Sunday, October 25, 2015

Wailing gets you nowhere in China. Trust me. I know.

Friday morning, we got our luggage out our door for pick-up bright and early as Brenda instructed us to do the evening before, and we brought our passports to her at breakfast.  She said she would use them to get our boarding passes for the flight to Yichang where we would board our ship.

I forgot to mention in my earlier post that the breakfast buffet at the Shangri-La is international.  IHOP has nothing on this place.  We could choose from Chinese (salads and vegetables and dinner food and - oh, the noodles!), English (love those grilled tomatoes and mushrooms), or American (pancakes, waffles, omelets, bacon, yogurt and cereal) – and hordes of fresh fruit. I had my first lichi (lychee?), which was pretty interesting.  There was a melon with tiny black seeds throughout the white meat.  I didn’t like that one so well.  The big surprise, however, was the watermelon.  Watermelon was served at every meal.  I was in breakfast heaven.

From this breakfast Kathie and I absconded with some food for lunch since lunch was to be on our own.  She picked up some smoked salmon and a roll; my choice was cheese and a roll.  Surreptitiously tucked those in Kathie’s bag and we were off.

On our way to the airport we stopped at the Shanghai Museum where we got more than our fill of non-modern Chinese art.  I like that stuff ok but one can take only so many old paintings of tall skinny mountains shrouded in mist with a little fat man sitting in the window of a house at the foot of said mountains.  Or Buddha sculptures – in every pose, every medium, and every size.  Or ethnic dress – could we at least put the clothes on a manikin?  Personally, I would have liked to see some contemporary Chinese art.  Surely they have some of that somewhere.

We drove to the airport where Brenda handed us our passports and boarding passes.  The group melted into the lines for security and, as usual, I chose the line that took the longest.  Consequently, when the young man at the desk told me that something on my boarding pass didn’t match the corresponding whatever on my passport and that I would have to go back out to the ticketing area to get it fixed, Kathie had already cleared security and was waiting for me but everyone else had left the area and headed to the gate – including Brenda our guide/babysitter/negotiator.  I mouthed an explanation to Kathie, then turned around and high-tailed it back out to the lobby.

Remembering Steve Martin’s advice, I explained my dilemma slowly and clearly to the ticketing agent.  In turn, he explained slowly and clearly to me (several times, because reading lips isn’t so easy when the lips speak with an accent) that I needed to go down to A18 to have the supervisor – who looked like he was all of 20 years old - fix my boarding pass.  The whole time I was imagining Brenda freaking out because she had lost one of her ducklings.

When I returned to the security area with my corrected boarding pass, there were Kathie and Brenda looking very relieved to see me.  I wasn’t out of the woods yet though.  No sirree, now I got to have the scanner guy relieve me of all of my hand sanitizer.  “What??  But I have it in my quart sized baggie of liquids,” I wailed.  No, he wasn’t having any of that.  It was flammable, he said.  I should have packed it in my checked baggage, he said.  

I spent the rest of the trip in varying states of anxiety that I didn’t have any hand sanitizer. 

And this is why I don’t blog very often…I get so hung up writing stream of consciousness stuff that I can only cover one day of travel at a sitting.  Throw in photographs and hyperlinks to background material and I get, like, paralyzed in the quagmire of details. 

So, next installment, whenever that may be – we may actually cruise the Yangtze.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Confucius says, “Don’t be sad that it is over, be happy that it was.”

Kathie and I left for LAX early enough on Tuesday morning to arrive in plenty of time for our 1:30 p.m. flight to Shanghai.  Oh my gosh, the traffic was heavy!  For someone used to Charleston traffic, the ride up the 5 from San Diego was…well, let’s just say it set the tone for our time on the ground in China.

Our flight was long but Kathie had upgraded our seats to coach plus.  Nice going, Kath.  Crossing the international dateline, we arrived in Shanghai at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday – totally disoriented time-wise.  It took me a bit to figure out that China is 12 hours ahead of Charleston but yet 15 hours ahead of San Diego.  How could that be if San Diego is three hours closer to China than Charleston is?  Mind blowing, I tell you. 

(And ALL of China is 12 hours ahead of Charleston, because even though China covers 5 time zones geographically, their government has decreed that everyone there should go about their day in the same time zone.  As an American, I had a little difficulty comprehending how that would work.)

A sweet Chinese girl was waiting for us as we came out of baggage claim.  She guided us to our shuttle and chatted with us as we drove to the Shangri-La Hotel.  Along the way, we passed the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, our first run-in with modern Chinese architecture.  What the heck?  It looked like a bad Godzilla movie version of a space ship.  Seriously bizarre.

At the Shangri-La, we met Brenda Chao, who would be our guide for the whole trip.  She is from Shanghai but lives in Beijing – a lovely lady who took great care of us.  More about her later.

We settled into our room.  This place is really stunning.  The crystal chandelier in the lobby lounge must have been ten feet tall and looked like a very sparkly reactor core on the starship Enterprise.  Beam me up, Scotty!  I was truly mesmerized by it, especially with the cityscape showing through the 2-story window behind it.

After a huge buffet breakfast on Thursday morning, Brenda hooked us up with our local guide, whose name for our purposes was Charlie.  When I say us, I mean Kathie and me along with 20 other Americans we had never met before.  More about them later. 

We boarded our bus and set out into incredible traffic to see the fantastic skyscape of the relatively new business district of Shanghai from across the Huangpu River.  The Shanghai Tower is the tallest building in China and the third tallest in the world.  It wasn’t totally finished when we were there but I still don’t get the design – tall, skinny, asymmetric, kind of wobbly looking.

Then we did a quickie tour of the old concessions and stopped at the Yu Yuan market.

Yes, that girl's t-shirt says Cnahel, instead of Chanel.  Whatev.

Not sure what those little guys on the sticks were.  Maybe corndogs?

After Kathie and I walked around a little, we pushed through the crowds to get to the tea house for a spot of tea.  No Starbucks for us, baby.  (Yes, there was a Starbucks right there in the little square.)  

Weren’t our pots of tea pretty?  Mine was silver needle with osmanthus (tea olive) blossoms.  Very delicate and refreshing.

Then we braved the traffic to get back to our hotel for a dim sum lunch – yowza, that was nifty!  Bowls and bowls of Chinese dumplings with every filling you can imagine – all set on a glass lazy Susan in the middle of the table so you can scoop out what you want from each bowl as it’s passing by. 

After lunch, back on the bus to the silk “museum”, where we were shown how raw silk is transformed into comforters, pillows, etc.  (Here’s a video if you want to see for yourself.)  Of course, they had a lot of stuff we could buy; Kathie and I settled on a pair of silk bed pillows each – and I can tell you those pillows are wonderful!

After the museum, another long bus trek back to the hotel to change before heading out to the Shanghai Acrobats show.  I grew up in the Ed Sullivan era so I’ve seen performers juggling a gazillion plates at a time but wow, these folks were something.  My favorite was the little girl in the big hoop, twirling all over the stage, seemingly without getting dizzy.  Even bone-tired I was in awe of her skill.

Next – off to the Yangtze.