8 Mar

The officials at Guangzhou (‘Gwongchow’, Canton in old money) International can smile but it doesn’t happen often. That’s not due to some People’s Republic edict; still less surly disposit­ion. The first time I was there they pulled all the stops to get me out of a tricky sitch whose story I’ll tell in due c. The second time I had a ten hour stopover en route from Bang­kok to Heathrow. Mindful of negative online feedback – are you listening Boston MA, NYC and above all Miami? – the authorities whisked me and others in similar circs off to a swanky hotel, scooping us all up in the morning to get us on our diverse ways.

No, the reason they don’t smile a lot at Guangzhou is the same reason faces are corpse-pallid and, outside the airport, always masked. Permanent smog. The most populous nation on earth, or at any rate its industrial east coast, is in a state of constant depression.

God knows we Brits have little enough to write home about. As has often been said, some­one really does need to do something about our own weather. But this place makes us all look like Brazilians. Think of the gloomy days we specialise in (of which we’ve had a partic­ular abundance of late) and imagine that as permanent state of affairs. Welcome to Guangzhou.


South China Airlines Flight CZ304 had brought me the 6,000 miles without mishap. We flew north of Moscow – counterintuitively, till you remember the earth isn’t the same shape as an atlas – before arcing gently south-east into the People’s Republic.

I’d struck lucky. Despite a near full plane I was sole occupant of my block of three seats. That and a 22:30 take-off got me a better than average sleep, putting a zing in my step as I strode into Guangzhou customs, immunized from the dreary vibe by Abbey Road blasting through my iPod headphones.

I had a ninety minute wait for my Saigon connection – baggage going all the way through – followed by two hour flight, walk to nearby hotel and a second night of sleep better than a restless soul like me generally gets at home. Jetlag is all in the mind.

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