Home Away From Home


As I made my way through the airport in Hong Kong on the way home a week ago, it all felt a bit familiar.  Then I added things up – in less than 3 months, I had landed at HKG five times and was about to take off for the fifth time.  I think at this point I may have spent more total time in Hong Kong International Airport than I actually have in the city of Hong Kong!  So, my upcoming year-end travel tally should be interesting.

This trip was primarily to Guangzhou, China, which is about 75 miles northwest of Hong Kong.  Some of you might know Guangzhou by its former/western name of Canton, and you might know that from studying European history back in high school.  You see, Canton was the center of the Opium Wars fought between the British and the Chinese in the mid-19th century, which punctuated the opening of China to western trade and effectively marked the beginning of modern Chinese history.  One of the results of the first war was the granting of Hong Kong Island to the British, which as we know was “rectified” in 1997.

Anyway, I assure you that that is ancient history!  Guangzhou today is an economic powerhouse, generally regarded as the third city of China (after Shanghai and Beijing, or should I say Beijing and Shanghai?), and the center of the massive Pearl River Delta region, which is becoming one massive megacity.  The area includes other massive cities like Shenzhen, Dongguan, Foshan, and potentially (depending on how you want to count) even Hong Kong, with a total of 40-50 million people and exploding.

The view from my 18th floor hotel room looking out over the Tianhe District of Guangzhou, which is part of the core city center. The city manages to be both sprawling and high density, it seems!

A sunset view in the same direction (but zoomed) – the extreme pollution gives the sunset a really strong glow, and I just managed to catch this as the sun quickly evolved from half-circle to sliver.

Guangzhou appeared to be fairly orderly in terms of layout, as opposed to the more chaotic nature of many SE Asian cities. Construction appears to be continuing all around.

For most of the week, I have to report that I mostly saw the inside of the Sheraton.  The only notable exception was a group evening outing to the Canton Tower.  Now, you know that I like tall buildings and towers, so I was glad that they chose this.  The tower took over from the CN Tower in Toronto as the tallest tower in the world when it opened in 2010, but has actually since been eclipsed by the new Tokyo Skytree that was still under construction when we were in Tokyo this time last year.  (As, well, myself, it is important to note that both of these are not as tall as the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and the recently opened Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel in Mecca is just 3 feet taller than the Canton Tower as well!).

Here’s the tower using Wikipedia’s image…I took a couple from the window of the bus but the combination of light and motion didn’t really work.

The structure is quite cool – a “hyperboloid” structure with a twisting structure of ellipses, which leads to a tightening of the structure about halfway up (that is essentially the waist of the tower).  The outer structure has 7,000 LEDs that give it a very nice glow at night, with changing colors.

Just to prove that I was up there – here’s the entrance to the 107th floor indoor observation deck. Unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to go to the outdoor one above or see the “bubble tram” that operates on a track around the exterior of the top of the tower!

The view from the tower’s indoor observation deck of the main branch of the Pearl River through the center of Guangzhou, adjacent to the tower. The bridge in the foreground had a design that looked like a bagel slicer.

Of course, as always almost all of the time was devoted to work – and I literally didn’t step outside of the hotel at all from Wednesday evening through Friday evening.  The meeting was generally very successful, with managers (including some head honchos!) from all over the world.

I can’t say much of my usual spiel about impressions of Guangzhou, because I didn’t see hardly any of it, apart from some of the metro!  Like many of its Asian peers, the metro is a bit of a marvel in that it has appeared out of virtually nowhere.  It didn’t exist before 1997, and almost all of what is there now was built in the lead-up to the November 2010 Asian Games that were hosted in Guangzhou.  Today, the metro in Guangzhou is the 10th largest in the world (depending on how you count), with a network the same size as Paris and has several more lines under construction.

This is the group at a central Guangzhou station on Line 3. In many ways Line 3 is the metro’s showpiece – the North-South Express Line, that is about 42 miles long (about 30% longer than the A train in New York, which is NYC’s longest), 28 stations (meaning further between stations than most metros, which tend to be not much more than 1 station ever 1/2 or 2/3 mile), completely underground (claiming to be the longest fully underground metro line in the world – I’m not sure I can confirm but it might be true!), with trains travelling up to about 75mph (most max out at 50 or 60).

After the meeting, I spent the weekend in Shenzhen and Hong Kong before starting the journey home – I hope to post a few thoughts and pictures from those places separately.  On Sunday night I made the now-quite-familiar trip on the Airport Express Line to Hong Kong International Airport, after having checked my suitcase at the spectacular “in-town” check-in facility in the city center earlier in the day.

This great option is available at Hong Kong (Central) and Kowloon Stations – you can check your bag up to 24 hours in advance of your flight, avoiding the need to find, play with, or pay for lockers. Each Airport Express train has a baggage car at one end that is used to transport all of the checked items to the airport.

Since I first visited Hong Kong under two years ago they have increased the frequency from every 12 minutes to every 10 minutes, and airport station is without a doubt the best airport-rail interface design I’ve ever seen.

Inside the train is a distance-based map. There are also luggage racks and free wifi. At the airport, the doors open on both sides – one side is for Terminal 1 (the main terminal) and the other is for Terminal 2 (the low-cost/leisure/charter terminal). You can see this indicated by the yellow signs.

The airport station is right between the two terminals and on two levels, matching the airport design. So, whether you are arriving or departing you walk directly where you need to go without having to go up or down. Unless you need to take the terminal train from the further gates, there are actually no changes of level at all from the jetway to the train to the city! They have also been smart in having no ticket gates here; they charge you based on where you enter (toward the airport) or leave (from the airport), thereby avoiding queues, and recognizing that people at airports are usually in a hurry.

I breezed through security and passport control and then boarded my Qatar Airways A330-200 for Doha.  I like having two flights – one to be awake on and one to try and sleep on!  In Doha, I had some breakfast at the premium terminal and called Astrid, who was waiting to depart LAX (at that point, I think, 11 hours behind me).  Qatar is great; recently selected as the World’s Best Airline, and a massively growing operation connecting all corners of the world via Doha.  It is the smaller cousin of Emirates, the huge Dubai-based carrier, but seemingly a bit better (although I haven’t flown Emirates).

Boarding a 777-300ER at Doha – the size of the engines are just massive when boarding from the ground via stairs!  This is the case until the New Doha International Airport opens sometime in the next few months.

The flight path from Doha to London took us directly over Baghdad…but don’t worry, no stops! The Qatar 777-300ER is way better than their older, smaller A330-200, but I can’t wait to try their new 787 Dreamliner.

Well, I’m now off to Heathrow to start the last business trip of the year, to Sao Paulo.  I’m flying the longer, but hopefully more comfortable, way around via Toronto on Air Canada.  So, they will tell me a-boat how long the flight time is after I board, eh, but that’s fine by me.  I’ve actually never been to the Toronto airport or flown AC, so this will be something new.  Happy December!

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Posted on 29/11/2012, in Transit, travel, Travel to Asia and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. WOW !! Whatta blog – – thanks for all the info. In the 3rd pic I noticed what appears to be bus and/or slower traffic lanes alongside the beautiful tree-lined main street. Is that the case? Because it is very, very nice, indeed. And the info on the towers is also very interesting. Thanks for sharing, again.

  1. Pingback: 2012 Travel Review – Crossing the 100k Line « Change Here

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