out of the airport by anyone with a car, we find a proper taxi and head for the city.

    A taxi ride in Beijing is like entering a stock car race, it is manic, thousands of cars and bicycles heading down roads with six lanes either side, it is also a total wall of sound with every driver keeping his hand firmly clamped on the horn, we arrive at the hotel pleased that we have made it in one piece

    We are stopping at The Peninsular Palace Hotel, which by my standards is very posh, they have Rolls Royce courtesy cars for the high flyers (not us) and all in all it is a magnificent place. We have a very nice room, and agree to meet at 19.30 for dinner.

    We grab a cab and end up in a place my brother has been to before, so that evening we end up in the Capital of China, in a Mexican restaurant, eating a US rib eye steak, listening to a Phillipino duet singing Robbie Williams songs, now that’s weird !!!!!.

    Tuesday 14th October 2003

    Breakfast at 08.30am, then we hire a car and a driver, we want to go to see the Great Wall of China. After an hour of interesting driving we arrive at the wall, without going into loads of detail I will never forget that fantastic day, the views, the history, the culture, the people, everything was unforgettable. (Saw a Finnair MD-11 from the Wall, unbelievable).

    In the afternoon we drove back towards Beijing and instructed the driver to take us to the Aviation Museum just North of Beijing.

    We arrived at about 15.30pm, paid for our tickets and went in, I am not that mad keen on military stuff but this place was terrific, everything beautifully laid out, some of the wackiest aircraft I have ever seen, I took at least 50 photographs in this place from Mig jet fighters to Chairman Mao’s personal aircraft, there are two main sections, one is cut through a mountain which houses a lot of aircraft, rockets etc and one section which is all outdoors, copies made by the Chinese of American Curtis C-46 and C-47 aircraft, loads of Russian stuff, but if the photo’s are good enough I will post what I can.

    A truly memorable day, which I doubt I will ever forget.




    Wednesday 15th October 2003

    A day of culture, history and sightseeing in Beijing. We walked to Tianaman Square where the students were killed, and where a young man stood in front of a tank with a flower in his hand, we wandered through ‘The Forbidden City’ so much history and magnificent architecture. (No aircraft today). My wife, brother and myself were a source of wonder to a lot of the Chinese visitors to Beijing, I don’t think they see many Westerners and they were asking to take our photograph, and have photographs taken with us. They were extremely polite and their English was a lot better than my Chinese.

    Thursday 16th October 2003

    We go back to Hong Kong today, but not till 13.00pm, bit of last minute shopping bought genuine
    (Ho – Ho!) Ralph Lauren shirts, and a Hugo Boss coat, and got change from £20. The ‘Silk Market’ was just behind the US embassy, and the whole market was full of Russians!

    Back to Beijing airport sat in the café and took loads of photographs, some very interesting stuff, Vietnam airlines and Asiana A.320’s, Air China B.747 and 737’s, Air Macau A.320, JAL 767’s Um Air MD-90 and plenty of obscure Chinese Airline stuff. It’s been a good few days.

    Friday 17th October 2003

    Tonight we go home, VS201 at 23.35pm spent the day sailing and in the sunshine, we linger on a beach on a small island till nearly dark, aircraft are still going over but I left the new binoculars at home.

    It’s been a good couple of weeks, plenty of aircraft, culture, history, sunshine and sailing, loads of photographs, (16 rolls of film to be developed).

    Saturday 18th October 2003

    Hit the runway at Heathrow at 05.50am a good flight in a superb aircraft, it’s all over for another year.

    I’ll be back in October 2004, it’s a long time to wait, but I can assure you it will be worth it.


    Kevin Murphy – 27th October 2003
    Kevin Murphy
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