Wednesday, February 21, 2007

View from the top

Last week I was leaving the shores of Dubai heading back home - again! I was rostered onto this flight and weighed up the offers of swaps from other crew and decided that it was far too cold in Europe to be giving up a sunny Brisbane just yet.

We were blessed to have two truly delightful cockpit crew who were very encouraging of the rest of the crew to use the spare jump seats in the cockpit for take off and landings. Luckily I was in an "additional" position coming into Brisbane which meant I wasn't responsible for operating a door and was able to take up the enticing offer of a front row seat for touch down. The flight path which we take coming into the airport leads us over the heart of Brisbane city. I gazed down over the glassy, snaking river and the cluster of tall city buildings, with their tops reaching up into the golden morning sunshine. Looking out over the city made me feel very lucky to think that not only was this beautiful place my 'home', but that I was experiencing the view from inside the cockpit! Had someone told me two years ago that I would be enjoying an early morning vista of my hometown from behind the pilot I wouldn't have believed it for a second. Of all the views we see on landing, my favourites by far are the Australian cities.

The day before our Brisbane arrival we spent a night in Singapore. For lunch that day I shared, with one of the other crew, a very large selection of freshly steamed dumplings before we perused the shops. I really enjoy looking through the markets and shops there, I have found that the clothing and accessories are so very cute with such interesting little details - the shoes I bought are testament to that! I stumbled across these gems and instantly fell in love, but quickly recalled my previous attempts at shoe shopping in this fair city and how my measly size 36/6.5 foot was not catered for in this civilisation of pint-sized citizens where the average shoe size must be equivalent to that of a small child. After a few minutes of standing and staring at the heels, imagining them on my feet in a scene reminiscent of a 1950's musical with tuxedo clad men and a spiral staircase, I decided to give the shoes a go. Yes, they fit (just) and my faith in Singapore's shoe industry has once again been restored.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Shanghai Surprise

Before I start loading up my suitcase the night before a trip I will usually jump online and check temperature forecasts for that particular city, so most of the time the clothes I pack are sufficient, however this time I was way off. Rather than the comfortable 20 degrees which I was anticipating, Shanghai took a turn for the worse and was instead an arctic 5 degrees. I took some comfort in knowing that most of the other crew also underestimated the frosty conditions and thus we responded by layering every item of clothing which we had packed for our trip before heading into downtown Shanghai.

As soon as we had left the warmth of our hotel shuttle bus in front of the underground markets we were seized upon by so many 'shop pimps' smiling and waving at us that for a moment I actually thought it was a large group of Chinese tourists coming to say hello. We burrowed through the circle of retail enticement and began our self guided underground adventure. I was a (cold) woman on a mission - to purchase a knee length wool coat, and after receiving affirmations from many other people that Shanghai was a fabulous destination for shopping I was confident I was going to be walking away, warmer, and with a lighter wallet.

By the end of the day I had settled on two gorgeous knee length coats - a dusty pink cashmere number and the other a heavy wool Wedgwood-blue coat - both at ridiculously cheap prices. The day's shopping experience left us all with an insatiable appetite and my craving for hokkien noodles was catered for by a street vendor selling the yummiest noodles, made to order over an open flame from his travelling wok-shop. It didn't matter that neither of us shared a common language, I just pointed to the big bowls of ingredients which I wanted and in a couple of minutes I was making quick work of my steaming dinner. The serving was enough to feed a small army and all for the price of 5 Yuan (about $A0.85), I paid ten times that amount for packs of Maggi noodles during my university days!!

To symbolise the upcoming Chinese New Year, the hotel which we stayed in had a beautiful leafless tree set up in the middle of the foyer. In the place of leaves were little bright red packets which blew furiously in the wind every time the front doors would open. My Chinese friends Wah and Man had previously told me about these tiny envelopes and how they are given (usually by married or elderly members of the family) to single young people during the New Year celebrations and should always contain money. As you can imagine questions were raised from myself and the other single girls in our crew as to the whereabouts of our lucky red packets of cash!