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12 May 2011

We have arrived. I am writing this on the 12th floor of the Portman Ritz-Carlton, with a cool breeze blowing in on me and the sounds of the car horns drifting upwards.

No 14 hour flight is "fun" but other than a couple of things, this one wasn't all that bad.  We were very definitely in the minority.  I saw very few other Caucasians on the flight and I swear 1/4 of the groups boarding had babies in tow (one of them, who sat in the row ahead of us, had a daughter who cried the. entire. night.  I felt sorry for her mother...I've had experiences like that...but I still wanted to smother the kid .  We had gotten to the airport about 2 hrs early, enough to do some nice people watching.  One couple with 2 small children must have brought the contents of their kitchen as carry-on.  I'm amazed they got it all on.

This guy spent half an hour, if not more, chatting with his girlfriend on Skype on his iPad.  He moved all over the waiting room, but always carried her under his arm.  When he was practically sitting at my lap, I could listen to the two of them, though since they were speaking Chinese, I was not really eavesdropping.

I decided being on a plane like this must be what it's like being deprived of all sense of time and place.  We took off at 1:30 a.m. and within the hour were being served dinner.  All of the window shades were down, so it could have been noon, 5 pm or 8 a.m.  After dinner, they turned off all the lights so you could do what I laughingly call sleep. Not much sleep for me, though I did cat nap a bit.  At some point, they turned on all the lights and fed us breakfast and half an hour later they were passing out ice cream bars.

Finally someone opened a window and we could see the light of a sunrise, or at least of the clouds getting pink.  I don't know what time it was in California, but about 4 a.m. in China. 

I watched 3 movies thru the night, The Black Swan, which I'd been wanting to see (I agree with everyone--weird movies, but Natalie Portman deserved her Oscar), that Valerie Plame movie, which I think put me to sleep, and The Little Fokkers, which I chose to distract myself from some turbulence over Japan.

We finally landed in Hong Kong at 6 a.m., where we had a plane change and a couple of hours to do it in.  Good thing, since Walt and I went the wrong way and ended up having to backtrack.  The airport is huge and it's a long way from gate to gate.

As soon as we were airborn again, we had another breakfast, this one pretty much a repeat of the one I'd had a couple of hours before, without the sausage and with sliced potatoes instead of hash browns.

There are free internet kiosks at each gate and all of them were full, but I was finally able to get the use of one of the computers and sent a message home to the kids.  I was wondering what keyboards are like here in China and this is what they look like.

But fortunately I guess you do something special if you want to type in Chinese because they type just like the keyboard I am accustomed to (unlike the keyboards in France!)

The fight from Hong Kong to Shanghai was about 2 hours and was memorable mostly because I watched The Simpsons  and finally learned how you say "D'oh!" in Chinese

We were met by a very sweet girl from Viking, who was also meeting another couple, a very nice Chinese couple from San Jose, who were born in China and who speak Chinese better than English.  We drove into town passing so many tall, concrete housing complexes that it reminded me of Russia and the nondescript boxes that had been built there.

There were so many of these concrete boxy-like structures for mile after mile that it was easy to get a feel immediately for the immense population of Shanghai (16,650,000 people, which is 4x the size of San Francisco).  Examination of the buildings we passed shows 2 things -- there is a lack of central air conditioning, since every building is filled with outside coolers, some in precise order, but mostly haphazardly stuck against the outside wall.  Also, clothes dryers must not be commonly used, since every apartment, even on very tall buildings, seems to have sticks like we would have flag poles, from which laundry is hung.

We are at the Ritz Carlton, a 5-star hotel, where we are vastly underdressed.  I pointed out that I didn't think we were 5 star people and Char decided she could learn to become one. 

This is our room.

And this is our view.

We did some settling in for an hour or so, got cleaned up, teeth brushed, and clothes changed to better reflect the clientele in the lobby and then went out in search of food.  The hotel is part of a large complex of shops and restaurants and after some confusion about who was meeting whom and where, we ended up at a nice place called.Element Fresh, where there was a varied menu and not exactly what we might have expected for our first day in China.

Though I was interested at what a quesadilla might be like in China, I chose an Indian dish (tandoori chicken wrapped in pita).  The main thing I wanted was something cold to drink.  We have been warned not to drink water unless it is bottled so I've been trying to drink less, but I was very thirsty.  We all settled on a Chinese beer we'd never heard of.  There is nothing more satisfying than cold, cold beer when you are thirsty.

The beer was delicious and icy cold, though huge.  I drank every drop.  When we examined the bottle of this obscure brand (Harbin) beer, we discovered that it was manufactured by Budweiser.

This truly is a global village we live in now!

The most impressive thing about this place was its cleanliness and dedication to cleanliness.  This guy must have scrubbed this table--and I mean scrubbed for at least five minutes.

And it wasn't because it was particularly dirty.  He did that to every table.  And when we left, another girl was scrubbing the glass front door.  This is place where you could literally eat off the table.

The bill was kind of a sticker shock until you realized it was in yuan, not dollars.

So now as I finish this entry, it is approaching midnight.  The plan had been to go get a smoothie or something for "dinner" since lunch was so huge, but I decided to take a nap and slept until nearly 11 p.m.  I'm starving, but unlikely to find anything to eat.  Fortunately have cough drops!

Tomorrow we meet our group and have a very busy day of sightseeing ahead of us, ending with what I have heard is a very popular and entertaining acrobat show.

Hard to believe we are really "here," though since I haven't yet hit the streets and mingled with the locals, for now it just seems like being in a very nice, very fancy hotel which could be anywhere.

The best pictures from today can be found here (most of them are on this entry, but not all).


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