People's Square metro station
My flight to China was easier than anticipated. To fill you in on the backstory: I received an email three weeks ago saying my flight was canceled due to the typhoon. Yes, the typhoon. That wimpy ridiculous drizzle that somehow made international news. The one that "hit" Taiwan and Japan and didn't so much as sneeze near Korea or China. THREE WEEKS AGO. Somehow this affected my flight on Sunday. What do these people do when there is ACTUALLY a typhoon?? They said they put me on their "partner airline" of the Korean persuasion, but didn't tell me which
airline, what airport, what flight number, things of this sort. Crucial information. Nor could I get my hands on a confirmation number.
I HIGHLY expected to lose an argument at the ticket counter and be forced to buy another ticket. For some reason or another the travel gods decided to kick me a bone. I had to stand around for fifteen minutes or so while they sorted out their paperwork, but otherwise was given a seat on Korean Airlines hassle free.
Better still, the flight was nowhere near full, and the airbus was a massive (standard international-sized) one, and I had a segment against the windows all to myself. Nice. As with every flight I've taken thus far (except the one from Busan to Jejudo that involved an older Korean woman elbowing me like it was her life's mission), it was all too short. Yes, too short. Yes, even the long haul to Tokyo.
ESPECIALLY the long haul to Tokyo. DAYS too short. Hey, if you were being waited on hand and foot, you wouldn't want it to end in a mere thirteen hours either. I now have a new found appreciation for Bose noise canceling headphones -- those things WORK. We're talking perfect silence. And they pass them out with a smile and a "Can I bring you anything else, Miss Smith? Perhaps some Belgian chocolate? A three course snackeroo? A pony?" Anyway, I digress.
I was hoping to be fed, but considering the flight was a quick up down in under two hours, I figured I'd be tossed a glass of orange juice and kicked out the door. (My choices on Korean flights thus far have been orange juice and orange juice. No other "choice" to be had.
Glass given to you half empty, which is a cruel tease as far as my American stomach is concerned.) Much to my surprise and delight, we were fed. And a decent meal at that: curried shrimp and veggies with rice, a roll, a small side salad (I haven't seen a salad since my first week in Japan -- I attacked that thing like it was the fountain of youth), and two perfectly soft fresh and tender mochi. Two! Proper silverware and dishes and everything. And to top it all off, I was offered a beer. A FULL beer. An ENTIRE can of beverage! Korean Air, you've got to show your domestic competitors how to run their businesses. And then they came around and offered tea. It was NICE. They probably thought I was some ill-mannered American who shoveled food into her face at an alarming speed, but I'm pretty sure I've left that impression on everyone I've come across thus far.
Quite the juxtaposition of old and new (and the tower way in the distance).
At least I'm consistent.
I wasn't worried about immigration in China, but I was expecting some sort of cross examination or another. I mean, everything you hear it's like don't so much as scratch your nose or you're pounced on. They've definitely got the eerie thing down pat. It's your standard row of airport border patrol stalls and it's DEAD quiet. Can you say palpable unease? But then they stamp your passport and wave you on your way without so much as glancing in your direction. Thirty seconds tops. The Japanese finger-printed me. The Chinese couldn't be bothered to so much as utter a syllable. And customs doesn't even exist. All those signs saying no fruit or exotic animals or narcotics from abroad? Bring whatever you like kiddos, they couldn't be bothered to search your bags even if you begged them to.
Not exaggerating, there literally was no customs check whatsoever. Not a single official to be found. Stamp the passport, grab your luggage, walk through the door. Done.
I then walked to the Maglev terminal, which is the world's first train propelled by magnets. Yes, magnets. I don't understand it either. It's also the world's fastest train. Apparently it's the fastest ANYTHING you can go on the ground. (Except you're actually hovering above the ground because again, magnets; there is no actual contact to create friction.) 435 kilometers per hour. FOUR HUNDRED AND THIRTY FIVE! The shinkansen clock in at just under three. Yee-ow! That being said, my heart (and admiration) firmly belongs to the shinkansen.
The Maglev may move fast, but it's bumpy and noisy. How it can be so bumpy when there is no contact and no friction and you're supposedly just hovering over the earth at rocket speed, I'm not sure. But the whole time you're being jostled in your seat. The ride is just under twenty minutes; according to the guidebook the first eight are spent accelerating (with a speedometer helpfully clocking away in each cabin), and as soon as it hits top speed it immediately deaccelerates. Immediately. C'mon guys. With that kind of advertising I want to be wowed for longer than I can count to five.
Aside from not being able to get my hands on a map of Shanghai
(disconcerting much?) and the total and utter unwillingness to offer assistance from those who are EMPLOYED TO DO SO (i.
e. ticket window attendants and similar), China's been great thus far. The directions to the hostel were simple and straightforward, the subway system is a dream, and the city is laid out on typical grid that makes the no map thing possible (if I were in Korea there'd be NO WAY I could get anywhere without a map -- that country is ANYTHING but intuitive and straightforward and grid-like). Even better, EVERY single street I've passed is CLEARLY marked with great big legible signs. Every single one. Wow. Thank you, Shanghai.
The big doozie for me at the moment is the censorship thing. I can't access basic sites like Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and WordPress. (The others I get. WordPress throws me.) Sites that allow and foster and encourage dialogue and communication and community-building.
Any idea what all those brackets are for? Look like fake balconies to me.
What's that? You want to connect with a friend outside the country? Sorry pal, ain't gonna happen. I've been given a list of sites for proxy servers that are supposed to be encrypted to allow you to bypass the firewalls, but China being big and smart and oh, CHINA, is one step ahead and has blocked all those too. So I turned to Google and even that has been of no help thus far (although I'm sure Google's got something up its sleeve I'm just not aware of). There's a service you can purchase for access, and I will probably do as much in the next day or two. In the meantime I'm holding out to be sure I've exhausted all the other options. If anyone knows of any proxy sites they recommend, please send them my way! Hugely appreciated.
Neat fish tank! (Although looked pretty dirty. Poor fish.)
Also, Bill Clinton, I hope you're reading this. When it's my turn to be bailed out in a few weeks I'll be calling you directly. Thanks Pumpkin.
Internet censorship aside, the easing into China is going quite well. (Now that I've said that I'm sure I'll be kicked in the face.)