The final flight home was due to take 12 hours and 20 minutes. In the end it took nearly 17 hours in total. It had started off well, four hours had passed by without any problems but at that point things suddenly got very, very bad, very, very quickly. I had my headphones in and was resting my eyes by having them closed so at first I didn't realise what was happening, but then I could feel footsteps running, through the vibrations in my feet and loud screams. I opened my eyes, removed my headphones and saw a group of people gathered around seats two rows behind me. A Chinese family was crying and calling out to passengers and crew to help as their child was having a fit, by the time I stood up to see he had stopped but was very still and was staring at the ceiling, not moving. His parents were distraught, sick with worry and there were no doctors on the flight. Therefore, the decision was taken to divert the flight. The nearest airport was in Russia, just north of Mongolia so we had to turn the plane around and head back in the direction we had come from to land to get help for the poorly boy. No one minded, all of us understood that to fly another 8 hours without getting medical help for the boy was a massive risk. So we found ourselves sat on a plane, on a Russian runway, with snow as far as the eye could see and mountains in the distance as we waited to see what would happen next. Our group passed the time playing charades, doing exercises to relieve aches in our legs and playing card games. After more than 3 hours we had good news, the child was ok, had been treated, given medicine and advice but was able to fly on with us to London. Everyone was relieved and pleased for the Chinese family, but a little nervous that if he were to fit again we might have to divert the plane once more. Luckily this wasn't necessary. The father stood up and gave a short speech in Chinese and then in English, thanking all of us for understanding and saying that had we not stopped he may have lost his son. It was an emotional moment and drew a round of applause from everyone. The rest of the flight passed slowly but we did eventually touch down in England where I was met by my wife and daughters. The drive from London to Bournemouth was quick as it was late and the roads were clear so I arrived home around midnight, more than a day after I first left the hotel to begin the journey back. I am home now and awake. It is ten to five in the afternoon in China, but the start of the school day here. My body clock is all over the place so you will have to be patient with me if you see me yawning this week. I realised that I have not answered the last set of questions so I will do that now. I also realised that I have missed out a whole day, including what happened when I read out Derren, Cally and Logan's writing to a room full of Chinese teachers and head teachers. I will post that blog later along with my final thoughts later in the week. See you soon- Mr Browne
After the Pearl Market we headed back to the hotel to pack our bags and get ready to come home. A few of us met downstairs before going up to our rooms as our group was splitting up. Some were going home, others friends we had met from New Zealand, USA and England were staying longer or flying to different parts of China. We said goodbye and exchanged phone numbers, one of the best things about this visit was meeting people from these other countries and I enjoyed the company of most of the people I met. On returning to my room, I quickly realised that I had a problem. With all the gifts I had been given or had bought, I couldn't fit it all in my suitcase, luckily a friend from a London school kindly offered to squeeze some into his bag so all was well. I went to bed at midnight, with the alarm set for 3.45am as we were leaving the hotel at 4.15am to head to Jinan airport for our first flight to Shanghai. Tiredness has been a huge factor during this visit to China as there has been many late nights, lots of early mornings and lots of travelling, so I was becoming used to it. The flight to Shanghai was quick, comfortable and passed without any issues. Whilst I waited 4 hours for the final flight from Shanghai to Heathrow in London, I had no idea of the drama that was about to unfold...
After we had spent the whole morning exploring the ancient forbidden city, we had some lunch and prepared to explore a much more modern world of The Pearl Market. It is a market based inside a building and looks like a shopping centre, a bit like the Dolphin Centre in Poole. That is where the similarities end though as the shopping experience is very different. There are 6 floors and each floor has a different type of goods to buy. The top floor is all about pearls, which are a precious item used to create jewellery, high quality natural pearls are formed inside oysters, which are sea creatures that have a bi-valve shell (they are tasty to eat too, I tried some in England before I left as well as tasting some in China too). There are man-made pearls as well. I did not buy and pearls as I do not know enough about their quality to be able to recognise which are real and which are fake. Other floors contained toys, technology items like PlayStations, headphones, speakers, gadgets, etc. I spent most of my time on the floor that sold handbags, purses, clothes and scarves. Mainly because in my house these are the things that my wife and daughter would want to receive as gifts. Shopping at the Pearl Market is like a show, with the sellers and buyers performing. The seller will tell you their price and then the buyer will pull a face, say that it is too much and pretend to walk away. The seller then says "Ok, let's barter" and will ask the person buying to suggest a price. The buyer suggests one much lower and then it is the seller's turn to look disgusted and say that price is impossible before offering a different price. This process can go on for a long time until either the buyer or seller says yes and the deal is done or one of the two says no and the buyer tries their luck elsewhere. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this and at how good I was at driving them down to their lowest prices, which meant that I was able to buy some lovely gifts for my family. I will borrow Mrs Hughes and do some drama to show you what it looks like in an assembly one day to give you a flavour of it. My best deal was to get one item down from the asking price of 600 of the local currency down to 50. Miss Anderson will be able to tell you what percentage reduction off the starting price that was I am sure.
I am writing this in the airport at Shanghai in China whilst I wait for the flight home to England. It has been the best couple of days since I last posted. I have visited Tiamen Square, where the Chinese parliament is based and walked into the forbidden city!The sheer size and epic scale of the city is hard to take in as it takes hours just to walk from ones side to another. I learnt so much about what life was like for the emperor of China hundreds of years ago. It seemed like the Emperor had everything he wanted but... in practice he was a prisoner, as he was not able to leave the walls of the city. There would have been no running water, therefore all water had to be brought the forbidden city from somewhere else. There were no trees and lots of stone. I will tell you more tomorrow but for now my eyes are protesting that they need rest. I will also answer your questions from last time, and post my responses. Will hopefully see you all soon. - Mr Browne
Some great questions from 2RC and 2OH, let me see if I can answer them. The hotel at Changsha was very nice but the room here in Jinan is lovely. It has very posh furniture and is very luxurious. The view is interesting too as it looks out over the city. I will take some pictures to show you when I return. The bathroom here is particularly unusual as it has a glass wall in the shower so you can see into the bedroom whilst washing. Thee is a blind that can be pulled down for more privacy if needed. The best thing I have done so far is visiting the large primary school in Changsha. Everything we saw and did there was very traditionally Chinese and the children were very talented, patient and friendly. They are also one of the schools that want to become a "sister" school with Talbot, which means that they would like to send some of their children to spend a week or so in our school! I don't enjoy the flights at all. Especially the really long ones! I will have done 5 flights in a week in total. I have made a lot of friends, including some people from Australia, New Zealand and the USA. I spend a lot of time with Pippa, Kate, Hayley and Cheryl in particular. We have become quite a close group as we have shared long journeys and new experiences together. I have not bought Miss Clark a large gift, but I have got some smaller presents for my family. I am very excited to be going into Beijing on Saturday and as part of that trip we will be going to some markets, so there may be more chances to buy gifts for people who deserve them... I will bring back fermented tofu for Miss Clark, it smells like old nappies but is delicious (apparently). I am loving visiting a new country especially one with such a different culture to England. The number of children that visit us would depend on how many host families but it could be between 10 and 20, we will have to wait and see. The train I went on was slow, and took a long time to reach each stop. We may try again to get the faster train to Shanghai on the way home. I will let you know. I have visited many places, but they are organised into provinces so it is hard to give a number as many are within the same province, in truth it is also very hard to read Road signs in Chinese! Well, it is nearly 4am now and I have to get up in 3 hours so I am going to say goodbye, till the next update, but Charlotte, I am very excited about seeing your writing, it is the first thing I will do when I am back. - Mr Browne