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.
The trip to London was so short and snappy that it almost felt like a dream. Thankfully on the day of the flight from Heathrow we were gifted with a clear blue sky, and slight easterly winds, which allowed an excellent opportunity to take beautiful photos of London and beyond as the plane took off from runway 09R (heading towards Clacton-on-Sea, and then onwards towards Germany). I flew with Qatar Airways, so both the first flight (LHR-DOH, QR008), and the second flight (DOH-PVG, QR888) provided great opportunities to take some superb photos of the skyline of not just London but also Doha, Northern Thailand, Guiyang, Wuhan, Wuxi, Kunshan, and Suzhou (my home!!). And not to mention the magical sunrise that we were treated to somewhere over the Pakistan/India border.
Finally, I have had a chance to update my blog. I have been in China for the past few weeks, and due to local firewall restrictions, I have been unable to get access to my personal blog- among other websites. After the World Travel Market (WTM) event in London, I was invited to Kunming (the Capital of Yunnan Province) by the China National Tourist office (CNTO) to visit the China International Travel Mart (CITM). The CITM is China’s domestic equivalent of the WTM, where, rather than focusing on the world’s countries, the event is a showcase for the various provinces in China, as well as some of the surrounding countries (such as Mongolia, Indonesia, Singapore and Taiwan) who want to buy from or sell to Chinese Tourist agencies. The annual CITM event is held in either Shanghai or Kunming. The emphasis is to promote China and its travel industry to the world.
After the 10 hour non-stop flight from Heathrow, we arrived in Beijing at around 11am (local time), still quite disoriented- I suppose it was more the effects of jet-lag which seemed to descend fatigue on everyone rather than the long journey, which seemed comfortable enough on Air China. Every time I visit Beijing Airport’s Terminal 3, which is still relatively new having been opened in 2008 prior to the Olympics, I am just overwhelmed by this magnificent piece of architecture, its like entering a whole new world. The ridiculously huge building alone dwarfs most airports around the world. Ironically the place is not that busy, even during peak hours. Perhaps the terminals just look empty because of the sheer size of the airport, like an illusion. Nevertheless, I am sure if you look the picture at large and when you see the number of passengers that pass through the airport every year, you can clearly observe that the numbers add up to being more than those seen at London Heathrow Airport, and some of America’s busiest airports’. Also bearing in mind that all of the airport’s three runways are actively in use 24 hours day- and it is not a unusual sight to see 3 aircraft taking off at the same time on those runways. As can be observed from the picture above, that President Obama was also in town the day we arrived in Beijing. Air Force One (Boeing VC-25A Registration: 29000) was parked at the VIP Terminal suite overlooking Runway 36R, flanked by the two smaller Boeing 757-200s (Version: Boeing C-32A) of the US Security Service (I believe that is Air Force Two and Air Force Three respectively- both these aircraft shadow Air Force One in the skies).
The 3 hour hop to Kunming was operated by Shandong Airlines, a CAAC subsidiary of Air China. Normally, on domestic flights that are over 2 hours a full hot meal is served, however, much to my surprise we were only offered a hot “Bacon and Egg Chinese style Burger” along with drinks for the whole flight. Upon landing at Kunming Airport, we were warmly welcomed by senior Yunnan Government officials and local fanfare- this was accompanied by loud music, and having necklace charms given to us. I wasn’t all that impressed by the sight of a ridiculously cold and wet Kunming. We were very unlucky to have arrived in Kunming during the rainy season- which normally does not last more than about a month. Whether luck plays any part in it or it’s just bad planning- but the CITM is always held in Kunming during the rainy season. This trip to China was different to all the other times I have been here because it was the first time I had been hosted by the China National Tourism board- all the other trips I have been on were on either corporate business or pleasure.
On our first official day in Kunming, we were taken to see the “Stone Forest”-known as the 'First Wonder of the World', located around a one hour drive from the centre of Kunming. Because we were the guests of the China Tourism government officials, our motorcade was neatly protected and escorted by armored Police and Ambulances- and all the roads were cleared in advance so we could pass through with ease. I took around 400 beautiful pictures at this place and we spent around 4 hours there (highly recommended). The stone forest covers an area of around 400 square kilometers and includes both large and small natural stone forests- these are stones (limestone and granite) forming weird and wonderful natural shapes and sizes. From distance, some stones may look like animals while others may look like buildings and so on. Nothing is man-made and every detail is remarkably pleasing to the eye. In the evening we were honored to be invited to the opening banquet, where VIP guests included Mr. Zhang Zulin, the vice secretary of Kunming municipal Party Committee and Mayor of Kunming; Italian Tourism Minister Michela Vittoria Brambilla; Chinese Minister for Tourism, Mr. Shao Qiwei; Shanghai Expo's chief planner Mr. Wu Zhiqiang and many others.
Now, the sad thing about this trip is that during an interview which I was doing for Yunnan TV at the CITM, and among the loud noise and crowds, my 500D camera got stolen- without going too much into details, I (along with the assistance of Kunming’s chief of police) tried my best to look for the camera or the thief but could not find any clue. After checking all the CCTV cameras in the control room, it turned out that all 4 of the camera’s are just like television monitors (meaning you cannot zoom in or move them around), plus they are placed so high up in the ceiling that it is almost impossible to see anything in detail. I lost the vast majority of the photos, including those of senior officials from the China Tourist Board, the provincial banquet that we attended and all my photos of the Stone Forest trip. The fact that no security staff could find the thief at such as high profile event as the CITM is still a mystery to me. It goes without saying that I am sad about the loss of my photos more than the camera itself. I was offered a nice gift from Mr. Shao Qiwei, as a token of appreciation, which I highly value; and I am very much thankful to the Chinese government for inviting me to this event. It was just unfortunate that it happened, and it can happen to anyone.
Compared to other similar events, such as the WTM in London, the CITM was grander in terms of the number of stage musical performances and the loudness in which it was all presented- the event was full of so much random (yet beautifully illustrated) song and dance which at times did not really make any sense whatsoever (and no one explained why or what people were dancing for or saying).
On the evening before our departure from Kunming, we were treated to a VIP special viewing of the award winning "Dynamic Yunnan" show at the Kunming Conference Center. Dynamic Yunnan is a grand song and dance performance with its inspiration derived from the southwestern ethnic people of Yunnan Province. The unique style is choreographed and performed by the famous dancer, Yang Liping. Yang, a very popular dancer of the ethnic Bai group from Xishuangbanna in southwestern Yunnan Province, began her career at the age of 13, and has been dancing for over 35 years. The majority of the performers of the show are local farmers Yang discovered in outlying villages of Yunnan- with most of them are from ethnic groups including Yi, Miao, Tibetan, Dai, Bai, Va and Hani. The music of the show is, at time very emotional, and has a deeply romantic theme to it. The show was spoiled by the constant background noise of mobile phone ringtones and people using flash Cameras- this despite a warning sign clearly asking the audience (in both English and Chinese) not to use flash photography and mobile phone. I know this is common practice in theaters and cinemas around China, but it's not fair on the actors, as well as the rest of the audience.
The breathtaking performances by the actors are a must see because every sound, every move and every look on the actors faces illustrates the roots of Yunnan's culture. "Dynamic Yunnan" has been played in over 150 shows around China and abroad. The performance lasts 2 hours and consists of seven parts with varied themes including Cloud, Sun, Moon, Forests, Fire, Mountain and Feather in turn. It was a nice way to polish off the press trip to this colorful city (in Colorful Yunnan!).
Next year's CITM event will be held in Shanghai, around the same time. I would like to share some more photos from CITM in Kunming- the poor quality is because I have used my spare camera (it did the job!). I hope I can have the chance to go back to Kunming and take photos of the Stone Forest and other sights I visited this time.
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