China 2010

China 2010

My Trip to China

Aug. 24 - Preparation
As an opportunity presented itself we made a very quick decision to go China with only 10 days to prepare. With a girlfriend in tow, I scrambled to get together appointments, travel plans, visas, and goals for the trip. At the same time I had to stay focused on the store, having been gone for a week there and about to be gone for 10 days, I needed to get organized first.

Nothing would be easy during the 10 days before the trip. We had to scramble applications for visas and apply for a rush visa ($275!) and of course I had recently thrown away my extra passport pictures, stating, I won’t be needing these! Ugh. Had to get those replaced. Then there was the 2.5hours we got stuck I the accident on I-271. And of course there was a visit from my evil twin on her way to Chicago. (Wasn’t it so convenient for us to live halfway between NYC and Chicago?) Despite all of these distractions, I remained incredibly calm. This was especially unusual for me. However, this was bound to end.
Five days before the departure I started to panic. There was only FIVE days left to finish planning and I am going to bed waayyyy too early. So I started pulling late nights, which progressively got later the closer we got to departure. 1am, 2am, 2:30am…3am. Instant messaging China was interesting. I don’t think it occurred to anyone there, that I was 12 hours behind them!

T-minus 1 day.
The store schedule was far in advance I actually had to pull a shift the day before departure! But again, I was so calm. My calmness is starting to cause stress. How is that?
At 4:45pm two more travel buddies arrived to join me on my adventure, Ginny and Marie. I can not believe that despite the fact that I only gave Jean, their mother, 2 hours warning she was able to get it together and arrived in the nick of time. Upon their arrival I was off. (Ginny and Marie are “flat” projects.)
The half hour packing that I had planned for turned into 2 hours. I still have no idea why it took me so long.

Sept. 5 - Take off.
Despite myself, I agreed to arrive at the airport TWO hours before the flight. Ugh. This is so against my travel religion. Final phone calls to husbands, a big hug of excitement, a travel prayer and we were off.
Part of my preparation for this trip was the mental prep of how to handle the fact that I look like I might be Chinese. That said, I fully anticipate EVERYONE to treat me like I AM Chinese. I don’t know a lick of of Chinese! I can not even say, “I don’t speak Chinese.” !!! This oughta be interesting.
The flight was pure indication of things to come and I had 15 hours to figure out how I would handle it every time “it” came up. I needed something from the flight attendants and well, they just assumed that I was Chinese and do you think I understood anything they were saying? Note: I’m Vietnamese. Then I asked to have my water bottle filled. You would think this was a simple task right? I got HOT water. Did I ask for hot water? When was the last time you asked to have a water bottle filled and they gave you HOT water? Let me tell you when… when they think you are CHINESE!

Day 1 - Arrival
The first scene was of no surprise to me, a sea of people winding through lines to get past immigration. Despite the long lines, they were incredibly efficient and organized, and we got through them quickly. It is also of great delight to report that Ginny and Marie also passed through immigration without incident. At the immigration counter I pulled them out of my passport and asked the officer to stamp them. With a huge smile (wish I had a picture) he acknowledged my request and made it evident that this was not his first time at bat. He did hesitate to stamp Ginny as her head was smaller than the stamp but with a little insisting he was delighted to oblige.

Arriving in Shanghai I felt a little out of sorts. It was at the airport that I realized how completely unprepared I was for this trip. What was I thinking? That I would just show up and everything would just magically fall into place? That there would be so much English that we would be able to navigate? IT’S ALL CHINESE! Can you believe that? LOL. What to do? I had NO idea how to get where were suppose to go. I understood there is a metro, but it is ALL CHINESE! Did I mention that I don’t read Chinese either?

I looked around for help. There was the universal information desk. Not too enticing. Then there were the 3 young “college” kids sitting at the Shanghai Expo 2010 volunteer desk. They looked eager, young and like they might just speak a little English. They win.

So much for the English; but they sure were eager. As we approached they immediately jumped out of their seats and started bowing. I asked them how to get to our hotel and they started scratching their heads, did a little commiserating and decided that we would best take a taxi. They were able to tell us about how much it would cost so that was helpful to know that we could not be scammed though we almost did get scammed.

While at the desk, a woman abruptly approached us and asked if we needed car. She said she had transportation and would be able to help us. She did not tell me the cost, only that it “may be less” than the taxi. Hmm. The kids were not very happy about her approach and began to argue with her. Then she started getting aggressive… uncomfortable. She prompted us to go to “her” counter; I started to, but my instincts kicked in. I told her that I would be over in a moment and looked to the 3 kids for encouragement…

Well, the girl, standing in the middle, turned her head slightly away from the woman and ever so slightly started to shake her head while trying to tell me “NO!” with her eyes. Wow. Then she leaned towards me and whispered “taxi cheaper”. On that note we started ignoring the other woman. Our new friends kindly finished giving us the information, handed us a tourist map and firmly said “free”.

We got off to a good start. There were no tourists in the taxi line which indicated that we were on the right path. Our driver was speedy Gonzalez, which prompted the best line of the night, Deborah, “There are no seat belts in the taxi.” That was simply priceless. Welcome to China Deborah!

Settled into the hotel and went on a walk at 10:30pm looking for dinner. We found a 24hour fast food chain and paid a premium for 2 bowls of dumpling soup. 18Y=$3 for both of us! Found a bakery, breakfast! Then the find of the night, a massage parlor. Woohoo.

Nothing like walking into a “massage parlor” at midnight, being greeted by four young, good looking, Chinese girls in short shorts, black nylons and heals! Oh, and their boss, a dude. I decided that we would take the most expensive item on the menu “Oilmassage western style” (not a typo), 68Y=$11.50. It turned into an awesome 50 minute back massage. Best way to end an evening after a very long flight.

Arrival

Immigration officer, scrutinizing Deborah. (she does not look like her passport!) This would not be the last time.

The first thing I encountered in China. Still at the airport, this is "sterilized" water machine. Are they trying to tell me something?

Our first meal. Dumpling soup at a 24hour fast food joint. I think it cost us $2. I am sure it would make any self-respecting Chinese person cringe, but this is better than any dumpling I have ever had in the US.

The hotel #1 lobby. Looks snazzy huh? Smoke and mirrors! IF only the rooms were so nice.

This the opposite wing of our hotel.

First morning, enjoying a croissant we bought the night before at the local bakery...in my Snuggy! ha. It became quite an asset on the trip.

Another view of the hotel.


In front of the Shanghai Railway Station. Look closely, there is a KFC...I would soon find out they are EVERYWHERE!

Deborah and I were in dispute as to what this was, (I say cow). These funny things were in every car, even the expensive ones!

Day 2 Subways, trains, and taxi’s

So much for the 8 hours of sleep I was hoping for. 5:30am. Awake. 4 hours of sleep.

Best thing heard today. Deborah, “Are you going to take a shower? Did you see the floor in that shower?” (hesitate) Kieu, “you know you can wear those in the shower”, pointing to the hotel slippers provided, which were already on her feet. More hesitation. Kieu, “you know we can eat the croissants we bought last night and you can put the plastic bags they came in on your feet.” I will report that she did consider about the wrapper for a moment but opted for the slippers, then opted out of the shower.
I left Deborah at the hotel to have her final “western style” breakfast as I took my first walk about to find a mobile service. And true to form, it would not happen without incident. After a walk around an entire city block, I was joyous to find a mobile store (China United Mobile; would not recommend). OH, did I mention the heat? Not sure how I am going to survive the next trip…Dubai.

While there, as if it was not enough to struggle with communication, a customer came in and started yelling and throwing things around. Literally! Then he pushed the female manager then POLICE showed up, TWO of them! And do you really think the sales girl helping me could stay focused? Oh, boy!
For my troubles I was rewarded with my second meal in China. I came across a row of street vendors. Yummy hot, fried dough in several flavors, Chinese corn on the cob and fresh, hot soymilk. Total: $1.50.

Our first subway in China was a rude awakening; there is a security check point. Despite travel within the country we are asked for passports and our bags are put through an x-ray machine. Again, could this happen without incident? Wellll….The officers started searching Deborah’s bag and discovered a OFF! Unsure of why it was not permitted, Deborah struggled to tell them it was bug spray. Somehow I did not think that was the problem. Until one of them pointed to the sign with a line through a flame. Ohhhh, it was an AEROSOL can and was being confiscated for a flammable. Well, then. Knowing how important it was to her, I chugged a bottle of water and proceeded to spray the contents into the water bottle. I got the look of approval from the security officers.

Next came the fast train; 300+ km/hr. That translates to 185+mi/hr. Yipes. It was the quietest smoothest ride I think I have ever had on a train. $8/one way. Wow.

Day 3
Another city another hotel. For the second time we have arrived at a hotel late last night and left to fend for food on the streets. Yippie. As luck would have it there was a street vendor in front of the hotel with a grill and meat on a stick. Woohoo. Nothing like grilled squid. Deborah opted out.
4 hours sleep again. Not sure what the problem was but I was not tired.

Our second appointment today was surprisingly two ladies who met us at the hotel to take us to their office. Being in China, to be working with women was a relief. There was little consideration or thought as to how to conduct yourself as to not offend.

We quickly became friends, as one of them asked about our plans for the evening. Shopping of course. To their delight this was their after work plans too! They proposed we join them for a ‘girls night out’! What a blast. To be shown around by locals who had the same interest as we did was more than we could ask for.

Dinner was a terrific buffet of all of my favorites, grilled oysters, fresh dumplings, shabu shabu, a tea bar and so much more. Chinese style of course.

Shopping at the Mall in China proved to be an interesting adventure. This was our first break since arriving in China and we were hopeful to do the “shopping” that we had heard so much about. We were quickly disappointed. All the deals we were hoping for could not be found. This was like any other mall in the US! Wahh? The mall styled just like an American mall, but the store names were mostly ones we had never heard of. There was actually a store with the caption “American styling” under the store name. It looked like a Polo shop (but not Polo to be found). Then there was a store (can not remember the name, it was something French) that had “Paris 1979” under the name. The funny part was, our companions commented on how they thought the whole Paris thing was fraud. But I argued that perhaps they meant Paris, Texas. Funny, even the Chinese know better. Ha!

Hotel #2, This is by far one of the best hotel rooms I have ever stayed in, and it was $49! wow.

We were so impressed we took pixtures!

One thing I learned, get a Japanese owned hotel.

The bathroom, oh so clean. And equiped with all the best amenities. All the hotels gave up toothbrushes and toothpaste! And not the crapy ones.

An excavated hillside. This was a very common site. It also seemed so arbitrary too.

Heading out to a village.

Which was only 10 min from the sky scrapers.

A watermelon farm.

Houses at the village which will propably not be there in 10 years.

A door store.

Yup, WalMart! I am going to check it out on the next trip..for sure.

Dinner with our new vendors. We are holding up purple sweet potatoes. Why? Because I was told just a week before that they came from Japan! I guess they grow them in China too.

The shopping mall.

Day 4 – Matazuma’s Revenge

It was a long arduous night. At about 10pm last evening a monster took over my stomach. I have never felt so much pain. I swear baring a child was easier. At least I knew then that once I pushed out the alien it was over. Last night, there was no end in sight. I remember thinking after fourth visits to the toilet it was over, but at 3am it started coming out top-side. For sure this would be the end of it, right? But nooooo. My body hurt, my head hurt, my stomach hurt. All I wanted to do was upchuck. The thought of travelling again was killing me. We were due to leave again in the morning.

The hotel helped us arrange a driver for the 2 hour ride to the airport and 3 pit stops. Luckily he was the best driver we could hope for. Not only did he drive in a way that did not make me feel sicker (rare for a foreign driver), but he truly had our best interest in hand, despite his complete lack of English. Everywhere we went he made sure we had our purses, a bottle of water and that we were sticking to the schedule. After all we had to be at the airport for a flight that afternoon.

For 4 hours we communicated with a dictionary and lots of hand jesters. I learned how to say horse and airport. (don’t ask). It took me 2 hours to effectively ask him his name. Unbelievably it was Andy! OMG was that really possible? (I am sure it is spelled differently.) It took me 15min to tell him he had the same name as my husband! When he finally understood he gave the biggest laugh. ? I wish I had a camera, the look was priceless.
Just when I thought the worse had passed and I was in the clear, the monster reared his ugly head at the airport. Having not eaten all day because the thought of food was making me sick to my stomach, a major sugar low was kicking in…in the middle of the security line. On the brink of blacking out Deborah pulled out glucose tablets and saved the day.

Thank gahhhd for a 5 hour delay due to weather which gave me an opportunity to sleeeeeeep…on 3 airport benches. Poor Deborah left to defend me all by herself. The waiting area was a full house and she was getting the dirty looks from people who wanted a seat while her “friend” was slumbering out on THREE! (Sorry Deborah!)
OMG we finally made it to our next location at 3am! That would be 3 late night hotel arrivals in a row! It was so late we did not even notice how awful the hotel was.

The front view of Hotel #2.

The back view of Hotel #2, what a contrast.

Andy, our taxi driver

West Lake. It suppose to be famous.

We only had a few minutes.

So we drove through, took some pictures and used the WC.

Inside the temple at West Lake.

We were very amused by pagodas, so we took pictures of everyone we saw!

Hanzhou skyline.

One of maybe 3 clean toilets...that would be a squat toilet. Which most of them were.

This was at the airport.

Day 5 – Changing Hotels

My first full night’s sleep since arriving in China, both Deborah and I got up at 12pm! Upon waking up it became very clear to us this hotel was not going to work. We had to leave and fast. With and exit strategy in hand we made our way to the front desk. And do you think that was as simple as that? I actually had to defend our reasons for leaving the reservation early. And despite the fact that we paid for a penalty of an additional night they were not satisfied to just let us leave. I stayed firm, got my deposit back and finally left.

Our diligence was rewarded with the much anticipated BEAD SHOPPING, granted it was at 6pm, better than nothing. We had done some research about the Li Wa Plaza and let me just say, they are ALL wrong. I don’t know where these people were, but really? 200 vendors? Not a chance. More like 500! If anyone ever thought Tucson was overwhelming? Tucson has nothing on this place. The only way I could possibly explain it is claustrophobic and fantastic!

Such a pretty vending machine.

View front Hotel #3. Notice how far the foliage is from the street.

Just sort of funny seeing all the trees on top of buildings.

Back seat of a cab. She was allowed out for good behavior.

Day 6 – Mou

Quote of the day, Kieu, “all the Chinese I know I learned from a taxi driver.” I arrived in China knowing 2 words, hello and thank you. This was the most I had ever struggled in a foreign country.

The vendor visit was most interesting. After a 2 hour drive both Deborah and I had to use the bathroom so we B-lined for the first one we saw. That was when it became clear why there were no lights on in the building. Our hosts hesitated to let use the bathroom then explained that they had NO electricity. It had been storming for the past 12 hours and it would appear that their electricity was knocked out. So Deborah and took turns holding the door cracked open so that we could have a little light in the bathroom. I am sure they were horrified by the situation.

The meeting was in a hot, steamy conference room with no lights. Eek. Communicating was not much better. It would appear that they could not really speak much English. My liaison (who was the person I had been working with for a year) could speak less English than she could write. And despite the iced tea bottle they gave us, I was dying in the heat and my head was still swimming from being sick. Can we say keep it short and simple!

In a hurry to get back to shopping we were making every excuse to get out of there. BUT of course they wanted to have lunch. Hard to pass up, so we said if we can get something fast would be best. The response, “KFC?”. I guess that would be quick. Off to the center of town we all went, including the driver. Somewhere in the 5 min. drive they changed to McD’s. Why not, right? We all had McD’s, including the driver. Yes, it tasted the same, but I have never seen those nugget sauces. American sauce (bbq), Italian sauce (I think it was marinara) and Malay sauce (not a clue, did not try).

Mou informed me that he had a brother who spoke English (and he did, and he spoke English quite well with a British accent to boot!) Throughout our drive when we could not make our point, he would pick up the phone and call his brother. Genius! After a little discussion with his brother Mou choose the shopping area for us. Great choice. We were dropped off at a local gift market. All the tacky Chinese stuff you could ever want. Silk purses, pillow cases, lanterns you hang from the ceiling of restaurants, the list went on. Deborah got her first taste of how cheap things could be in China. Here is also where I found out Americans are stupid!

Deborah and I were both advised by separate parties to bring one dollar bills to use in the markets. I can not believe I fell for that. But my senses did kick in before we left and I figured out the flaw in that line of reasoning. Of course as idiot Americans we would be more than happy to pay One Dollar for just about anything, like a bottle of water, a key chain or a Coke. Right? Isn’t that what it costs at home? The reality is these things do NOT cost a dollar in other countries. They cost more like a Quarter! Really. So if you carry foreign currency you will make out like a banshee.

This became very clear in the market. I needed to buy a strap for my camera so I asked how much and the guy said, “One”. I started pulling out 1 Yuan. To which he quickly he then said 5. Huh. Still cheap so I did not resist and paid him. Only later did it occur to me he thought I would give him 1 Dollar! Had I paid the US dollar he would be ahead 1.7 Yuans! ($1=6.7 Yuans)

There were all kinds of food vendors around but we chose 1879, a German restaurant. (really) Equipped with a German menu; written in German with English subtitles and German beer. The only thing missing were Germans. There were all kinds of German goodies being served up. Kraut, wursts, steins nothing was left to chance. Being the ass that I am, I had to test my theory; did these Chinese waiters speak German? So I asked the waiter who arrived, “Sprechen sie deutsche?” (do you speak German?) The response, “huh?”…I will take that as a No! The food was not bad, it was the most expensive meal we would have during our stay. We shared a steak, potatoes, and vegetables. Dinner was $30.




Deborah was always amazed as to how much the packed on a bicycle.

The market

A lamp store. It was just so pretty.

Store grand opening. I will have to remember this for the next store. (I thought it was funeral when they were coming up the street.)

Hotel #4

Hotel #4

Never thought this would be an "amenity" in the hotel room.

They are gas masks!

Our bowl and utensils were in shrink wrap. huh.

See the big bowl on the left. That is for rinsing your dishes before you use them! Didn't figure this out til it was too late!

Fried dumplings. Yummy!

Fried noodles.

I snuck in this pix of the table next to us. These were a bunch of teenagers after school. They ordered stewed neckbones and were given gloves to eat them with!

I was amused by the A/C units.

The BEAD MALL. ALL of these stores sold beads.

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The food court next to the Bead Mall.

Yummy.

I never let Deborah come down this aisle.

.

McD's

Mc D's

Mou the other taxi driver we liked so much.

McNugget sauces i have never seen before, Malay, Ital, US

My typical breakfast. This spoke to my heart.

Our German Meal

Snacks!!! Chicken feet??

Chinese Pringles

Day 7 – The Massage

After a long and very rough day of bead shopping I decided to seek out a massage. Upon arriving at the Massage Parlor conveniently located on the 11th floor of our hotel we were quickly greeted by girls whom, by Deborah’s description, “were dressed for a wedding”. We were looking for either a full body massage or shoulders and feet massage. Wow, who knew that would take 15 min. to work out? We should have just walked away. But noooo, onward…to my first “Japanese Massage”, that is code for full body.
We were led to a shower and asked to take one, so we did. Then while were standing there all wet in our towels, a “sweet” (and I say that loosely), little (literally), Chinese girl (definitely not a woman) started making small talk with us. Unsure why we were still standing there we got impatient after a few questions we started prompting, “massage now?”!!! It took them 45 min. from the time we reached the reception desk to the time we hit the massage table. Yipes. We should have just walked away.
The little Chinese girl informed us that she was “nomba fiteen” and that she will do our massage along with “nomba too”. So I took one for the team and I took #15 and let Deborah have #2. How do I describe this massage… a bit of a nightmare come to life? This person talked to me like I was a dirty, old white guy. Just imagine in a very high pitched voice and very bad accent, “ah, you hab beautiful skeen”; “you from amerika?”, “where you husbond?”. The only thing she left out was “I love you long time!” OMG! Was she ever going to stop talking to me during my massage? She actually asked me if she could come to work for me! Then there was the constant giggle, hee, hee, hee, hee. Really, like it was in a freaking movie.

Did I mention her crotch? The massage table was a very low bed and she was short (remember? About 5’) so when she leaned over to do my back she had her crotch practically in my head! Then #15 climbed on the bed and straddled my legs. Then she started whining, as if her voice was not whining enough, about how hungry she was. I just want to know why she has not had “lunch” yet at 9:30 pm???? Then, really, did I really want to know?

Steamed Dumplings (not bad)


Soup Dumpling (yes, that is a straw)

Making of a chop

Deborah's name in Chinese.

.

A chop in progress.

Day 8 The only thing missing was a bicycle.

Quote of the day, the person at the information desk at the airport, “What wearing?”. Kieu, “The person I am traveling with is a black women.” That was quite the embarrassed look I got. Ha. But I have to say I loved using Deborah as a marker in China. Talk about no mistaking! Cuz we all know telling someone to look for an Asian woman was not going to work out well in CHINA.

It was quite a day. We left southern China on a flight back to Shanghai, then there was the 1 hr bus ride between airports to get us much closer to our hotel; from there we were picked by the hotel shuttle for a 15 min. ride; after check in we got into the cab to the subway; then finally the subway to another cab to SHOPPING!
We found ourselves in tourist central. Nothing but rows and rows of goods for the everyday tourist in China. This would truly test our negotiating skills. And despite all of my best efforts the only thing missing is the one item I have been searching for throughout my trip, a cricket cage! I promised to look for one for a friends school project. It would be quite ironic if I found this in NYC next month.

For dinner we “found” ourselves at Nanxiang Steamed Dumplings. On my list of must do’s in Shanghai, I was starting to doubt that we would have the time to go. As luck would have it, it was located in the area we were shopping. And just as we were talking about dinner, we literally turned around and it was in front of us! I was smittened when I saw this on “Tony Bourdain’s No Reservations” a few months before. Dinner was one of the most expensive that we had had, and the most disappointing. Fizzle.
We shopped until we were practically kicked out. This was our last night in China.

Day 9 – Departure

Our final hotel was a place that you feared to look too closely. It was a good thing that we were there only long enough to sleep.
In the morning we were joined by 3 Chinese college students for the airport shuttle. I didn’t think anything of them until one of them said, “You gotta be kidding”, in Perfect English…They were Americans! Ha. One of the first we had met during the entire trip. On the ride I asked where they from. They replied, “Ohio”. Get out of here! OMG, no way. Then I said, “Where?”, “Oh, a small town you probably won’t know where it is.” I insisted, “Where”, “Hudson”. OMG! Deborah and I were so excited. They could not believe we were from Chagrin and Solon! Did I mention the flight attendant on the way to Shanghai was originally from Chagrin Falls? We actually knew the same people! Too funny.

Final Thoughts

In comparison, what we saw of China was much like NYC but in a different language; congested, dirty and smelly...just more of it and still under construction. There was an extreme number of new buildings under construction in every city we were in. The number of cranes were astounding. But they were not happening on new property, they were happening on existing property. The government is systematically taking down all villages and single family homes and replacing them with high rises. I am left to wonder about the historical buildings and their destruction. Where will China be in 30 years when there is nothing older then 100 years? How can they destroy history like that?

You can see where China wants to be by looking at the shopping malls and the "western" styles that are being imitated. But I never came to understand how their society could support the cost of such styles which were driven by "western" prices. If this is the trend for China, average daily wages must change or they will find themselves in debt...much like the financial crisis of the US today. The disparity between social classes seemed great. If it says anything, the cost of using highways (tolls) is far greater than an average person could afford, let alone the price of a car. Even I thought it was too expensive to use. If those were the same prices in the US I would not be able to afford to drive to downtown Cleveland but maybe twice a month.

There is much more to China than what we saw and I regret not having the time to be more adventurous.

Overall this was an uneventful trip for me. I really don’t think that I had many expectations for this trip except that I expected to find really cheap stuff. We found some but our time was so consumed with moving from one place to another and between appointments that there was little time to be adventurous. I look forward to leaving the cities on the next trip to see the history that has made China so rich...before it is all destroyed.

Airplane food when you go overseas is sooo different.

My lunch in Tokyo, at the airport lounge. Soooo much better than the one in Detriot. We got carrots there!


More airplane food.

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