Saturday, March 18, 2017

Shanghai Surprise

Sign over the public urinal. What are you really saying?
I live in a travel dream world.  I stare at maps, read about natural and man made wonders and wander up distant mountain trails in far away lands on vast snow capped ranges. I peruse blogs, travel sites, message boards and any website I can to glean as much information to add technicolor into my travel dream world. Then after a 19 hour flight I land in one of my far away wonderlands and I get hit square by reality and I nervously smile. OK China, lets do this.

Smack in the middle of the city
I am on the final throws of jet lag and time zone shifting and had forgotten the joy of this unwinnable battle. I was wheels up in Toronto on March 10th at 3:25 pm and landed in Shanghai on March 12th at 12:30 am. I lost March 11th 2017, it never existed in my life. If memory serves I lost January 23, 1989 when I flew to Australia plus having been to Japan twice there are a few days there as well.

Staring out the window of my new apartment into I have suddenly realized that what I am looking at is not a constant romantic fog mysteriously hugging the city but the joys of thick air pollution that envelopes the myriad of apartment building surrounding me like Silk Road Warriors here in Xian. Real honest to goodness this soupy air pollution that scratches your throat after 30 minutes. Xian is not even in the top 10 of most polluted cities in China but is on part with Beijing. One has to imagine how nasty the most polluted cities are. It’s no wonder that face-masks are an acceptable fashion statement which explains so much about us as a species.

The flight from Toronto to Shanghai was as brutal and uneventful as I knew it would be. I watched 4 movies, had 3 meals and a series of short naps. I had no idea that my boredom was about to become the Shanghai Olympics for Airport Gate Sprinting once we landed. I had 90 minutes to make my connecting flight to Xian which under normal circumstances is plenty of time. This time I used every single one of those precious minutes running full spring through immigration, up and down escalators,  jumping the queues of people at 3 different inner airport security checks. As I rounded the corner doing my best Usain Bolt to gate 206 there was a wave to hurry as the final bus was leaving. I was told by an English speaking lady on the bus to the plane that they were holding the plane for me but were just about to leave. 

They use buses to ferry passengers to and from landing and departing aircraft which was normal for airports 50 years ago. Missed connections are as common so I suspect is the stress and frustration level of most Western travelers. Unless your Mandarin is excellent and you can negotiate a new flight and are required to transport through Shanghai make sure you have 3 hours at the very least.

You can take the boy out of the West but...
A short 2.5 hour flight later I found myself in Xi'an, home of the Terra Cotta Warriors and home to me for the next year at the very least. I was sitting on a bench, well dazed on a bench, waiting for my bags at the carousal when the guy next to me says “hello”, “Can I practice my English”. I was given fair warning that this was going to be a way of life here and I had nothing to do. Our short polite conversation turned to excitement when my new Chinese friend explained to me that he memorized MartinLuther Kings “ I have a dream” speech and would I like me to here it. Here I was with 20 hours of air time, an Olympic speed record to catch my connecting flight, jet lagged waiting for my luggage in China all the while having crossed the international date line and beside me is some random guy telling me “He has a dream”.  If ever I was going to start smoking weed again this would be the exact moment for that time to happen. Mercifully my bags arrived quickly and I could not get off that bench quick enough and without apology. My Chinese MLK was fading to black but continued none the less.

I always ask for an airport pickup whenever I fly internationally because trying to find a cab when you are jet lagged, excited, nervous and vulnerable just makes sense to me. If you have traveled you know the reassuring feeling of seeing your name in big block letters and a smiling face waiting for you. This time it was arranged for me and they they were Bei Bei and Ella, two girls from the school. Bei Bei is in charge of foreign teacher recruitment and Ella is the Office Wonder Girl. Forty 45 minutes later we are opening the door to my apartment followed a quick run to the local shop that was miraculously still open at 1 am. I had a cold TsingTao in my hand looking out at new neighborhood. Home is now Apartment 711 and I am a 5 minutes walk to school.

Sipping that cold TsingTao looking out of my apartment window trying to take it all in the only thing I hear in my head is  "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have gone down the rabbit hole and it is going to be interesting to say the least.  

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