Lily and the airport ticket agent had a nice time laughing at my Chinese. I asked her why – confused since she is always complimenting my on my ability – and she told me that while I am capable, I have a habit of using too many words. First time I’ve heard that. We said goodbye to her for probably the last time before entering security. I handed her an envelope with a nice gift for her impending wedding. I’ve never tipped her on previous visits and I thought this was a nice opportunity to make up for that with a nicer gift.
Our flight to Shanghai was uneventful aside from half a plane full of American students and their handlers. Some sort of band or orchestra judging from their carry-on luggage which was a wide variety of instrument cases. I had an intimate encounter with one of them when I was bent over in front of my seat on the plane and one of the youngsters decided that he wanted my space in the overhead bin. He was trying to jam his case into the spot that I had momentarily vacated when I stood up, cracking my head on the bottom of his French Horn. I wasn’t happy about that and he sensed it, apologizing profusely. I wonder how people think in situations like this – I remove my bag, bend over rifling it and he decides the space is now open so it’s his? I told him my bag was going back to where I had it. He removed his and sat down behind me.
We landed at the most remote gate at Pudong Airport. It was a long, long walk even taking into account the liberal installation of people movers. We decided to take the Maglev Train into town, having had a nice taste of speed on the Luoyang bullet train. This one topped out at 250 MPH making our previous trip pale in comparison; even if this ride only lasted 10 minutes. The 1st class car on this outing held only the two of us.
Our introductory evening in Shanghai was spent in a fast taxi ride across Pudong and under the river followed by a stroll down Nanjing Lu to take in the famous neon lights. I’m sad to say that much of the famous light show is now gone, replaced by more modern and glitzier electronic ads. Another little part of old Shanghai giving way to the Chinese perspective that “newer is better.” It’s not better for me. As we walked along a seemingly never ending crowd of people hawking watches, bags and t-shirts plied their trade. I’d forgotten about this aspect of the country’s leading financial center – the retail assault in any place that tourists visit is endless. I have to admit I was a bit surprised to see the silly rolling skates with spinning lights still being offered up, the same as my visit more than 3 years ago. Apparently this bunch of sellers had not yet met their quota and somewhere in some warehouse, there remains a shipping container of these cheap trinkets.
The improvements on the Bund though were in the right direction and much more to my liking. Cleaned up and re-lit for last year’s Expo, the old buildings looked wonderful and far better than I remembered them. We stood at the railing overlooking the Huangpu River and marveled at the lights of the Pudong waterfront. The Pearl, Jinma and Shanghai Financial towers brightly illuminated with colors and crazy chasing lights. On the river, even more gaudy dinner cruise boats jockeyed for position with unlit river barges delivering cargo to the industrial areas upriver. It was a magical spot.
After another taxi back to the hotel we decided to explore the neighborhood. They’d given us a map when we checked in and I asked the doorman where the local Starbucks was. I was using a bit of Chinese and he asked me if I could speak. I said “yes” and he proceeded to rattle off an explanation. I pointed to the map and he said “two crossroads down the street.” We started walking and ended up walking and walking and walking. As it turned out, our communications wires were completely crossed. I had asked about details on the map, he’d had no idea what I was talking about and so answered the best he could. There was a Starbucks and we did find it but it wasn’t the one we thought it was. It didn’t matter – we had a coffee and spent the rest of the evening people watching and planning our Friday.