"Overslept" this morning... it was already 6 when the alarm rang... was still packing... the very last items to be included in the luggage. Oh yes, my toothbrush! Remember there was once I went around hunting for a toothbrush overseas immediately I landed... hahaha... imagine... Hunting for a toothbrush overseas???
Making a Choice... the Airline...
In fact, never crossed my mind to fly by Air China... Hm... Must admit that I've been 'pampered' all the while... and hm... apart from its established reputation, I guess probably also because this national pride that I hold, Singapore Airlines is usually my choice. Yes, I remember comparing the various airlines with SIA, especially when I flew DrukAir - paying at an expensive rate (USD750) yet .....! Well, too bad, Drukair is the only airline that flies into Bhutan and I will not dare to take any other airline, knowing how challenging it is to land in Paro airport.
In fact, through this trip, I realised one of the criteria that I have when trying, especially free-and-easy (unknown to myself previously) is to have everything hassle free. Yes, accommodation must be near to main attractions, as many as possible - So that it's within walking distance :D In fact, I would rather pay more for hotel than an air ticket (Surprised? I just discovered myself!). The amount I can top up for the SIA ticket is enough for me to spend a night comfortably... So, I opt for the latter.
I made a wrong assumption: The comfort inside the aircraft - the overhead cabin is smaller than usual (looking at the amount of things packed in)! To my horror, when the plane landed, one of the overhead cabins' door swung open while the PA system advised the passengers to be careful when opening the door, to beware of the stuff falling off! What an irony!
Yes, lots of things are limited - choice of juices, variety of food, there is only one "Programme" projected on the common screen, there is limited elbow space... and more importantly - smiles and warmth are limited, too... Still remember a song that Ms Sally (my P3 teacher who taught us...) "You can smile, when you can't say a word..." Yes, smiles are very very important in the service line, especially (as I realised) language is limited. That helps to break the barrier and make the customer comfortable. One immediate reaction - "Quality Service!" is absent... and am I going to see more of such in Beijing? Oops! What did I do to myself to land up here?
Die-hard habits and Service Attitude
Oh! The "Chinese" habit! I hate to say... on the street, there was no less than 10 times within a day that I would hear the typical sound of the Chinese clearing the throat and spitting - be it on the street, at Tian-an-men, at the Forbidden City or Garden (you mean it, you'll hear and see it!). Oh no! I hear this common (disgusting) sound again, right behind me on my return trip... I was hoping the worst will not happen - spitting. Thank god! Nevertheless, this was bad enough to spoil the time in the air!
Next is "air pollution"! In fact, the skies of Beijing went 'blur' on Friday (I was surprise as the past 2 days were very clear). What I meant was smokes! Yes, be it man or woman, young or old, it's so common to see them holding a stick between their lips! How inconsiderate!
In fact, sign boards were put up (almost) everywhere in Beijing to remind its people to behave in a 'cultured' manner... I think, it's hard, but need some hard and fast rule to reinforce it! I guess the authority put up advice because it wants to project a good image of its people to the world when the Olympics come. On the other hand, just wondering, is the authority taking the opportunity to push the society towards a more cultured one? I think lots to be done here...
Quality service - something that struck me quite strongly. Realised that there are attempts to ask for feedback - in the bookshop (王府井书店）. the airline, the immigration counter (that I was a bit surprise), but am impressed by the effort, at least. However, sad to say, it's not widespread. Sales people do not seem to bother if the customer needs direction or has enquiry. At the extreme, their can't-be-bothered attitude seems to tell customers that it is no big deal if you don't buy the stuff. This includes those on duty at the places of interest. They are more interested in engaging in small talks among themselves. It doesn't give an impression that they mean business... this is the saddest part of the service line. Customers are not served. In fact, these people are just there to collect the payment! What a contrast as compared to what I experience in Hokkaido, or even Hongkong! In fact, is this the Chinese way of doing business? This is not what's cited or taught in the good old days.
However, it is a sweeping statement to say it applies to all in Beijing... There are exceptions... There are nice people, too... The middle waitress in the SQUARE where I had breakfast every morning will not fail to give me a warm smile when she saw me each morning :D I like that :D The 2 sales people in the souvenir shops in the hotel - they are nice and patient. Oh yes, do not forget the 'hawker' who tries her very best to sell the books to us... hahaha... that's extreme... and she left a deep impression... not just me, but to Choy and the Joe family, too :D
Checking in @ Changi Airport
Just wondering, does the airline engage its own staff to man the counters in overseas airport? Upon arrival, went to Counter 10. There, a staff... asked for a luggage tag (which I though would be so easy... based on past experiences!) Oops! It's an assumption! Number 1, the staff does not seem to know what I'm asking for! Er... I guess because it's in English? But it's ridiculous, right? Being in service, one would have understood the different different ways that an item could be asked/described! Well, was told, in mandarin that it can be obtained at the 'check-in' counter... OK (then what's this counter for?).
There's one counter at the far end - it's empty! There's no other remarks in display except the flight number. Great! So, pull my luggage... and then... the staff look at me sternly and said, this counter is for group checkin. Hey, it's not displayed at the LCD panel at all! Fine... Went back to my queue. At last, it's my turn... asked for the tag - the staff, without talking, just pointed to me the stack of 'stickers' labels at the counter. She took my passport and airticket and started processing. By the time I finished writing and sticking the label on the luggage, the seat was already assigned! Hey, hey, wait!!!! You did not even ask! (again, it's my assumption, as normally the ground crew of other airlines will have to courtesy to ask, especially when it's a solo traveller... I wanted a seat near the oar... I don't want to be trapped! Looking at the seat assigned... OK, I believe it's at the side... well, who knows, it could be a blessing in disguise - who knows, there could be an empty seat beside mine? hahaha...
The migration officer took my passport, processed and asked "Ms Loh, you are still teaching at Ngee Ann?" Ha! Surprised! It's a pleasant surprise... Oops! I can't recognise her! But am very happy she acknowledged me :D Yes, she said she was from the first batch and was in the CCA Red Cross... :D We parted with a smile :D That made my day... at least...
And yes, the first place I headed to is the "Free Internet Access counter". There's one free station... well, it's now, after nearly 40 minutes, I'm the only one left... ok... boarding...
~ penned @ Changi Airport 8.45 am
Landed in Singapore at 5.30 am... what unearthy hour! Yes, the advantage of being seated in front was being able to reach the immigration fast... The immigration officer scanned the passport, passed it back to me... and smile... Yes, I'm home :D
~ penned upon return... on 14 May 2007