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A tale of five goats: China Southern to Guangzhou

There's a statue in Auckland's Meyer's Park that not many people know about.

Vaughn Davis
Sat, 22 Nov 2014

There’s a statue in Auckland’s Meyer’s Park that not many people know about.

It’s of five goats, all piled up on a rock, the biggest one with a few stalks of rice in its mouth.

It doesn’t get a lot of attention, the statue of five goats, and you could easily walk by without noticing it.

11,000 kilometres to the northwest it’s a different story. There, a similar but much, much bigger statue of five goats forms the centrepiece of a park on top of a mountain. It’s hard to take a picture of it without getting at least half a dozen other visitors in the frame. You can take a special bus up the mountain to see the statue of the five goats (can you guess what’s painted on it?), and on the way down you can stop at gift shops that sell not much other than tiny (and not so tiny) replicas of the statue of five goats.

That second statue (and all its little replicas) is in the heart of what until recently I didn’t know was Auckland’s sister city, Guangzhou. The Meyer’s Park one was a gift from them to us. (I’m not sure what we gave them in return, but judging by what everyone was buying at Auckland Airport duty free, it was probably lots and lots of high-UMF honey.)

It’s tempting to write sister city relationships off as either exercises in sticking pins in maps or fiendish plots by local politicians to score exotic work trips (and more of this anon).

The relationship with Guangzhou, though, goes back a very long way. It was from Guangzhou and its surrounding Guangdong Province that the bulk of the Chinese gold miners came in the 1860s, including those whose remains were aboard the recently rediscovered SS Ventnor.

And it’s to Guangzhou that I travelled last week courtesy of China Southern Airlines, up front in the fancy seats on one of its Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

As an aeroplane geek (and you can read just how geeky in my story about the China International Airshow here) the opportunity to fly in a 787 was too good to pass up.

Outside, the main things that set it apart are its two enormous engines with their distinctive “crinkle cut” rear ends (that apparently reduce engine noise) and the all-composite wings with their rather sexy and glider-like flexibility.

Inside (where, to be honest, most business travellers’ attention will largely be) the most obvious difference is the size of the windows. Composite construction (carbon fibre and so on rather than aluminium) means they can be made a heap bigger than on, say, a Boeing 777 or Airbus A380. The other special thing about the windows is that they’re electronically dimmed. Rather than require the passenger to pull down the shade like some 20th century schmuck, the 787 instead asks only that she tap a dial below the window to progressively darken a built-in LCD layer, taking it from perfectly clear to not-quite-opaque.

The shading can also be centrally controlled, something our China Southern crew chose to do on the (mainly daylight) flight home, giving the cabin a rather soporific twilight hue.

As for the China Southern business class experience itself, it’s a great way to travel to China. The already comfortable seats (configured 2-2-2 straight across, rather than the Air New Zealand style herringbone) convert directly to lie-flat beds without the requirement to stand up and wait for the seat to flip over. At 183cm I was a snug fit, so if you’re an affluent basketball player you might want to consider First Class.

Service was as good as you’d find anywhere; in fact the only drawback was that I was offered (and accepted, naturally) so much red wine that it was hard to make an objective assessment on the 787’s claim that its lower cabin altitude leads to a more rested passenger. (Jet lag and hangovers, leading doctors report, share a surprising number of symptoms.)

The in flight entertainment was good too. The movie menu offered 50 or so choices, but for some reason I chose to watch a travel guide showing Auckland through the eyes of a China Southern flight attendant. Queen Street has never looked so glamorous!

Before I knew it (actually, 11 hours later) it was 5am and we were landing at Guangzhou’s enormous (of course) Baiyun Airport (CAN). Even travelling on a journalist’s visa, customs and immigration were quick and simple. While the wait for our bags wasn’t quite as impressive, that did give me time to stop by the desk selling China Unicom prepaid SIMs. A friend had recommended I do this rather than pay for voice and data roaming and it turned out to be excellent advice… the woman running the desk swapped out my SIM, made the necessary call to activate my new one and showed me my new Chinese number in less than five minutes. As for value, my prepaid SIM with 250MB of data (and an amount of messages and calls I never did work out) cost me 25 yuan, which equates to about $5.20NZ. A top-up (ask for a “recharge” at a convenience store) for another 250MB cost about the same, plus a couple of yuan for the shopkeeper to process the voucher for me.

I’ll leave the detail of Guangzhou itself for another day, but given that I ran into one cabinet minister, plus one current and two former mayors in my brief visit, this city is clearly on New Zealand’s business and political radar. The connections between the city and New Zealand run deep, and trade commissioner John Cochrane’s team is working hard to help Kiwi businesses connect to local markets.

For me, the connection was more personal and auspicious than I’d expected. Not only is my advertising agency called The Goat Farm, but while I was admiring the statue of the five goats in Guanghzhou, happily munching the Spring grass just out of Auckland were Korma, Butter, Marge, Cocoa and Chocolate – my very own five goats. And yes, I bought them a little statue.

• China Southern Airlines flies Auckland-Guangzhou return twice daily. I flew up on CZ306 departing 1130pm and arriving 5am, and returned on CZ305 departing 0030am and arriving 5pm.

• Guangzhou has a population of about 13 million and Guangdong province is home to 104 million people.

• Guangzhou sits on the Pearl River, about 120km northwest of Hong Kong

Vaughn Davis
Sat, 22 Nov 2014
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A tale of five goats: China Southern to Guangzhou