This report is about Shanghai and Singapore Airlines... two things that are very close to my heart.
Shanghai, the Paris of the East, was a city where I started my career with my first employer almost a decade ago. As a young SQ
executive, wet behind the ears, I was eager to experience life as a 'foreigner' in my 'mother land'. I fell in love with this city then, and still am to this very day.
I first came to Shanghai when the city was still at the cusp of an economic boom, when relocating to this city was considered a hardship assignment. Today, a posting to Shanghai is akin to a posting in New York (to Singaporeans at least). It's where the action is – the financial hub of China, a city lined with beautifully designed skyscrapers next to old communist style family quarters. Where modern entertainment complexes are a common sight, and where you are no longer persecuted as a capitalist dog if you leave your home decked in the latest designer clothes and accessories.
There's a certain charm about Shanghai that I cannot put my finger to. But they say a picture say a thousand words, so perhaps these pictures will speak for me...
The Shanghai everyone sees...
The Shanghai that locals see...
An idyllic summer afternoon in this bustling commercial hub...
There's a Chinese saying – a grain of rice breeds a hundred different kinds of people. There is no other way to describe how I felt after a week in China. It is not difficult to differentiate a northern Chinese from a southerner. We have different facial features, attitudes in life, eating culture and even the trajectory of our spit varies. Yet, at the end of the day, we are one common race, read the same Chinese characters, but somehow end up pronouncing them very differently (to trained ears).
Despite being yellow-skinned like everyone else on the streets, I often found myself lost in Shanghai, not understanding a single word spoken by the locals... the Shanghainese dialect was to me, a foreign language that had no relation to the Chinese language; Shanghainese cuisine was heavy and too greasy for my Southern palate, and I could never understand why rice was typically not served TOGETHER with your meal but AFTER. I quickly realized how different Chinese from different geographical locations can be.
My trip to China included stop-overs in two other cities in the Jiangsu province - Nanjing and Suzhou. Both cities were accessible by China's equivalent of the Shinkansen or Bullet Train, albeit at a much slower speed. Not exactly your Orient Express, but the ride was pleasant and clean – a huge contrast to my rides years ago when locals wouldn't think twice about expelling their phlegm onto cabin floors.
Shanghai train station...
The 'first class' cabin...
While not as commercialized and developed as Shanghai, one senses that they too have quickened their pace of development. Nanjing's skyline resembles Shanghai's a decade ago, while Suzhou's industrial parks have expanded way beyond the perimeters of the very first industrial park that Singaporeans had gone in to build in the early 90s.
A trip to Nanjing would not have been complete without dropping by their most important attraction – the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum.
The number that China and Japan have yet to see eye-to-eye on...
View of Nanjing City
A brand that has stood the test of time
Home of the Suzhou-Singapore Industrial Park, Suzhou has also been an important centre for China's silk industry and continues to hold that prominent position today. The city is renowned for its beautiful stone bridges, pagodas, and meticulously designed gardens which have contributed to its status as a tourist attraction.
Suzhou railway station
A cheaper mode of transport in Suzhou
The Suzhou National Museum is a must see, only because it is designed by world renowned architect, IM
Pei. Architecturally, the museum is a masterpiece. However, the Chinese have yet to master the art of running and maintaining their facilities. It's amusing how such an important attraction only provides its visitors with black & white photo-copied 'brochures'. Of course, a made in China English brochure is never complete without spelling and grammatical errors. It is equally interesting how one does not need directional signages to know where the nearest lavatories are in this museum or anywhere for that matter... your nose will always be your best navigator.
After a hectic week of work and revisiting the paths that I had walked years ago as a young expatriate in Shanghai, it was time to return to a more sedated and, I can't believe that I'm saying this, cooler Singapore (I've never perspired as much in Singapore as I did in China!) The ride from Puxi to Pudong International Airport took approximately 40minutes by taxi, and cost 160 RMB. The Maglev would have been a faster alternative. However, that would require me to take a taxi to Lujiazhui in Pudong, get off, queue up with the masses for tickets, lug my bags across the station, wait for the train.... At the end of the day, I went for the most convenient and comfortable option. The time saved wouldn't have been significant anyway.
I still remember with fondness the old Hong Qiao Airport – with its crowded halls, long immigration lines, rude authorities, slippery washrooms, and sleazy looking stairwells connecting the departure and arrival levels that were manned by chain-smoking officers. That was my first brush with China.
Today, Shanghai's gateway to the world is served by 2 massive terminal buildings in Pudong. Terminal 2, aka the Star Alliance Terminal. It was designed by French architect Paul Andreu – the same Paul who designed the part of Charles De Gaulle Airport that collapsed a few years back.
As a Singaporean, making comparisons and benchmarking almost everything against everything else in my country is like taking a shower at least twice a day – it is darn necessary. There's only one way to be the best - by learning/emulating/copying from the best. I was eager to assess how the new Pudong terminal 2 stacked up against Changi.
The impressive but gloomy dark driveway leading to the departure hall... versus
The bright driveway that offers little shelter from the elements... Changi 0 – Pudong 1
Unique ceiling panels offering lots of natural lighting, giving the whole terminal building a sense of space...versus
Sea gull inspired ceiling panels with warm color tones that gives the whole terminal a cozy feel. Overall design reminds me of ICN
airports... Changi 1 – Pudong 1.
The overall feel of the new terminal was definitely better than terminal 1just across the complex, which despite being less than 10 years old, was already showing signs of wear and tear. There's one thing that Singaporeans excel in, and that's maintaining our building facilities well. Work on Changi terminals 1 and 2 were always on-going. Repairs are done the moment faults are spotted, retail outlets are always changing and spruced up to offer up to date merchandises and toilets, even on the busiest days are consistently clean and odorless. Heck, Changi's terminals 1 and 2 had gone through several minor and major renovations even before terminal 3 was built. Pudong terminal 1 in contrast, had retail outlets that resembled street stalls. Souvenir shops selling identical merchandises haphazardly displayed that clutter the walk-ways, giving the terminal an unsightly and disorganized feel. I do apologize for not having any photos of Pudong terminal 1, so you just have to take my word for it.
Fortunately, Pudong terminal 2 is better managed, although I do not know how long this will last before the airport management start losing control over how each shop displayed their goods. While all the shops were new, they lacked the variety that Changi or Chep Lap Kok had. I do wonder how much non-aeronautical revenue Pudong earns compared with Changi, which incidentally accounts for more than 60%. Needless to say, I was bored within 5 minutes of entering the air-side, and was soon desperately searching for my last remaining pack of cigarettes, which I later realized I had stupidly checked in by accident! With no ciggies to take my mind away from my boredom, the lack of 'entertainment' facilities in the airport became even more stark! It's times like these that I appreciate Changi even more. Where are the butterfly and cactus gardens, movie theatres, foot massage machines, games arcade, shopping mall when you need them???
I degenerated to analyzing the carpet on the floor – which looked identical to EVA Air's seat covers on their newer A330s and B77Ws!
Typical airport seats compared to Changi's lounge chairs (pictures of Changi's designer chairs can be seen in my earlier report - http://www.airliners.net/aviation-fo...ums/trip_reports/read.main/133128/
Almost bare transit area... void of facilities to entertain the most jaded traveler
An Air China in Olympic Livery ready for push-back
Terminal 2 claimed to have free wireless hot-spots, but I found logging into any connection almost impossible due to the weak signals. I scanned my laptop for all available unsecured networks, from those in the Dragon Air lounge to the Star Alliance lounge, to some airport authority network. None worked, and I gave up trying. So it was back to roaming the rest of the terminal...
There were lots of poorly lit corners within the terminal. It was as if the architect never planned for the airport to be operational after sun-set! Needless to say, reading anything was next to impossible under those dim conditions.
My ride was already at the gate by the time I arrived at my gate. Taking me home, and away from this excruciating boredom was 9V
-SQI (AVOD equipped). I'd never felt so relieved to be leaving an airport before... okay maybe once when I was transiting in FRA
-SQI being loaded with meals from the MU
Having selected online a 2 seater at the back of the aircraft the previous night, I was now regretting my choice and hoped that the flight would be empty enough for me to snag another 3 seater/personal lie-flat bed.
“Welcome aboard, Mr SQ772!” the cheery Chief Steward's voice boomed as he glanced at my boarding pass.
“Hi there” I faked a smile – I was really tired and dying for a ciggy.
“ How was Shanghai?” he asked – either faking interest or genuinely interested. With SQ
crew, it's quite impossible to tell.
“It was HOT
!” I replied...recalling the weather and the pub that I got totally drunk in the night before.
“Haha.. it sure was! But it's cool in here” he assured me.
As luck would have, this looked like another half-filled flight. I waited by Door 3R
as the remaining passengers boarded, looking for an empty row to occupy. An enthusiastic Flight Stewardess (which Singapore Girl isn't??) assumed that I was lost, and asked if she could show me to my seat.
“Are there any empty rows?” I politely asked.
“Flight not full, should have lah! You can move to any seat once the cabin door is closed” she advised and fleeted away to assist other passengers. I thanked her and found myself an empty row in the forward Y cabin when I noticed that almost everyone was already seated.
I settled into my seat and began reading my Sunday Times and catching with the latest news from home.
“Oh there you are sir, was looking for you!” the same Singapore girl chuckled appeared by my seat... “just want to tell you that all passengers already boarded and you can seat anywhere you like... but I guess you have lor!” she continued, in her splendidly fluent “Singlish”...
I loved the fact that she felt comfortable enough to lapse into her Singlish (instead of BBC English) with me, and even more impressed that she remembered that I was searching for an empty row earlier and bothered to look for me to follow up on my request. That's SQ
on a slow day or you. They give their best every chance they have. I assume that the only reason why many people think that SQ
's service delivery is robotic is due to the fact that all these girls move and look like Stepford Wives – all poised and impeccably well groomed. Where nothing is too much trouble, and fulfilling a customer's needs is in itself an orgasmic experience. It's no wonder that they do it over and over again. Without doubt, SQ
still offers one of the best inflight service standards in the airline industry today... but I digress...
The usual hot towels were handed out before the cabin lights were dimmed for the safety video and push back.
Night view of Pudong Terminal 2 ... and body shot. With this, knee cap shots are officially passe!
Keeping myself occupied by checking out the latest movie offerings as the aircraft taxied to its take-off position... with 80 movies, 106 TV
programmes, 180 CDs to choose from, deciding on my selection was going to take longer than usual...
Lift off and menus were handed out once the seatbelt signs went off.
Givenchy kits with sockettes and toothbrush sets were distributed... followed by several rounds of drinks and mixed snacks.
There's nothing better than an iced-baileys to cool me down.
I was feeling really exhausted from the hectic week in Shanghai, and partying till dawn the night before exacerbated my fatigue. I was dozing off while watching the movie that I had painstakingly chosen for this flight...
I was looking forward to the dinner service so that I could get it over and done with before turning my humble Y seat into a lie-flat bed. Once again, two carefully put together meal choices served on Givenchy designed serviceware were offered.
Pasta and ham salad
Seared fish in tomato oregano sauce with roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes
Cheese and crackers
Roll and butter
Coffee-tea or any drink under the sun
Chinese duck salad (tried that before on a SIN-TPE flight)
Stir fried chicken in garlic sauce and fried vegetable rice (yawn inducing for sure)
Chinese snack (on hindsight probably a nicer name for melamine laced pineapple pastry??)
Roll and butter
Chinese tea or any drink under the sun
No prizes for guessing which meal I chose.
I was struggling to keep awake once dinner was cleared and cabin lights dimmed....and fell asleep in a fully horizontal position for the rest of the flight. Here are two pictures of my flight - just before I 'lost consciousness'...
What's wonderful about SQ
's inflight service is that it is CONSISTENT. Consistently good or great depending on one's threshold for quality. It's therefore difficult to write a trip report about SQ
because it typically ends up sounding and looking the same no matter what spin one puts to it. For those who follow SQ
trip reports closely, you'll come to know that hot towels are always handed out and collected moments before the safety video comes on.... that the first thing after take off, headphones, menus and where applicable, amenity kits will be distributed...followed by drinks and meal service and so on and so forth. It's comforting because you know whichever batch of crew you get on your flight, they will be there to do their job, and they will do it well 99.925% of the time (don't you just love numbers plucked from thin air?!!
Thanks for taking the time to read my report. Your comments are welcomed as always...
[Edited 2008-10-03 12:50:17]
There's always a better way to fly...