As a management consultant I did learn a few things (surprisingly.) The main one is that the people who actually do the job often know the best way to improve it’s process and efficiency. It needs data to be gathered, an engaged set of employees with a set of helpful methodologies to extract the solution. It’s the best way, trust me. At Brisbane and Sydney Airport check in and baggage drop was achieved, or not achieved, on a self service basis using state of the art devices at dedicated stations.
The machines crashed each time you attempted to use them and frustrated travellers were left hounding the few members of staff who were in attendance. Needless to say tension was high as the travellers had flights to catch!
Had some manager/director, prior to spending money on this failing technology, asked the staff what was the cheapest, least stressful and efficient way to have travellers get a boarding pass and dispose of their suitcases it wouldn’t have been this. We found a member of staff; they disappeared to another computer (out of sight) and solved the glitch. With that crisis solved we were through passport control (yes, my wife sabotaging my passport by immersing it in a 30 minute hot wash didn’t appear to impede my Australian escape) and security to the ‘other side’.
Francis, his ‘English’ name, was sat with his son at a cafe just after you clear security. I asked if I could take up a spare place at his table and enquired of his 5 year old son ‘where was he travelling to’? In fairness the little Chinese boy was shy and his comprehension was poor. His father helpfully answered, ‘Guangzhou’. A mere 10 hours away it transpired!
The father’s English was excellent. It stood to reason as he’d spent over four years in England studying, including three years at York, although living in Halifax? It started an interesting conversation about China. Francis commented that getting the quality of education they wanted for their son and daughter in China was expensive and emigration appealed. That threw up challenges of where they could move to and the fact that whilst China would let them go it had tight currency rules and limited how much currency/cash they could take with them. He liked Australia a lot and the level of Chinese immigration here (and New Zealand it transpired) was high.
It seems economically Covid has dramatically hurt China and he was bemused about the U Turn effected by the government in December where daily testing was stopped and no masks or any restriction were suddenly accepted the next day. From January 2023 they were then allowed to travel abroad. It seems the mass protests caused the Party to implement Plan B. However economic activity is still well down and Francis’ business of selling pillows on Amazon abroad was still building back to former levels. He seemed a worried man. In fact that anxiety I’d seen with other Chinese men I’d done business with when I sold kitchens to Hong Kong back in the day. They always seem to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. He kept on using the word ‘stressful’.
As we’re shooting the breeze his wife is still in duty free checking out the merchandise. Chinese women can be very up to date and enthusiastic about premium brands such as Dior, Escada, Bulgari, Chanel, Gucci etc. I think shopping is one very key activity should they get abroad. Meanwhile my chat with Francis established he was an Arsenal fan. Clearly at this point, exasperated by his lack of judgement, I explained his folly and subsequently departed to the Gate. Before my move he did swap email addresses and I did reflect that probably someone in a subterranean bunker in Beijing has for a long time been digesting the contents of my email inbox, bank account details along with my, granted, hilarious posts on Facebook: frankly he just needed to ask them for contact details.
So Auckland it was. Hello New Zealand. It took us two hours to clear the airport, not a great welcome. A combination of too few staff and bio security scrutiny. We were battered with announcements, signage and threats about bio security. As a consequence we dumped biscuits, mintoes 😢, liquorice, orange squash, ground coffee and rice cakes. As always I’m sure had we not done this we’d have been alright as we got waved through. Albeit a hound on a lead sniffed around our luggage as we left the zone, probably searching for drugs rather than digestive biscuits? A £200 fine was the risk. (Google (and I) suggests the large number of tourists from or residents returning from Far East countries make them ramp up this level of threat and potential scrutiny.)
It’s a bright, often attractive and shiny city on a coast with a population of over a million. There is a long waterfront in the centre but the whole settlement seems very spread out. It’s apparently the financial centre for the country. As usual skyscrapers are being built with scant concern for how they blot the landscape (I thought no one came into the office any more?)
Again, people wise the city is very diverse; over 40% of the population was born abroad and a large percentage is non-European. I expect the suburbs are less diverse but a surprising amount of signage is in mandarin (with no English) in the centre. I also imagine the university, in the centre, has many overseas students.
The following morning we did make our usual arrangement of joining a walking tour. However, so odious and tedious was the guide that I lasted 10 minutes and Anna a little longer. I won’t waste time explaining why, he’s not worth it and Wikipedia will tell me more about the place than he intended.
So I busied myself with a trip to a museum.
Again back to the history, so many liners were built on Clydeside and Tyneside for the New Zealanders in the 1930s judging by the graphics here. Lord knows the British quickly lost shipbuilding as an industry, yet ship building is as needed and is big as it ever was worldwide. Now don’t get me started on the decline of the British motor industry. We once had the world in our pocket.
‘Interlude’? Well it feels like it as we await the start of our organised tour of New Zealand with G Adventures. On a bus with 16 other guests and a tour guide we’ll experience what both islands has to offer in a very busy two weeks.