Sunday, July 8, 2007

It is six AM in Shanghai on Sunday, July 8. Back in Memphis it is still yesterday, Saturday the 7th at five PM. I thought I’d take a little time to share my adventure, and with the age of technology, thought that this blog thing might just be the ticket, so here goes…

First things first… I’m on a business trip to visit my company’s operations in China. This will be a relatively quick trip – only seven days on the ground, five of which will be filled with business. Can’t guarantee that I’ll get to post much during this trip, but I’ll try.

This is my first trip over the Pacific. I’ve been to Europe several times, and that is typically a 5-6-7 hour flight – a little intimidating the first time you do it but really fairly easy. Going to Asia is another thing altogether!

Friday morning it is an early flight from Memphis to Detroit where we will catch a Northwest 747 for Shanghai by way of Tokyo. I left Memphis at 8:30 AM on Friday, and when all is said and done, we land in Shanghai at 8:30 PM on Saturday. If you are counting, that is a time change of thirty six hours, but since Shanghai is thirteen hours ahead of Memphis, total travel time is 23 hours. Basically a day of my life to get to China.

Flights were uneventful (thank God!), other than the plane going stone-cold-dead when they try to leave the gate in Detroit. Seems like the APU (auxiliary power unit, which is used to START THE ENGINES!) is broken. Never fear, the pilot says – “We don’t’t need it. We’ll use an air conditioning cart on the ground to start an engine and we’ll be good to go.” One isn’t big enough, so they have to use two… Do they have flying AC carts in case we need one over the Pacific Ocean?

They warn you that sitting on a plane for too long can give you DVT. I think that is some type of medical term for a sore butt, because man, sitting in an airplane seat for that many hours you will have a sore butt, no matter how often you get up and walk around. I had a window seat, but there was no seat in front of me because it was an exit row. Sweet… I only stepped on the jacket and pillow of the couple in that row five times getting up and down, but they were very polite about it.

You know you are on a plane too long when they serve four meals, and when you order vegetarian meals, there isn’t a lot of creativity. I had melon and grapes with a salad for the first meal. Grapes and carrot sticks for the second meal. Melon and grapes with a blueberry muffin for the third meal. The fourth meal was after they reloaded in Tokyo – so there was melon and grapes, a salad and a little hot dish of veggies in a bland white sauce. This meal also had dessert - a brown, flan-looking concoction hat was cold and pretty tasteless… I usually don’t complain about airline food, but by the fourth meal I just couldn’t stand it anymore.

The stopover in Tokyo was quick – We landed, got off the plane and followed this maze for what seemed like a mile, only to wind up in the departure lounge to get back on the same plane. I guess that long walk was to ward off DVT and give them time to clean the plane (and maybe fix the APU because the plane didn’t die again when they disconnected it from the ground… or they just knew better). Only had to wait about 45 minutes in the lounge before we got back on the plane.

We didn’t get to see much of Tokyo – if it weren’t for the multi-lingual signs you’d think you were in any other major US airport. Nothing to eat (not that I had a yen to eat) and didn’t have any yen anyway (get it… “yen” and “yen” – OK – I know it is pretty lame when you have to explain your own jokes…). We did get into the Northwest lounge and had some Diet Pepsi and a couple of cookies, and there was a wifi connection there, so I whipped out my PC and sent some text messages. Hard to believe that in Tokyo cell phones and blackberrys don’t work – I thought Tokyo was technology central… hope this wasn’t a premonition that I’d be “off the net” in China… could I survive for a week without my blackberry? Perish the thought!

Tokyo to Shanghai was three hours – nothing compared to what we had already endured – and I actually slept a good part of it (DVT be dammed!), not like the first part of the trip. Shanghai airport is new (late 1990’s), very bright and clean. Like Tokyo, if it weren’t for the signs it could have been any other major airport in the world. Very fast to get through, lots of polite people to get you on your way, and pretty easy to figure out.

From the airport it was a long cab ride (when will this travel end!) of more than an hour to our hotel. It was dark and rainy on our drive in, so there wasn’t much to see and couldn’t really take photos. Not a lot of cars on the road, and it looks like they have a very efficient road system – most of the trip was on elevated freeways. Once we got onto the local streets near the hotel you could tell that this must be a very busy city – even in a pretty good rain, 11 PM on a Saturday night, there were lots of people walking and riding bikes… can’t imagine how busy it will be when it is sunny during the day.

Cabbie had a little trouble finding the hotel… my guess is that it is probably his last fare for the night and wanted to make it a good one. We were told to expect to pay 120-150 RMB (7.5 to the dollar) for the ride, but it came up to 200. Still, at $27 for more than a hour cab ride this seems a bargain – in New York this would have been $100 fare – and if I seemed like I was from out of town I’m sure I would have seen parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx… Almost at our destination he stopped at another hotel to ask for directions – just across the street… Seeing non-Chinese passengers in the cab, the guy giving directions wanted to know if we were interested in “Ladies Spa”, which we assumed wasn’t a place to get our nails done… We passed…

Hotel room is very nice – this should be comfortable for the next five nights. Mattress was quite firm but very comfortable. Nice pillows and bed linen. Bathroom has a tub and a shower… I’ll have to take a nice warm bath…

Besides a nice cup of jasmine tea (‘when in Rome”, as the saying goes), read the Shanghai Daily. Couple of interesting stories on the front page. “Former Top Drug Man Faces Death Over Bribes”. Seems that a major official in the Chinese version of the FDA got a death sentence for taking bribes from two pharmaceutical companies to approve drugs and medical instruments and seven additional years in prison for dereliction of duty. The bribes were worth about $315,000. His sentence as so severe because of the “huge sums involved, his refusal to confess and reluctance to return the money”. He later gave testimony against his former boss (who also got a death sentence), so he got a two year reprieve on the death sentence (which means that if he reforms he will likely have the sentence reduced to life in prison).

The other story was “TNT Stash Led to Killer Blast” where 25 people were killed and 41 injured when a “karaoke building” exploded. It also damaged 500 nearby homes, 78 of which were totaled. Seems that the building owner also had a mining company and he stored “enormous amounts of highly explosive TNT in the basement”. Officials say that based on the size there had to be a ton of explosives. But the best quote was: “Gu Yuanyan must surely be one of the luckiest people in China. The 25 year old receptionist at the bar was thrown out of the building by the blast and then run over by a truck – and survived to lucidly tell the tale.” I’m not sure what part of that is lucky – being blasted from the building, being run over by a truck, or being lucid afterwards…

Well, time for breakfast. It is still dreary and rainy outside. We’ll have to see how he sightseeing goes. If I can get them uploaded, I’ll try to put some photos on Flickr.