This trip was a consequence of the trip to trip to SIN, when we reached Asia some 20 hours later than expected. We eventually met our friends in Singapore, especially two of them that I’ll call Xiaoyang and Juergen. Or more precisely we met again Xiaoyang and were introduced to Juergen, that you can safely guess to be Chinese and German, respectively.
They had big news for us, related to two dates in the calendar which had not been selected at random, because the numbers 6 and 8 are the luckiest in the Chinese tradition, especially 6 for this kind of event:
"It will be on 6/6 in Taiyuan, China, and 8/8 in Hanover , Germany. We would be pleased to invite you if you can travel.”
How could I consider missing the wedding of Xiaoyang, my favorite among all the young Mandarin teachers I’ve had in PEK and TPE ? I brushed aside my wife’s objections about the geographic, linguistic and cultural distance of TYN and HAJ as seen from CDG, and one week after our flight home, I had bought two open-jaw tickets on MU, that I completed much later with Chinese domestic flights.
This long haul routing had several advantages : - Arrival in PVG, because we wanted to be with friends in Shanghai on Sunday - Skyteam flights, crediting some (very few) airmiles - Long haul flights operated by MU, whose 2-4-2 layout in A330 is more comfortable than 3-4-3 in an AF B777 - No additional optional fees which keep creeping in AF fares like with LCCs - Flight back on Sunday, so that Mrs Marathon could be at work the Monday after the wedding, at the cost of a very short night on Saturday.
This was the final routing, all in Y :
CDG-PVG : MU570, sold as AF3766, A330-200 (YOU ARE HERE) PVG - CGO : FM8389 (B738)The temples of Kaifeng CGO - PEK : CA1326 (B738)Mig Alley PEK - TYN : high speed train TYN - PVG : MU2402 (B738)Best wishes of happiness ! PVG – CDG : MU569, sold as AF3767, no FR
It seems that all airlines change the schedule of their flights once I bought tickets, and AF is no exception. Six weeks later, AF sent this notice of a change in our flights.
The change was that the departure from CDG and arrival back in CDG were delayed an hour. The flight time had not decreased an hour on the way in and increased an hour on the way back, but MU seemed to have problems with the exotic concept of daily savings time in Europe. Fortunately, we did not need to connect with a domestic flight in France.
Six months elapsed, and I should have not have placed excessive trust with RATP (the Paris mass transit operator). If I had been on their website before leaving home with a comfortable 80 minutes margin for the check-in deadline, I would have avoided connecting at Châtelet les Halles station, because the traffic on the RER B line was stopped between there and the North station (“Gare du Nord”).
There was a plan B, or rather a plan D : take Line D which is parallel to Line B on the section which was closed. We still had a chance to make it.
A long wait on an overcrowded platform, then in spite having luggage, we miraculously managed to climb in an even more overcrowded train full of regular Line D users and stranded Line B users, leaving many more passengers on the platform… but we could possibly make it.
At the North Station, we of course to change levels from Line D to Line B, and we narrowly missed a train towards CDG, but we could still make it.
Another ten minutes of wait on the platform, but we could still make it.
The train was not more full than on a Friday evening was of course stopping in each station, but we could still make it.
We reached the FIDS at the CDG train station at 19:40. RATP (the Paris mass transit authority) had eaten half of our of our margin, but we had made it !
We made it all the more that we arrived 40 minutes later than expected, but the plane was going to depart 50 minutes later than scheduled.
But whether the plane is late is not, the check in deadline is unchanged. We used one of these machines. There were not many seats to choose from : one drawback in flying MU with an AF ticket is that AF’s OLCI does not work, and I did not think about trying MU’s website.
MU had attributed us two central non-aisle seats in the 2-4-2 seat layout, but apart from isolated seats here and there, there was only a single pair of “right of center” seats (one of them an aisle seat), and the last pair of seats with a window in the last row. I was worried by the proximity of the galley and of the toilets, and by the fact that may not recline, so I chose Seats 37G and 37H. They were not very far back, because with MU (and CZ, CA and some other Chinese airlines), the numbering of the Economy seats always starts at Row 30 in the entire fleet.
Now we had to drop our luggage. Waiting in that line for AF flights?
No, these were AF tickets, but an MU flight, and we had to go to the next zone. The signage was poor, but there was little waiting. There was a long line for another flight (Flybe, I believe) which made it difficult to move around outside the check in area proper, but the access was nearly direct to the check-in counters.
By the time we had checked-in, the line for that other flight had lengthened so much that it blocked the access to our counters, and it was probable that we then would have had a long wait, or rather that we would have needed to pass in priority in order to make the deadline.
Check-in was quick and relaxed. “No luggage above 23kg ?“. No, and they were from that limit. The next position’s staff, seeing that I was taking this picture, took a mock pose for fun, even though (or rather because) it was obvious that he was out of the picture.
Going through the Parafe automated passport + fingerprint booths was fast. I did not remember there was a BP manual check too (maybe a temporary security measure?).
It took me many flights to Asia to remember that you should not go straight ahead to the obvious security check just behind the passport control, because the access to gates L and M (located in two satellite buildings) is on the left, and you need to turn left to see these signs.
The escalators from the platform of the people mover.
A KE A380
There was not much hope to reduce the delay at departure : passengers were still leaving the MU 332 which was going to fly us to PVG.
The screen at Gate 47 left us no illusion about it
In Chinese, and in French (and English too)
The plane's number in case you want to check the resume of the aircraft
An AZ A320 parked at gates K
Always the same children playground, which an outrageously stereotyped decoration, with the boys’ entrance this way…
… and the girls’ entrance on the opposite side there:
It has become a fashion to have a piano for free passenger use – there are two of them in Paris North Station.
This young passenger was playing classical music with talent.
… with an Aeromexico 787 as a backdrop
It was possible to enjoy both the music and the Paris event at that period of the year
There was the end of the tennis Paris Open Tournament on one of these screens
The pictograms of the baby care rooms were still feminine.
A sample of AF’s fleet, just as a reminder : a B 777-300ER
And an A380-800
It was not very hot in Paris, but the ground crew found it necessary to open the widows of the A380’s cockpit.
There were lots of empty seats in the terminal on that Sunday end of afternoon
But there were very few power ports : this pair was the only one for the double rwo of seat above.
An illustration of the rise of Chinese tourism in France: these commercial promotion signs are explicitly targeting them. They were in front of this trinkets shop
… as well as in front of this jewelry
Boarding was on time, once the delay was included.
The not so clean fuselage, before boarding. I find the font used by MU in its logo especially ugly.
The welcome mat at the entrance of the aircraft
Going through the J cabin
And arrival in the first Y cabin
The detail of the seat’s decoration, with and without anti-macassar
It did not show on this picture, but it was possible to fold the sides of the headrest, so that the heads would not roll aside during sleep. This is a non-negligible in Economy where the seat reclining is insufficient for the body to remain straight.
I did not measure or take a picture of the seat’s recline, but it was decent for Economy.
The safety card, both sides
The seat pitch was OK (add around 17 cm for having the distance between the limit of the seat and the magazine pocket of the preceding seat)
The width between armrests was decent – remember that this was one of my criteria for flying MU rather than AF.
We are not talking about millimeters of difference : this is the picture that I took in an AF 772 during a CDG-NRT flight:
A four centimeter difference ! The seat selection that AF was providing for free at ETD-30h did not carry much weight when compared to the comfort differential with MU.
The safety demonstration on the IFE screen was with animator characters. It was first shown in Mandarin with Chinese subtitles (all Chinese languages, including Mandarin are written the same; only the pronunciation differs, often radically).
And then in English with English subtitles, a lot later and with several glitches, so much so that it was not over yet when we took off.
I did not have a window seat, so this was all I could give you by way of a sunset. When we woke up, it was very cloudy, as I expected, which justified choosing an aisle seat rather than a window seat.
The airshow was quite frustrating. The modeling of the terrain looked good,
… the 332 was accurately represented (with the new livery, but our aircraft had the old one)
… it was possible to pan and zoom with the touchscreen, despite a poor reaction time (you have the landscape and the left wing of the aircraft)
… but it was impossible to leave the cyclic succession of a single program. It was for instance impossible to display continuously the subjective view, or the flight parameters. I found it really bothersome.
The tablet deployed in two parts. The second half “opened too much”, and stuff placed on it tended to slip.
Mine was not fully clean : a food stain had not been removed.
Distribution of the drinks and food from two trolleys which were nearly next to each other : this was not a case of « Here is the meal and we’ll serve you the drinks ages later », like on some other airlines. Note that three out of four of the fruit juice boxes were Chinese catering.
This was the result of the first round of FA service
What was this mini-serving of butter doing alone in that dish which was much loo large for it ?
It was waiting for a small piece of bread which was to arrive eight minutes later.
Now the meal was complete. My guess is that this bread was to thick to fit on the trays in the trolley.
The tray was not very large and slipped easily on the non-horizontal tablet.
The FAs announce "Fish – rice, or beef noodles ?". I usually avoid the noodles on Chinese flights, because I find them overcooked, but I had forgotten that this plane had taken off from CDG, and that the catering was therefore French. The result was that the rice was overcooked – never trust the French to cook rice the way it should by Far-eastern standards – and the fish was (as usual) soggy. Mrs Marathon chose the other dish which looked better, although the meat seemed so-so. Note that I write “seemed”.
A detail of the salad which I found uninspired
I went to the very narrow but clean toilets in the rear. This type of non-slip flooring is quite common.
The pictogram on the baby care folding table is a feminine as that in CDG.
There was reclining space behind the seats on the last row, the one I had rejected. I did not see if they could recline, but was told that they typically could too.
"Shanghai, we have a problem".
Mrs Marathon did not have time to place this call to the FA before disaster struck during my sleep : the beef in her hot dish had apparently been a lot less than so-so. She was not impressed by the reactivity of the FA after depressing the call button, and found it debatable that she simply stole the blanket of another sleeping passenger to replace that of my wife which now contained most of her dinner.
The picture is not very sharp, but the « fasten seat belts » signs remained on during the whole flight after very modest turbulence; this seems to have become the rule on Chinese airlines. And although the lights were switched on three hours before landing, the passengers (80% Chinese) all kept the window shades down.
A detail of the carpeting, which was reasonably clean. I liked the design.
This breakfast was served three hours before landing (around half past noon, Chinese time). The three roll son the right were mashed potatoes in bread crumbs.
Flying above Taiyuan, which was the first and foremost destination of that trip.
Of course,you can’t have both reasonably wide seats for Economy AND reasonably wide aisles. I found that I would easily bump with anything jutted slightly out: 45 cm is not much for an aisle width, but I lack reference in this regard.
Two hours before landing, the IFE proposed a tai chi course for relaxing the passengers.
Tough luck for those who were watching a movie, or were not interested in tai chi anyway.
At first, the setting was in a plane, with two FAs and a specialist in the center, but they went shifted to more pleasant landscape and actors.
Maybe the point was to keep the motivation of the passengers, without much success : only one passenger followed these exercises in the row ahead of us, here on the left.
We landed 35 minutes late, which was bad news, because we would not have time for the visit that we had planned downtown, before it would close at 5 pm.
Deplaning, crossing the J cabin again
A jetbridge in PVG has inevitably advertising from the Hong-Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, a.k.a. HSBC !
"International, HK, Macau and Taiwan" arrivals, since the three later cannot be listed as international in politically correct Mainland Chinese.
The Taiwanese receive actually at this counter so-called “travel documents” which are neither passports nor visas, and they are called “Taiwanese residents” to avoid hinting that they might have a separate citizenship.
There had been meanwhile a long corridor, with or without a travelator depending on whether you wanted to exercise a little.
The luggage were delivered quickly and the customs did not pay any attention to us.
This was the end of the first segment of this trip, and this is the start of an optional tourist bonus.
Construction never stops in Shanghai, and since the previous time I went there, the Shanghai Tower has been completed, dwarfing the 492m high Shanghai World Financial Center, better known as the Bottle Opener. See them here from the window of our room at the Equatorial Hotel, located halfway between PVG and SHA on the subway Line 2.
It all depended on the urban weather, actually. The next day, the pollution had wiped both of them from the landscape (and the JinMao Tower too, on the left)
Shanghai is a quite well known city and I’ll rather focus on Yixing. This city some 200 km away from Shanghai may not ring a bell for you, but it is the center for the production of highly esteemed earthenware tea pots. There are incredible quantities of them in the shops there.
The production is fed by a deposit of a specific kind of clay, whose mining is now controlled by the local authorities in order to avoid outright plundering of this natural resource. The clay is packaged in sorts of soft bricks wrapped in plastic.
The mass production of tea-pots is done with plaster molds, but it is nevertheless a hand labor consuming craft.
These are the molds
On the other hand, the top quality items are hand made on a potter’s lathe. This apprentice was going to need only one year of training to start producing pieces which could be sold, because she is the daughter of a renowned potter whom she has seen at work since her early childhood years.
But her cousin was going to need two years of training from scratch. Work conditions were not very comfortable in summer because air-conditioning was ruled out : it was desiccate the clay.
Day after day, there were tirelessly making a teapot which was going to be examined and destroyed at the end of the day, until the day when they would reach the level of quality that the master was expecting from them.
The nozzle and the handle must be perfectly aligned.
I could not have done that well of course, but I was nevertheless able that the alignment of this one was imperceptibly flawed.
This tea-pot was doomed, bt he nevertheless had to finish it.
When they are not kin, the training is charged 20, 000 RMB per year : quite a hefty investment compared to the income of the families in these villages.
A tea-pot can be ruined at any stage of the production, like this one when it was fired..
This one cracked because the darker clay used for the top retracted differently when fired. It was supposed to be the masterpiece of the end of the training of the master potter himself, and he kept it as a precious souvenir.
The bottom of the tea-pot which was marked with the seal and calligraphy of his own master was also two-tone.
The trained eye of the master identified immediately if an item was made with a mold or with a lathe, but despite the explanations, I failed miserably to recognize the differences.
Yixing is not only tea-pots, but also cups, bowls and vases of all sizes.
Trucks are being loaded for delivering in the whole country: this one was going to deliver its cargo in Zhuhai, at the border with Macau.
Won’t you take another cup of tea with the master ?
Paris - CDG
Shanghai - PVG
I had excellent memories from the same flight flown two years before, also reported on this website. It will be a mixed review this time. MU’s strong point is the seat layout of the cabin, and also the quality of the IFE screen (the programs of the IFE are another story) : nothing changed in this regard, and the comfort of that seat is vastly superior to that of AF. Apart from that, MU disappointed me: the FAs were not very reactive, the airshow had a fixed looping program, the plane was late and this time it made a difference for us, and the meal was worth 7 for me and 0 for my wife, yielding an average of 3.5.
The poor quality of CDG’s rail link was a caricature. For work reasons, we could not leave earlier; I should have checked if there was any problem, but this did not excuse the operator. On the other hand, there was zero waiting at check-in, immigration and security check alike : it it a kind of lottery in CDG.
The immigration was reasonably fast in PVG (I’ve been though it faster, but there was no reason to complain). PVG is far from the city, and taking the subway line requires an inconvenient connection on the same platform on a station on the way (you lose your seat in the process). The Maglev is not a significant gain of time, because it runs every 15 minutes only, and it is a long connection to the subway at it end station which is not in the city center.
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