Thank You Cathay and Finnair for $10 McDonald’s Voucher

Been stuck in Hong Kong for the last 20 hours or so. Came yesterday from Taipei on Cathay flight CX531, which was about 2 hours late. I had 2:30 to make the connection to Helsinki on Finnair AY070. Looked promising when Cathay parked next to the gate where Finnair plane was waiting. Still 30 mins left.

Ran out of the plane, there was somebody with a sign Finnair / Helsinki, and gave me the gate number. Off through the transfer security. Fast sprint to the gate. Still 15 mins to go, final call blinking, the last people boarding. Made it!

!or what? Actually there seems to be an argument ongoing. Xavier from the same Taipei flight is denied access. Getting heat. WTF!? I’m giving my boarding pass to the people at the gate, I believe working for Cathay or some airline service company, who say something along the lines of “Sorry sir, you have been already taken out of this flight.” Still somebody checks in and walks to the plane. Excuse me what are you talking about?

They explain to have called Cathay and asked to take me, Xavier and others who came from Taipei out of this flight. Why?! “Because your checked-in luggage would not have made it.” Again, WTF?! My checked-in luggage is very often late, comes next day or so and I am ok with that. This is a bs explanation I tell them. Please rebook and get us in now. They keep on repeating the same, Chinese style, bureaucratic, cold crap as if it would help. Xavier goes off the limits shouting these people face-to-face. I also tell them something inappropriate in Finnish. Some security guy is standing in the middle of the way to the plane to make sure we can’t get in there even though we have valid boarding passes at hand. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

I am asking who the f*ck made the call to get us off the flight. It is unclear, nobody wants to take responsibility. Did Finnair just kick us out to get some stand-by guys in or was it Cathay? Who knows. Real reason is not told. We watch there helplessly as the plane stands at the gate. One woman who gets the same treatment starts to cry. The plane docks off. According to flight statistics info it left 45 mins later. What a piece of crap.

We get back to the transfer desk. What a chaos. People from the Taipei flight are taken as a special group, case by case depending on the destination. We are the last to get any help. Hours go by. First they say the only option for us is to get on a Turkish Airlines flight combination through Istanbul that would arrive sometime middle of Sunday. We refuse that bs offer and ask them to get something through Central Europe or direct Finnair. I bet they are just trying to cost down. I’m browsing options and can see there are seats on Cathay and BA via London as well which would arrive late Saturday. They claim those flights are full, which is obviously not true. We demand Finnair. Finally get a word of new Finnair tickets for the next day and a hotel voucher four hours later, after 4am. Need to talk to get another voucher to eat something. They give us some $10 to get into McDonalds. That’s just hilarious but it’s so late it doesn’t matter anymore. We don’t get our luggage, it remains somewhere checked-in, so we can keep our dirty clothes. We get to the hotel in some crappy industrial area middle of Kowloon at 5am.

Wake up 3pm to realize they gave no ticket, boarding pass or anything to the next flight. Xavier calls and says I should call Finnair right away to get the ticket. I do and I get myself a seat. Sounds like I was booked on the flight but it was not confirmed or in some overbooked category without a seat. Get an automatic email confirmation from Finnair that I should be good. Fine. First time they get back to me though would have appreciated something more personal. Get to Starbucks to leave a few bucks to Hong Kong before getting back to the airport to write this. Compensation so far? Nothing. Oh, the $10 McDonald’s voucher. Should have saved that one.

Hitting the HK Trail

When air quality indexes hit well below 50 and went green this Sunday morning I took the chance to find out what HK Trail looks like. First time I run outside in Greater China and it was well worth it. Started out from Wan Chai, went up Kennedy Road — Bowen Road — Wan Chai Gap — Coombe Road — Barker Road (turned back at some point) — Peak Road — then down on Aberdeen Reservoir Road — back up HK Trail — and down Wan Chai Gap Road. Took like 1.5 hours total. Distance maybe 15K due to very hard uphill and downhill, including stairs where running was really tough. Great scenery and visions to both sides, HK Bay & Pacific. Gave the idea there is so much to see just in HK. You only need to win the perfect day and hit it out running. I didn’t see too many other runners, especially on hills and unpaved trail there was nobody in running gear. People do go out though, but mostly with kids and dogs.

— In other running related new the other day managed a full 1K at 3.00/km pace on Humble House treadmill in Taipei. Felt like I’m on the way to getting back in shape.

China 3/5 – Politics

Had a week off from these China posts because of another trip to France and Italy… but now it’s back to business, or politics, that is.

Politics in China. Can I even blog about this subject? Do they blovk my entry to the country the next time? I don’t belive so. It turned out that politics is actually quite a separate metaphysical state of affairs in China today.

Politics is largely separated from the economy to start with. You can run business as usual and the state is quite ok with that. The state still owns all the land, and even has a kind of residual right to buildings. But that’s nothing sensational, as today businesses lease everything in the west as well.

Politics is also separated from the academia. There is no sign of the sulture revolution anywhere around. For example academic cooperation between Chinese and Taiwanese – or Chinese Taipe if you like – universities seemed flexible and intense. This is all in par with the political idea of “Greater China.”

I know there are issues of free speech and a number of “chinese scandals” because the state is obsessed with controlling the flow of information. The good side of the control regime is absolute efficiency in issues like building a modern Beijing in just five years.

China 2/5 – Pollution

One of my major concerns before the trip was air pollution. I had read alarming news about the increasing problem in Hong Kong, which is by the sea. Beijing must be worse, I though. I was really expecting a nightmare.

Maybe I was just very lucky, but I did not suffer from air pollution at all. I have tens of pictures of clear blue skies in Beijing after the Olympics, with heavy traffic and everything. At least two points make me think it wasn’t only luck:

  • Beijing has banned diesel cars altogether. At first I was very anxious when I saw all taxi drivers go with windows open in that grinder called Beijing traffic jams. But hell, I did not “taste” or inhale anything that would have given me odd feelings. I sensed no diesel – no small particles! To compare, I think the European pro-diesel policy is sacrificing human health in the name of slowing down global warming.

  • I was also expecting a lot of scooters and other kinds of poison-emitting light vehicles often seen in pictures. When I saw the first mopeds I was ready to hold my breath. But behold: it was just an electric bicycle! I had never seen so many of them in action. Turns out, all motorcycles, mopeds, scooters, and the like are banned as well. So no more burned oil and that grey smoke that makes you cough in Southern European cities. Why couldn’t we implement something similar? At least Italy and France should take note.

The main lesson from my journey was that the air pollution problem is something we can solve. And in this matter, at least, an effective and dictating government helps a lot.

Perspectives on China in 5 posts – 1/5

Returned from a quick but eye-opening five-day journey into Beijing. On the way back I thought the trip would be worth a couple of posts. At least. Let’s say 5.

These will be my own perspectives based on what I saw, heard, and read. My posts may have great misconceptions but what the hell. Wild guesses and random ramblings are the idea of blogging anyway.

First some background for this trip. A taiwanese professor Fan Chien Te visited Finland some years back. Now, a month ago or so he invites Niklas Bruun to give a talk in a symposiums held in Beijing. The trip didn’t fit Bruun’s schedule with such a short notice. Instead, he kindly threw the invitation to me.

At first, I had a great deal of mental hurdles to pass. I had my grazy Hong Kong experience from the past. We had a joint software venture there with Antti Halonen between 2001-2003, which the HK guys eventually stole away. I had since followed news from China with alarm. Pollution, SARS, poisoned food, immoral people, general dirt, “made in china” quality, free speech issues, pirate-midset with no creativty etc. Why would I want to visit such a rotten place on earth? I actually wrote a polite email back where I explained I would probably have nothing to contribute hoping that this would be it. Besides, I was having a tight shcedule in Finland. Teaching ongoing, completing an already-late book revision, one major consultation task etc.

Pofessor Fan then sent me a four-page letter to explain why I needed to come. Well, after engaging in the conversation I couldn’t say firmly no anymore (this happens to me all the time). I had the liberty to buy a business-class ticket and was given a loose schedule that included visits to major tourist attractions. Just five days or so total, I though. They must have fixed a lot for the Olympics, so maybe I can take it. To increase the thrill I chose Aeroflot – a day before that crash. Ok, I’m ready, this may be the last trip I ever do so let’s enjoy every moment like it would be the last!