Wednesday, September 06, 2006


There is something so 21st Century about waking up in our little home in the woods, driving to the airport, and then ending up across the Pacific Ocean and in Shanghai before the sun goes down.

And it being a Chinese journey, one wants to look for auspicious signs as it begins. For instance, the inflight movie was MI III, whose main foreign locale feature featured Tom Cruise jumping off of buildings in Shanghai. On the other hand, halfway between Immigration and Customs at the airport this giant temporary molar filling in the back of my mouth popped out, so that now I'm either going to have to find a Mongolian dentist who uses crazy glue or deal with the steady drip, drip, drip of Asian sugar on the tiny piece of dentin that is left down there.

Anyhow, entering China was otherwise a snap, and I was looking forward to taking the much vaunted Maglev train that goes 451 km an hour into town. It never felt all that whoop de do, however, since they had lied and it never got past 300. Eight minutes later we were deposited at a subway station, got on a clean, well behaved subway car, and went the six stops to the famous Shanghai Bund area.

When we got out it was about 8 pm, there was a warm, light rain, and... Where were all the teeming masses? The billionaires passing by in their limos and the exploited peasants face down in the dirty puddles? No, it was just the opposite: bourgeous Chinese folk strolling down the clean streets, traffic moving nicely, even the few hustlers trying to sell fake Rolexes giving up ten times faster than they do in Hong Kong. The whole scene was frigging EU.

The Lonely Planet guide had suggested a raffish old Victorian hotel with oversized old rooms at $30 a night. My daughter and I walked the kilometer or so there, and immediately found it to be a refurbished hotel that charged $110 a night. Ugh.

On the other hand, we had just been up for 24 hours, and my mind had started to fray about 8 hours earlier. So this old street umbrella salesman comes up and says he knows of a place for $20 a night. I've run into this before where someone takes you somewhere because he's going to get a commission, so I figure, how bad can it be? We get in a cab and he takes us the few blocks to the place.

Sumi waits downstairs while I go up to check it out. It's a room with two beds, a small bathroom and paper thin walls right next to the reception. I ask for something better and the lady says they have a place but ihe guest won't be leaving for a half an hour. I look around and notice a number of 35 year old not that attractive Chinese women hanging around. I go downstairs again and ask Sumi if she minds staying in a whorehouse. She does. Kids these days.

So now we have to find somewhere else. But I'm too tired, and I wasn't paying too close attention on the cab ride. So Sumi takes control. And there I was, a fatigued disoriented old man stumbling about in the humid drizzle, blindly following someone through a strange city with only alien Mandarin hieroglyphs to tell us where we were.

Fortunately, however, Sumi seems to have inherited the geographical locational genes that used to work for me, and in a couple of minutes we were at the Captain Hostel (Lonely Planets Best Buy in Shanghai) asking for a double.

No doubles were availble. BUT dormspace was. Okay, how bad could that be? We paid the 8 dollars each, took the elevator up to our room, and collapsed on the nice little beds.


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