My week in Shenzhen starts with a Cathay Pacific flight from Heathrow Terminal 3 to Hong Kong, and then hopefully a bus to take me to the mainland Chinese border and then through to the hotel.
Comparing Cathay Pacific to British Airways
I have been flying British Airways for almost all of my South Africa flights, mostly for convenience and consistency. So of course, flying Cathay Pacific essentially be directly compared to my previous experiences with British Airways.
It might be the choice of aircraft; British Airways fly Boeing 747’s to Johannesburg, and Cathay Pacific are using Boeing 777’s. The difference in cabin quality is distinctly noticeable. Cathay Pacific is a step up quality wise. The seats feel wider, the entertainment system more modern, the design of the fold up table better thought out. There’s even an iPod recharging USB connector and an inset shelf for small items like an iPods, earphones, glasses.
The table folds out. So initially it’s deep enough and with an inset space for a drink. That then unfolds into a standard sized food table. But clever enough, with the table locked into it’s upright position there’s a cup holder underneath in a two-hinged gyroscope that will hold a cup upright (in a relative sense).
The entertainment system is sleeker. No mass of buttons on the armrest. All touch-screen, with motion sensors for turning on and off. A good selection of movies, and a couple of episodes of a variety of television shows, sometimes a full season. Music collection covers the typical Western selection, but also genres for Japanese pop, Asian, as well as Mandarin music – all charted stuff. I listened to two Mandarin albums, and they compare equitably to Western fare, so I’ve found two artists that match my tastes, and might look out of buy a CD or two of them here.
No audiobooks; I quite liked that British Airways offer that, Ian Fleming’s Moonraker for example. Though audiobooks are difficult to consume on a long-haul flight, I tend to doze off in patches, so I miss out chunks of the audiobook.
3D Moving Map
But, they have an external camera as part of their moving map. And an ace moving map implementation. It’s in 3D, mapped onto a globe, rotating around the plane so you can see in all directions interesting places. Not much to see at night, or above cloud cover. But landing, wow. The camera is lined up on the underside of the fuselage a few meters behind the front landing gear. Just amazing to watch a runway appear, and the tires making contact with the ground.
I thought the route from London to Hong Kong a surprise. Over Amsterdam, skirting Copenhagen, Estonia, then right through Russia: St Petersburg, Moscow, Nizhniy Novgorod, Chelyabinsk, Urumqi. Curving around the Roof of the World as we flew over Mongolia, over Chengdu approaching Hong Kong from the north-west. Taking a wander over the Pacific to line up for the main runway at Hong Kong International Airport.
I spend quite a bit of time writing up some interesting or useful Chinese characters in my notebook. London, Hong Kong, measurements and time periods. I watched Looper, it’s a movie I’ve seen in the cinema, and I wasn’t really up for watching something I hadn’t seen before (might watch Lincoln and Lost in Translation on the way back).
Low-quality chess engine
I noticed the entertainment system had chess against the computer, so I gave that a try on it’s hardest level. As we were flying over Russia places with a deep and recognisable association with chess, I was trouncing the flight chess engine. It had no openings book, no positional understanding, no strategic plan, and a too short move horizon. Playing the queen’s knight out after my queen’s pawn opening move the position solidified into a Czech Benoni, where I did the usual Petrosian thing of redirecting the kingside knight to d3, and attacking Black’s pawn chain on the queenside, and restricting Black’s play on the queenside. I got a niggling pin against the Black queen that the chess engine didn’t really appreciate, and his position just collapsed when he lost the c5-pawn, after that he was losing material on every move. I found a few nice nuances in move order, but the onboard chess engine was in no position to really appreciate that. Not really a good homage to the famous Russian chess tournaments played in cities we were flying over.
Dinner and breakfast
The dinner menu was quite interesting. I opted for the Lemon Ginger chicken and rice which was tasty indeed. The other two options were fish and potato, and macaroni and cheese. The plastic cutlery was a step above the typical plastic cutlery (so two steps above British Airways’), thicker plastic with a decent bulk in the handle for grip. My meal came with a tub of ice-cream, not a cheap affair, but “fresh Jersey milk and rich double cream” vanilla ice-cream. That beats the super-smooth chocolate on Swiss Air flights.
Breakfast was a choice between an omelette and seafood congee. I was tempted by the congee, since I quite like it (it’s a rice porridge, explained our host), but I’m travelling on an empty stomach racked with nervousness and a little stress, so I opted for the omelette and welcomed the sausage that came along with it.
Partially empty flight
The flight was partially empty. The seat next to me was free (I always prefer a window seat), and there was at least one empty row in Premium Economy. So there was lots of space for everyone. I’d say the flight was about 70% full, most of the passengers were taking connecting flights to South East Asia, Australia and Japan, I guess. Hardly anyone was queued up in the passport control to exit at Hong Kong International Airport.
The entire flight was about 11 and a half hours. We were reasonably on time. I’ve never crossed across more than two time zones before, so I found it difficult to adjust the time with the flight conditions. Right now I’m into my second wind of the day, and it’s half-past eleven at night. Talking to friends who are settling down for lunch.
Now to figure out how to work through the effects of being displaced forward eight time zones I think I’m lucky I’m an early riser (relatively).