The veteran Australian author and broadcaster, Clive James described the Boeing 747 as being (I quote): 'Like a winged supertanker full of odoriferous amethystine ordure', and 'a colossal machine'. His words echoed in my mind as I came face-to-face with this beauty on a hot summer's day at Heathrow International Airport.
Aviation is bringing along many gems in the sky, especially with the Boeing 787 'Dreamliner', the Airbus A380-800, and the Airbus A350-900XWB; but nothing will ever beat the imposing beauty of the original 'Queen of the Skies', the Boeing 747 (AKA, the REAL Jumbo Jet).
The Royal Baby is born
Prince William's wife Kate gave birth to a boy on Monday the 22nd of July 2013, the couple's first child and the third in line to the British throne, heralding celebrations in London and messages of goodwill from across the world. It was another great day for Britishness, as well as a cause of celebration for all of the citizens of the Commonwealth, as well as the world over.
"We could not be happier," Prince William said in a brief statement, after he witnessed the birth of his son at 4:24 p.m. (11:24 a.m. ET) weighing 8 lbs 6 oz (3.8 kg) at an event that sparked an international media frenzy and the illumination of London landmarks in blue. Later on, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge named their baby HRH Prince George of Cambridge, full name George Alexander Louis.
Monday the 22nd of July was also officially the hottest day in the UK since July 2006 - with temperatures hitting more than 33.5 degrees Centigrade at Heathrow. The heat eventually gave way to thunderstorms and cooler temperatures over the coming days ending the longest heatwave for seven years. It was also the driest July since 2006 despite recent downpours.
(note: The Author was not part of the media on this day, but was in London.)
VETERAN Whitehouse correspondent, and pioneer female journo Helen Amelia Thomas dies at 92.
Thomas circled the globe several times, traveling with every U.S. president from Richard Nixon through Barack Obama. She covered every Economic Summit since 1975, working up to the position of UPI's White House Bureau Chief, a post she would hold for over 25 years.
What I liked about her was the way she harassed TEN Presidents and paved the way for women in serious journalism. Loved the way she'd take 'em on. As they say in the States, ‘she didn't cut anyone any slack’. Journalism, and indeed the White House Correspondents' Club, has lost a real gem.
Back to Blighty
Good to be back home, and I caught this photo of London on final approach into Heathrow's runway 27L. You can just about see Buckingham Palace (top- left, just before Hyde Park), through the wispy clouds over the capital city. No doubt, Ma'am must be very excited. She’s probably getting the house ready for the arrival of her new great-grandchild (who would one-day become King/Queen). The London Eye and the Houses Of Parliament sit beside the River Thames (middle-right).
TV channels were running non-stop coverage, as were the world's media who had waited patiently for DAYS outside the private Lindo Wing of St Mary's Hospital in Paddington. I overheard an Aussie on the plane saying that 'the Poms must be sick of it’ - Rupert Murdoch's Sky News is running the complete guide to the events leading to the eventual birth of 'Baby Cambridge' to HRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge - EVERY HOUR as the Royal baby is due anytime soon.
Abu Dhabi: Land of Islands
Once you get airborne, you realize that most of Abu Dhabi city is located on an island itself, but it has many suburbs on the mainland. The Emirate of Abu Dhabi’s land surface measures 67,340 square kilometres, which is equivalent to about 88% of the UAE’s total land area. Only less than 29% of the emirate is inhabited, with the remaining vast expanses covered mainly by desert and arid land.
The airport is located near the coast, and like most of the Middle East, the coastal areas contain pockets of wetland and mangrove colonies. Abu Dhabi's dozen or so islands, mostly small and uninhabited like the ones pictured, have been designated as sanctuaries for wildlife. The rest of the desert is laying on an oil bed!
Abu Dhabi's Ferrari World
Opened in November 2010, and designed by Benoy Architects, Ferrari World is a theme park located on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. Located under a 200,000 m2 (2,152,782 sq ft) roof, making it the largest indoor amusement park in the world, the park is home of the world's fastest roller coaster (where else?!), the Ferrari Rossa which has a top speed of 240 km/h (150 mph).
Dawn breaks over the Gulf of Oman
Flying from China and onto the Arabian Sea (we came over from Shanghai, Suzhou, Wuhan, Chongqing, Kunming, Nepal, Karachi, and into the Arabian Sea), the Airbus A330 comes close to the end of it's journey into it's final destination Abu Dhabi. Sunrises are always spectacular. Oblivious of the significance for earthlings, the sun rises on just another day above the skies at 39,000 feet.
Mid-night PR shoot at Shanghai Pudong
Costing around US$222.5 million (€215 million) each, the Airbus A330-300 is one hell of a sexy machine. Etihad Airways has six of these beauties in their fleet, mainly operating on long haul routes out of their base Abu Dhabi. I had the pleasure of reviewing this flight from Shanghai Pudong to Abu Dhabi on board aircraft registered A6-AFB. A big thank you to the Captain and the Etihad Airways team for making this photo shoot happen!
Etihad Airways is a relatively brand new airline (established in 2003), and has one of the best cabin crew in the world from over 120 nationalities...and they have a kick-ass in-flight experience product too with all luxury comfortable seats, 5-star meals...give them a try next time!
Shanghai's Maglev train is a fascinating bit of technology (you wonder why Europeans cannot build something like this- and they will never be able to- except maybe the Germans). Balanced about 15mm above the tracks, it feels more like sitting in a plane rather than a train as it breezes the whole of the 30 kms between Longyang Road Station and Pudong International Airport in a remarkable 7 minutes 20 seconds (even the Japanese passengers on board today were impressed). It costs RMB 50 (approx.US$8) for a one-way journey. Now, compared with a taxi which may cost around RMB 250, and take around 40 minutes for the same trip- i'd say it's worth every single cent spent.
To get to the maximum commercial speed of 431 kph takes about three minutes (it’s done 501 kph in testing). Amazingly there are NO seat-belts - though I suppose that at this speed it’s not worth worrying about the consequences irrespective of whatever may happen.
Shanghai never fails to captivate me...
From the Flair bar atop the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Pudong, under July’s leaden skies; the futuristic skyline of Pudong contrasts with the elegant colonial style of The Bund on the Shanghai side. Shanghai is a city that has that magic romantic attraction blended in well with elegance, glamour, and sheer sense of global economic standing. The city used to be known as 'The Paris of the East'. While some old fashioned people may still refer the city with its nostalgic title, I however believe that this city has surpassed even the delights of New York and London (these two cities are not even close to where Shanghai is...in terms of everything...economically, culturally, and for beauty too). You realize this when you visit places such as the well renowned MINT club (you never know who you may bump into there). When you are in Shanghai, it feels like the center of the world (it really does).
The changes to the city in the last three years have been enormous. I used to live in Shanghai and nearby Suzhou for a number of years, and miss it so much. Make a point of coming here for a holiday, have lunch at the Yi Cafe at the Shangri-La Pudong (read this); afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hotel (read this), dinner at Le Sheng (read this!), have a drink at Hyatt on the Bund (read this); and then bop it off all night if you wish at the MINT nightclub or at Bar Rouge with some good company. Then bask in the history of the city which is spearheading China’s incredible growth.
Hop-on, Hop-off tourist buses have made good dollar from tourists around the world in every major city you can think of. Shanghai is no exception either, and the 24 hour tickets are cheaper here than most other places in the world. Notice that the top deck has covering to protect the passengers from the excruciating sun in the summers, the heavy monsoon rain, and the bone deepening humidity that throngs Shanghai.
Breakfast in Guangzhou (Shiqiao)
No tea or coffee today...sometimes I can be VERY Chinese in my approach to lifestyle. A glassfull of fresh cold milk (taken from well fed local Chinese cows in Guangzhou!), and a couple of delicious Cantonese Egg Tarts did the trick.
Lunch in the air (somewhere over Shaoguan, Guangdong)
Afternoon Tea at the Shangri-La, Pudong (Shanghai)
Shanghai is romantic, hectic, elegant, and nothing short of standing by it motto of being 'The Paris of the East'. From the Jade 36 bar atop the Shangri-La Pudong hotel, under July’s leaden skies; the futuristic skyline of Pudong contrasts with the elegant old-world style of The Bund on the Shanghai side. Go and see it as soon as you can...and enjoy the Afternoon-Tea at the Shangri-La, Pudong.
On-time (always), and efficient...
Always on time, air-conditioned, safe, inexpensive, and very efficient, the Airport Express coaches operate throughout Guangzhou to take passengers to/from the city's main airport. In fact, provided you know your way around the city (and can speak Mandarin Chinese like I do), then the coach is probably a better way to get to/from your destination than the Guangzhou taxi (which is equally good too). Just like Italy and Switzerland, China has buses, metro lines, and trains that run on time (but not their planes), and are air-conditioned, and I'll bet, near 100% ticket compliance. London: take note.
On the morning of the 6th of July 2013 just past 11.28am local time, a Boeing 777-200ER belonging to South Korea's Asiana Airlines (flight number OZ214) carrying 307 passengers and crew, crash landed while on approach onto San Francisco International Airport's Runway 28L.
Whenever a plane crash happens, second guessing and pure rumors or any other speculation does no good and is of no value to anyone - even to professional journalists who work for Broadsheets - trust me on that one!. It can be extremely irritating (and distressing for passengers relatives), when people on the likes of Twitter, Facebook, PPRune, Airliners.net, Jetphotos.net and Fox News' etc. go about with their so called 'aviation experts', spewing historical events and their own takes on what could have gone wrong. I prefer to wait until either the wreckage is examined/investigation in complete or the NTSB is notified. It's one of the reasons that I don't turn on the TV at these times but rely on concrete factual information for journalists from informed media such as FT.com and the BBC.
The weather was reported as very good; the latest METAR reported light wind, 10 miles (16 km) visibility, with no precipitation, and no forecast or reports of wind shear. The pilots performed a visual approach assisted by the runway's precision approach path indicator (PAPI).
The landing gear and then the tail struck the seawall that projects into San Francisco Bay. Both engines and the tail section separated from the aircraft. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) noted that the main landing gear, the first part of the aircraft to hit the seawall, "separated cleanly from [the] aircraft as designed". The vertical and both horizontal stabilizers fell on the runway before the threshold.
The remainder of the fuselage and wings rotated (yawed) counter-clockwise 330 degrees as it slid westward. Video showed it pivoting about a wing and the nose while sharply inclined to the ground. It came to rest to the left of the runway, 2,400 feet (730 m) from the initial point of impact at the seawall.
Out of the 291 passengers and 16 crew, sadly 3 passengers died, and 181 passengers suffered serious but non-fatal injuries. Out of the three who lost their lives, two were named as Ms. Ye Mengyuan and Ms. Wang Linjia, both Chinese nationals, and both 16-year-old middle school students from China's eastern Zhejiang province. They were seated at the rear of the plane and their bodies were found on the tarmac. The third passenger died of her injuries several days later at hospital. At the request of her immediate family, her name and the extent of her injuries were not published. Among the injured were three flight attendants who were thrown onto the runway while still strapped in their seats when the tail section broke off after striking the seawall short of the runway.
Now, on that note a point about the photos of the crash and the relatives going around on Twitter etc. (especially the UK Daily Mail, and other tabloids), that can be so ridiculous. OK, photographers may have to get pics of the grieving families to keep their Editors happy ..BUT I don't want to OR have to look at them. It's just sick. RIP to those who have died. You can tell when the stupidity at The UK Daily Mail has reached new heights when they write false stories in order to get their readership high. The Editor has been trying to pretend that his rag is NOT a tabloid (heaven forbid) by spilling stories over the gutter in an effort to win a design competition at his local school. He should give up & just use the tabloid tricks that were developed by experts.
The Boeing 777, like ALL American built aircraft (except the 787 Deamliner - now dubbed the 'nightmareliner' because of its high number of faults) is a very reliable and strong aircraft- the Boeing 777s are the aviation's equivalent of the John Deer Tractor, you can throw anything at them and not a single whisker in sight will damage them.
This was the Boeing 777's first fatal accident, and second crash (previous: British Airways Flight 38 in 2008), and third hull loss since the Boeing 777 began operating commercially in 1995.
It's a well known fact in the industry that around 95% of aircraft crashes happen 8 nautical miles either side of the airport below 3000 feet. 95% of aircraft fires happen in the first two hours. The fix is, when realizing it is uncontrollable, dive for the ground before the wing burns through. Record aloft is below 25 mins.
Below is video animation showing the comparison between the actual flight path taken by flight OZ214 into San Francisco's Runway 28L, and what the correct flight path should have looked like.
The video is a testament to a brilliantly-built aircraft; designed and modelled entirely on computers in the early 1990s. The video shows what happens if you can use the fuselage to dissipate the energy, then the landing gear and the engines shear off at extreme speed, as designed. Unlike steel, aluminium doesn't produce sparks like steel does.
An experienced Airline pilot with over 28 years in the cockpit, who did not wish to be named, told me (I quote):
'It's long been the Airbus philosophy that "if the aircraft is not doing what you want (for ANY reason) disconnect the automatics and fly it manually at once". That works well in airlines where you have a wealth of basic Visual Flight Rules (VFR) flying skills to fall-back on. Sadly, with the death of general aviation around the world, there are many countries where pilots don't have that background. It's why Airbus has increased the endorsement program from 9 simulators to 13. Airbus now teaches people to fly each model visually with all systems working normally (especially after what happened with the Air France 447 crash). Who would have thought it would come to this? Many of us. Predicting that, one day, each pilot would have to pass a test of knowledge to survive. At Aviation Theory Centre in the early 90s I ran a series of lectures explaining that our books taught "To Pass The Test - Not Just The Exam". Sadly most theory centres just teach the syllabus and no more.'
Another airline pilot gave me this account of an aircraft coming in too LOW into Dubai Airport a few days after the Asiana Airlines crash happened (I won't name the pilot who gave me this credible report):
'Blood ran cold today. 28 years of flying and never heard this from an APProach controller:
APP: "XXXXX (an indian carrier) Are you too low? I have you at 800 feet!" [now, he usually transfers to TWR at about 5 miles (1500 feet) so there is no reason to be at that level on Approach.]
XXXX: after long silence "XXXX going around"
APP: "XXXX are you climbing? I still have you below radar lowest safe!"
XXXX: " We are climbing through 1,500, can we make a visual circuit?" (this is how Gulf Air crashed an A320 and the clever controller decided to take it out of his hands...)
APP: "Climb to 4000 feet and make left turn to 030." (Thereby saving the day, he never even answered the query for a visual approach.)
How, you ask? Well the QNH was 994mb and 500 feet lower than the std of 1013. Setting the altimeter from high (1013) to a low number winds OFF altitude. Old Pilots say: "High to Low LOOKOUT below!" I bet the XXXX boys still had 1013mb set'.
The below presentation, ('Children of Magenta'), provides a wealth of experience and advice for pilots of new-generation airliners (especially 787, A380, and A350). When in doubt: Disconnect automation, fall back on your flying skills and FLY THE AIRCRAFT.
HOWEVER, the problem is: what if you a crew who have no experience in hand-flying aircraft, no raw flying experience to fall back-on (as those Asiana 214, and Air France 447 pilots)?
One of my mates, an experienced Captain for Emirates, says: 'Always make sure YOU are flying the aeroplane, and that IT'S not flying you. Sadly, this brilliant instructor has passed away. He'd be rolling in his grave if he knew that there are thousands of pilots currently flying airliners who have never had such a background.'.
Flying is not the same as it just to be back in the 1980s and even early 1990s- it's not as glamorous as it used to be...and even more importantly safety is plummeting these days. Did you know Singapore have fired ALL their expats since this accident at SFO? The week before this Asiana crash, a Singapore Airlines B777 did a go around on the same runway after doing the exact same thing…with a 777 full of passengers. That - in the 90s - would have been inconceivable!.
When you have 300 passengers behind you, there is no room for failure, and it's dangerous to just depend on the Autopilot. No doubt, the Asiana Airlines crew were invited for a not-so polite chat over a tea session in Washington...no biscuits though.
Zhujiang New Town Automated People Mover System (or APM system for short), runs for 3.49 km between Linhexi and Chigang Pagoda (where the Canton Tower is) with 9 stations in between. The APM system started operating on the 8th of November 2010, and was designed to make it easier for residents who live on Ersha Island near the Zhujiang New Town. The driverless train is clean, air-conditioned, modern, and fast. It really does make the London Underground look and feel like an ancient form of transportation.
The Canton Tower, also known as the Guangzhou TV Astronomical and Sightseeing Tower, is a 600 meter tall multi-purpose observation tower located on the banks of the Pearl River in the ultra-modern Zhujiang New Town (in Haizhu District). The tower houses a observation deck at the top, posh French and Chinese restaurants, and a scary drop down freefall experience ride (it's safe but no cameras are allowed on the ride). Provided the visibility is good, the views are priceless, and worth the RMB150 ticket to go up (not including food).
The tower briefly held the title of tallest tower in the world, replacing the CN Tower in Toronto, before being surpassed by the Tokyo Skytree in 2011.
At night the tower glows and emits light rather than being lit up. The Canton Tower has an architectural lighting that was designed by Rogier van der Heide. Around 7,000 LED light fixtures light the rings of the tower's structure each from underneath, to form a continuous glow in various colours. Below are some photos depicting the various colours that the tower emits. It really is a mesmerizing piece of architecture, technology and cultural symbol all blended in one. Life is so pleasant and peaceful here in this part of Guangzhou, and indeed it is away from all the hustle and bustle, and all the troubles that the rest of the world is experiencing that you wish you stayed in China forever. I spent the whole evening just relaxing on a bench opposite the tower and watching the world go by.
9am - 10pm daily
50 RMB - lower levels up to floor 32
100 RMB - medium levels up to floor 67
150 RMB - upper levels up to floor 84
Tickets for sale on location. The quickest way to get to the Canton Tower is to take line 3 Metro or the APM line to Chigang Pagoda, and then take Exit A which is right below the tower itself (Chigang Pagoda is one stop away from Zhujiang New Town on the other side of the river- from where I took the photos below).
Guangzhou's new library has just moved to a new building in Zhujiang New Town, which opened on 23 June 2013. The old building at 4 Zhongshan Road closed down on the 1 April 2013 (no April Fool joke).
Located on the beautiful banks of the Pearl River and next to the ultra modern Guangdong Museum, Guangzhou's new library is bigger (3.82 million volumes with total GZ Library collection: 5.62 million items with 500 public use computers, and 4,000 internet connections), more spacious (covers over 100,000 square meters), modern (clean, neat, air conditioned and automated with book loans system), and has wireless ability throughout.
The new library is characterized by its distinct combination of contemporary and traditional Lingnan design. It's worth a visit even if you want to come and admire at what the Guangzhou government has achieved. It's even more so beautiful at night because you can take a lovely walk next to the Pearl River.
Poundland is a popular chain store in the U.K. which sells everything for under £1 Sterling. I came across this shop in Guangzhou that operates on a similar philosophy, but is not part of the UK company and has no connection with the UK brand. But the interesting thing about the Chinese version is that 10 Yuan is actually just over £1.07p because the Chinese Yuan is valued higher. Another reason to accept that China is economically better than the U.K. (Western Europe's cleanest 3rd world country).
Property in China
Renting or purchasing accommodation in China can be a daunting experience for expats if one cannot speak the language (and understand the culture). The good news is that provided you know what you are looking for, and know how to bargain with the estate agents, then it can be just that little bit easier. Property agents, such as the ones pictured above, are available in abundance and normally you can just walk in to see a home at the last minute without appointment (except of course if you want to visit an affluent apartment). Some estate agents are even open until the late hours (11pm!!).
British Airways get their first Airbus A380-800- that's SIX years after Singapore Airlines became the first carrier to fly this SuperJumbo (inaugural flight was on the 25th of October 2007- and 9 airlines already operate this aircraft)....and so you wonder why the UK media reacts as if they've never seen this plane before....(the same thing will happen when/IF Virgin Atlantic Airways get their first A380 aircraft- Virgin was one of the first carriers to order the A380, and was originally due to take the model in 2006; but that's been pushed back to 2018).
Panyu attracts a lot of 'Fortune Tellers' (you may read this). It remarkably seems to be a very competitive business for them. It's not uncommon to come across around 10 guys sitting next to each other waiting to tell stories! In my opinion, horoscopes are great when they say nice things about you:
"Leixinge (my Chinese name), you are caring and kind. Highly intelligent. Likes to be the center of attention. Very organized. High appeal to opposite sex. Likes to have the last word. Good to find, but hard to keep. Passionate, wonderful lover. Fun to be around. Thoughtful. Loves to joke, but lets some people down due to misunderstandings. Too trusting at times and gets hurt easily. You always try to do the right thing and sometimes get the short end of the stick. You sometimes get used by others and get hurt because of their trusting. Extremely weird but in a good way- sometimes talks too much. Good sense of humor!! Very popular. Silly, fun, and cute. Good friend to others but needs to be choosy on who they allow their friends to be."
But, not to worry...they never mention any bad news or bad stuff...it's always good news.
I wish I had taken a photo of Panyu back on that hot summer's day in August 2003. This is because if I had taken a photo of Panyu all those years ago then I would have been able to compare to what it looked like in those days to what it looks like today. In those days Panyu was nothing but a dusty industrial town with very poor infrastructure, and was heavy polluted. Since the opening of metro Line 3 in 2009, two of Panyu's sub districts - Panyu Square and Shiqiao - have become heavily popular residential areas for most of Guangzhou's population. Rent is still remarkably cheaper than what you would have to pay in downtown Tian He (a three bedroom modern apartment can cost anything in the region of RMB 3,000 in Panyu...the same apartment would cost around RMB 7,800 in downtown).
Shiqiao, an area covering only 11.35 square kms is becoming modern at a dizzying pace (I would refrain from saying that it's becoming more Americanized like the rest of the country). In the space of around 3 years this tiny town with a population of around 280,000 in the south-east of Panyu district, has become home to SIX McDonald's outlets, TWO KFC outlets, TWO Starbucks outlets (as if one was not enough), TWO Pizza Hut outlets, and an abundance of 7-Eleven stores. Shiqiao is the political, economic, cultural and commercial centre of Panyu District, and has direct jurisdiction over 28 communities and 8 villages. Oh, by the way, there used to be a Dunkin Donuts outlet in the main plaza next to Shiqiao Metro station. It opened in 2009 when I first started living in Shiqiao, and then it closed in February this year due to lack of demand because Chinese people love Starbucks (it's seen as a status symbol among the rising Middle-Class and elite to drink Starbucks coffee).
I am a huge fan of Dunkin Donuts, and being British, I have always been highly impressed by the way they make their milk teas- now that's something rare for an American food outlet to achieve (!). I would be more than happy to speak to a few Starbucks executives about this, but in my opinion Starbucks are not marketing and selling the tea as it should be done (take note....Earl Grey is tea without flavour...and I'd like to meet the innovative person who thought about serving a cup of tea with milk FOAM poured on the top!!).
I have bought Starbucks tea in mainland China, Dubai, Istanbul, Singapore, Bangkok, Detroit, Toronto, Paris, Hong Kong, and even in London (home of tea!), and I can tell you that it tastes nothing like the tea that we loyal tea drinkers are used to. I am not sure what native Indians in India think about the tea offered by Starbucks. Believe me, being a British man of Indian heritage I know what real tea and coffee tastes like (I am, of course, referring to black tea). Chai, the word for tea used in most Eurasian countries (including Russia), originated in India during the British Raj under King George, and the original tea derives from the romantic hills of Darjeeling and Shimla (PG Tips and Tetley have it right).
Maybe Starbucks should stick to just selling the coffee - which by my definition is not real coffee either. In my opinion, Chinese people need to be brought up to revere real Italian coffee. Perhaps they should do what the Aussies did after the GFC, where 800 Starbucks stores were closed in Australia - mostly in Melbourne. Only poofs put vanilla in coffee, and milk foam on their tea...!
As an Engineer by background, I always get fascinated by the impressive amount of work that goes into building large feats of architecture. Even more fascinating is the years of long term legacy that is left behind by these projects, and to think of it that most people just take them for granted after they have been built. I doubt a non-engineer would ever take a moment to marvel at the great amount of hard work that has been put to make their castle in the sky!
Hong Kong is going through an interesting phase at the moment where mega construction projects are in progress. Most of these are direct infrastructure investments made by mainland Chinese magnates.
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