July 18th, 2009

hat

China!

As usual, we left the packing to the last minute, since we were too tired to stay up and wait for the laundry to finish. We ended up rushing out the door a bit after 7, and I came up with three things we forgot: some DVDs to watch, the Beijing and Shanghai Guide, and Tylenol. I was able to find the latter at O'Hare; I wanted to have some on hand to bring my temperature down if needed. But it looks like overloading on C helped keep things at bay. When we got onto the plane to O'Hare, the attendant asked us whether we were OK with sitting in the exit row and then took a look at fanlain and asked her "wait, how old are you?" I guess it must have been the teddy bear she was holding. I couldn't get exit row seats on the long flight to Shanghai, but turns out the flight was mostly empty (quarantine fears?) so we were able to sneak to the bulkhead row after takeoff. The attendant there tried to give us free alcohol because I was able to restart her crashed iPhone—apparently she had asked a few people before me.

The flight took us over the northern arctic—the display even switched to a polar map when the Cartesian projection stopped making sense!  We actually went much further west than we needed, going through about the middle of Mongolia, before cutting back east towards Beijing and then Shanghai.  The winds must have been favorable, since we arrived a full hour early.  I got a whole lot of writing done on my CAREER proposal; it's amazing what being stuck with a computer and no Internet for 13 hours can do.  They fed us three meals; the last one was the best: some noodles and dumplings!  We also got chopsticks with our food.

We made it through quarantine and customs quickly; people inspected our documents but did not ask a single question.  Once past customs, you go through a long passage where people are holding up signs with names.  We contemplated making a sign for Russell, but decided that we were pretty easy to spot in a crowd in Shanghai.  We tried to spot the Canadians coming out, but had trouble distinguishing them from other white people until we saw a maple leaf.  Russell was a bit later than everybody; he made the mistake of declaring that he had a runny nose on the health inspection form, but they let him go through eventually.

We took the maglev out of the airport, traveling at a blazing 430 km/h, though for all of a few minutes.  It was a bit surreal going through turns, as those were intensely banked.  Probably the funniest feeling is slowing down from 430 km/h—250 km/h feels so <em>slow</em> in comparison!  Our next adventure was the subway.  The car started out empty, but got gradually fuller, culminating at People's Square where everyone, including us, got out.  The walk to change lines was very impressive, as we were swept up in a giant mass of people, all moving along, and periodically being squeezed through a bottleneck of an escalator.  They cleverly set up separate area for people walking in each direction, because trying to get this many people past each other seemed near impossible.  We certainly weren't in Kansas anymore!

Finding the hotel was a breeze because everywhere seems to have signs in English.  We waited for the rest of our crew to arrive but eventually one by one drifted off.  Finally woke up after a nap and ventured out in search of food.  The restaurant we arrived at had excellent menus: not only did everything have photos, but there was even an English version.  Unfortunately, the waitress was standing over us while we ordered, so I didn't get a chance to memorize the characters for "hot and sour soup."  The pictures also didn't tell us just how large the portions were, but it turns out that at least a few of us were quite hungry, so we polished off four rather big portions.  The wait staff barely spoke English, so I tried to request some water and rice in Chinese, but this only reminded me why I didn't choose to study Chinese before coming here: being understood through my terrible accent and complete ineptitude with tones was not going to happen.  I finally was able to mime "water," and the waiter knew the English word for rice, so it all worked out.

Our bill came out to 142 ¥, which is about US$20.  They say Shanghai is no longer very cheap, so I guess costs were even lower before.  Now we're winding down by getting everyone set up on the Internet.  For all my worries, a simple SSH SOCKS proxy bypasses the Great Firewall completely (well, after I convinced Firefox to use SOCKS for DNS as well, since they seem to rewrite DNS for twitter and facebook).  All in all, most of this trip felt almost disappointingly easy.  I hope I stay disappointed!