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Tag Archives: China
Well, I’m done. I got back to Atlanta at 6am Wednesday. Drove home. Sat with my beautiful wife for a bit. Took a nap. Went to Longhorn for a steak supper. Came home and played Assasin’s Creed II for a bit – then to bed. I slept for 10 hours.
So about China. Everything I am about to say is only about the few cities I visited, the experiences I had, and the people I met. China is a HUGE country, and no generalizations should be made based on my one week in one area of one province. That would be like judging all of America by a visit to St. Louis.
- Have you seen a country dirt road about 5 minutes after someone has driven down it? That’s what the air looks like in Yiwu, China. There’s a continuous non-stop unrelenting haze in the air. All around, buildings are being built or torn down, and the accumulated dust of construction, solids of air pollution, and the inverted atmosphere means gray haze all over. Every car needed to be washed. Every breath felt dirty. I used to see those pictures of Chinese people with face masks and wonder what that was all about. Now I know. The next time there is an international protest about how much America pollutes, I would hope those with the loudest voices would direct their hue and cry to China instead. I couldn’t wait to get to Los Angeles to breathe fresh air!
- The people are beyond hospitable. No matter where we went, we were treated like Very Important People. At one point, one of the young men in our group was carrying my camera bag for me. Any time we tried to buy our own meals or even pay for our own soveneirs we were told it is the Chinese way for us to accept the hospitality of our hosts. It was nice, but it also laid the groundwork for an impossible standard to live up to when they visit us!
- Traffic rules? What traffic rules? Cars drove down sidewalks. There was a constant cachaphony of horns. Vans, cars, scooters, bicycles, tricycles, busses, and trucks all competed – not co-operated – for the right of way. Red lights were run. Cars turned left in front of each other. Lanes were straddled. It was a madhouse! Yet in all of that maddness, I saw only two traffic accidents. Somehow the total anarchy leads to order. If everyone drives that way, is it really madness?
- Most American “poor” are not poor. I don’t want to diminish the plight of our impoverished, but I saw people living in broken buildings with no doors, drawing drinking water with buckets from ponds used to wash clothes, irrigate gardens, and catch the run off from the streets. If the 5 star hotel I stayed in said don’t drink the water, what do the Chinese poor do for water?
- There were gardens everywhere – nor ornamental flower gardens, but for sustenance. Without the food grown in those gardens, many Chinese wouldn’t have a thing to eat.
- There wasn’t a hint of egg roll, egg drop soup, General Tso’s chicken, or fortune cookies at any of the the Chinese meals I had!
All in all it was a very good trip. I enjoyed the kindness and humor of our hosts. The airports were run efficiently. The service at the hotels was impeccable. I hope to go back again soon, but next time I’m flying business class – no more economy for me!
Understand – there is no air conditioning in the hotel room. The logic is – it is winter. We don’t need a/c. If the room is hot (which they are), open the window (which I did). So last night, after a Chinese supper experience Anthony Bourdain would be happy with, I settled down for the first real night of sleep in China. At 3:30am I was awakened by the sound of explosions – numerous explosions. My first thought was that another revolution was happening. I soon realized that the sound was fireworks – many many fireworks – all over the city! This display of pyrotechnics went on for the rest of the night in various degrees of intensity, but it didn’t stop until after 9am.
It seems that today is a very auspicious day in China. It is supposed to be a day of good luck and good fortune. All over Yiwu, the hotels were booked with large wedding celebrations. Businesses were having grand openings (ah, that’s why there was so much insistence that we be here for the hotel’s grand opening). But it resulted in a night of sleep broken by explosive flowers in the sky.
Breakfast at the hotel is interesting. It is a combination Western/Asian buffet as interpreted by the Chinese cooks, of course. And once again getting a large cup of black coffee was fruitless. The little 4oz cups were nice, but I had to have quite a few of them.
It was expected of me to give a speech at today’s grand opening. I wrote that over my 4th cup of coffee.
The grand opening went well. I actually stood in front of the Chinese press, the mayor of Yiwu, and more than 200 Chinese folks and delivered the above mentioned speech – 10o% in English with no interpreter. I’m told I did fine, but who really knows.
In addition to the speech I was also interviewed for Chinese television! And all this time I thought I was just here to “grip and grin”!
We’re heading out for another supper with Thomas and his business partner tonight, and tomorrow a trip to the “countryside” outside of Yiwu.
Check out the photos from today over here on Flickr, and thanks for reading!
So much for a nap! I just couldn’t sleep with a new city and culture just outside of my window! I took a very brief photo stroll and grabbed a few shots…
So you’ll know – it costs about $3 to have a shirt pressed at the hotel. I bought a really good roasted sweet potato from a street vendor for about 30 cents. A McDonald’s Grilled Chicken meal was $3.41 (tasted just like the ones at home – go figure).
The sun is down. The neon is on, and our man in China is taking us out for supper. Keep in touch!
(Friday January 15, 1:15pm – China time)
This begins my travel blog of my trip to Yiwu China. The other stuff was just the preface. It seems that my Chinese internet connection won’t connect me to my blog directly, so I’m saving notes to post when the opportunity arises.
This is day one of being in China, but the trip began more than 30 hours ago in Atlanta. Our flight was supposed to leave Atlanta at 5:30pm. By 7:30 we still hadn’t left, and a lot of people (including me) started worrying about making important connections. Delta did not do a stellar job of making folks happy. There were no offers to put folks on other flights to LA, and the ticket counter rep response to my inquiries was, “You may have to wait until tomorrow.”
By 8pm Delta had rolled another plane to another gate and got us in the air by 8:45. They must have had the pedal to the metal because we made it to LA in just 4 hours (instead of the scheduled 5). Most of us made our connections with no time to spare, but no time worry either.
In LA we had to trek over to the international terminal past scarily long lines of folks going through customs. Fortunately, we didn’t have to stand in those lines. There was no line at the ticket counter for our airline (China Southern), and we ambled up to the counter to get checked in to our flight. I have to say, the young man at the counter was insanely proficient, friendly, and helpful. He assigned us the “best seats possible” for our class (more on that in a minute), and even walked us to a VIP security entrance bypassing the very long lines of folks trying to leave the country.
The TSA officials at LAX are what the make the horror stories true. They were rude, loud, condescending, and “superior” to the folks in the lines. I really wanted to bring one down a few pegs, but people in government uniforms can make your life hell.
Banks, our man at China Southern Air, escorted us to the gate, said his friendly good byes, and we got on a bus(??!!) to begin a 15 minute bus ride, standing up and packed in tight, to the Worst Plane In the World. Now, we didn’t know it was the WPItW at first. It looked like any other large jumbo jet, but we should have been clued when we realized that CSA doesn’t have a gate at LAX. They have an enclosed ramp, and “orderly lines” seem to be an insane concept to the Asians flying with us. There was a mad dash to get on the plane.
We walked past the large and luxurious first class section into the “business economy” section. I was pleased to see the large roomy seats, soft pillows, and blankets. To my horror and dismay, we kept on walking to the “economy” section. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see chicken crates and empty baskets. The seats were uncomfortable and cramped. The arm rests did not lift back all the way, and the minute the seat in front of me leaned back, what little space I had completely disappeared. This was our home for the next 15 hours!
Seated in front of us was a very cute little Chinese baby who communicated the only way babies know how – crying. To our right a middle aged Chinese woman was heaving into an air sickness bag and moaning and groaning. Behind us a half-dozen adolescents began doing what adolescents do…and we hadn’t even left the gate yet.
We got in the air and the flight crew dispensed the first snack – err, meal of the journey. It was forgettable. Not good, but not bad. I pulled a mask over my head, put on the cheap Chinese headset, plugged into some classical music, and attempted to sleep. After all, according to my body it was now past 3am, and I had been awake almost 20 hours straight by then.
I have been told that there is an art to sleeping on a plane. I believe it. I dozed. I napped. But I really didn’t sleep. There was always the constant din of someone’s conversation, or the jostling of my seat by someone behind me, or turbulence. I just didn’t sleep. With 7 hours behind us, and 7 more to go, I gave up.
I watched Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince on the 5 inch TV screen with the washed out color and zero contrast. I read a bit. I listened to my Ipod. I cat napped. Breakfast (of sorts) came around. So far, by the way, the culinary choices were decidedly Western airline fare. Not exciting one way or the other.
Yadda yadda yadda, we landed in Guangzhou on time, and I have never been more happy to be off of a plane. But we were still 5 hours from our final destination. I really just wanted a shower and a nap!
I breezed through Chinese immigration and customs. My traveling companion was not so lucky. She became a “lost luggage” story. Her one bag didn’t make it to China from LAX. It seems the Delta ticket agent didn’t send her bag all the way to China like mine did. Her week’s worth of clothes are sitting somewhere in the lost luggage section of LAX. If there’s an update about that, I’ll be sure to post it.
While she tracked down her bag, I went through another long security line, and again had my camera bag emptied and thoroughly inspected (this happened in ATL as well). This time, however, the screener was friendly and almost apologetic. It wasn’t even a hassle, just a slow down to an otherwise smooth process (perhaps the Communists have something to teach us).
I hope this isn’t a trend, but three times on this trip I’ve tried to get a cup of black coffee, and all three times I haven’t gotten it. Twice on the flight I got cream and sugar already mixed in, and black coffee was not an option, and at a diner in the Guangzhou airport I got a small cup of pretty good Turkish style coffee. But the large cup of plain black coffee seems elusive right now.
Our man in China (Thomas Tiang) met us at baggage claim and drove us to our hotel. We are NOT staying at the America’s Best Inn or the Budgetel Inn his client has opened. Thomas and Mr. Li have put us up at the nicest hotel in Yiwu – the Kingdom Hotel. The standard room is the most luxurious hotel room I’ve ever stayed in.
So I have checked in, unpacked, and taken the long missed shower. I feel clean, but still tired. I’m going to lie down for a “disco nap” then go for a photo stroll around Yiwu. My initial impression isn’t favorable. This is a city that makes “commodities”. You know those cheap plastic “made in China” things? They make them here. There is a lot of poor working class punctuated with places like this hotel.
I’ll have more later, including photos! Thanks for reading!
3 hours late, we’re finally boarding. We’ll be cutting it close in LA.