The first days

My first few posts will all be strung together because I have only just been able get internet access from my laptop. I’ll post a big chunk each day until I run out (roughly wednesday). Most of this was written the day after I arrived


Walking through Sydney Airport customs at 10pm is a lonely experience. I had just said goodbye to friends and loved ones, passed through the glass security doors, and was one of six people in the whole checkpoint, four of which were security staff.

Being a night flight, I figured I would use the opportunity to sleep and ideally not lose any time in the process. If you’re a seasoned traveller, you’re probably already thinking ‘Yeah, okay. Not going to happen’. Well, you would be right, but not for the normal reasons. The noise-isolating earbuds that came with my phone made short work of the jet engines and crying babies. The only thing that stopped me getting a good night’s sleep is that being just over six foot, I was in my own private war with the tray table and footrest as I tried to stretch out. But with Wheel of Time chattering in my ears, I managed to pick up a couple of hours of sleep throughout the night.

Food on the plane to Guangzhou was actually decent. No Cordon Bleu, but still tasty.

The descent into Guangzhou was my first major surprise. Keen to see the city from the air, I peered outside into the night sky. Nothing. We had gone through the cloud layer, and were now only about 2km up, so their should have been some lights visible from below but I could only see the wings.
A short while later, the reason became apparent as with a lurch and the smell of stale cigarette smoke we plunged into the humidity/smog layer that engulfed the city.


After an uneventful landing and disembark, those of us transferring to a domestic flight were herded off to quarantine and customs via the cunning placement of red and yellow stickers on our clothes.
Seeing that I was the only one transferring to Wuhan caused yet another pang of loneliness – the unshakable kinship forged through 10 hours locked in a metal can had just been shattered. But that was quickly forgotten as I fumbled for my papers in my overstuffed backpack.
Passing through quarantine with a guilty sneeze on the other side of the threshold, customs came next. According to a chit of paper pushed into my hand at the sydney checkin, customs for transfer passengers would be a simple affair that would just involve a quick search for random selection of passengers. Being the only white guy on a domestic transfer, guess who was selected.

So I’m importing a half year’s supply of controlled meds that would make Australian customs howl, and before I left I made sure I had lots of paperwork. I still had no real idea as to the legalities of the stuff in China, but that’s another story.
The customs guy starts hunting around in my bag for a bit, and despite knowing that there’s no trouble I’m still a little concerned because I have a short stopover and don’t want to miss the flight explaining why I need a million pills. After a short while he looks squarely at me and simply states that I ‘have a _lot_ of Apple products’ and waits for a response.
I’m caught flatfooted by this, but after mentioning a few key words like study, year and scholarship he seems to be satisfied and I’m further propelled through the meat grinder toward my gate.

It’s about now that I realise that I have no idea what a _big_ airport looks like. In Sydney it took 5-10 minutes to navigate the duty free gauntlet from customs to the arse end where my plane was waiting.
In Guangzhou, after 5 minutes of weaving through to the security checkpoint, I’m then pointed at an open shuttle-bus thing that hurtles through the gantries and catwalks for a further 5 or so minutes before it reaches the first gates, which, fortunately, is me.

The gate begins boarding before I have a chance to get settled, which is nice and convenient, and as I walk down the aerobridge I can finally see a bushfire sun struggling to shine through the haze.

In stark contrast the flight to Wuhan was boring. My phone’s GPS couldn’t track me as I flew, which made me sad, and the food on this leg was woeful, but that’s about it.

From the Airport

Getting out of the airport at Wuhan took all of 10 minutes, and I met up with Robby – conveniently dressed in a bright yellow CCNU shirt (one does not simply stop being a yellow shirt). She hails a cab and I am impressed with her Mandarin.

After coming to terms with my seatbelt being tied behind my seat and Chinese driving on the wrong side of the road, Robby explains some of the things I should expect to see on the drive home:

  • People driving on the wrong side of the road
  • Lanes are for suckers
  • Indicators describe possibility, not reality.
  • People wandering across freeways, often with children in their arms
  • Horns can be and are used for every situation: You nearly hit me. I’m coming through. I’m about to break the law. I broke the law. I’m driving here. I’m not driving here. Look, a spaceship etc.

That short trip redefined my perception of what it means to be a good driver.

And that brings me to how I massively underestimated how far the airport is from the Uni, and what I call the Decoy CBD


While I had maps in my bag in case I needed to make my own way to the uni, my mental picture of the journey involved getting on a motorway for a bit, crossing a big river and then entering the CBD on the south side of the river and that’s basically the end of the journey.
After the third slightly different, slightly larger set of skyscrapers-and-river-combo, I was thoroughly confused. I think I counted about 6 ever-increasing CBD Disappointments before we actually turned off the motorway.

To say China is evolving is like saying jet fighters saunter. The whole city is under major construction. At every one of the city centres we passed, up to half of the buildings were in varying stages of rapid construction (and in one case destruction). According to Robby (I have no real internet to look up the details), an entire bridge was moved some distance overnight.
Unfortunately, not a lot of thought goes into variety in these groups of city blocks. It’s as if they designed and built one building, then used the clone tool to photoshop some more in because the skyline looks bare.

Wuhan (like every other city in China apparently), is currently in the process of building a subway system, which will be amazing when it’s done, but at the moment the main road just beside the university has a 5 story gash surrounded by blue fencing and traffic scurrying around it like insects. In order to produce a subway quickly, you need turbo construction methods. Diggers just won’t cut it, so every few hours you can hear a loud crackboom, and if you’re lucky you will see the dust rise off where the latest charges of TNT that were detonated. I’ll try and get some pictures from my room tomorrow.


2 thoughts on “The first days

  1. I am on a Chinese Scholarship Council scholarship to study the language.

    They have a couple of places open to each university in Australia (as well as around the world). They also have bachelors/masters/PhD positions as well as the language scholarship. It’s actually quite cool!


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