Better City, Better Life

And now for the continuing stoooory of a doctor who’s gone to the dogs – oops, sorry, wrong story. (And a very obscure pop culture reference.) Our hero was last seen slaving over a hot computer in a Shanghai hotel room, wondering if he would be able to wake up in time to get to the airport, and looking forward to riding the maglev train again.

I had heard horror stories about Shanghai rush hour traffic, so I got up well before six and was checking out of the hotel a bit after seven. There was a taxi driver hanging around, and he asked if I was going to Pudong Airport. I pulled out my little maglev ticket with the picture of the train and pointed to it. He made a “Pfft!” sort of noise, obviously believing I should stick with the tried and true taxi to the airport. I stuck to my story and said I wanted to go to the train station. Then he pulled out his trump card. The train doesn’t start running until 9:00. I found this hard to believe, but in the absence of hard evidence one way or the other, I felt stuck. I asked how much he would charge to get there. He said ¥150, which was more than the train would have cost, but not outrageous. I was a little suspicious that he could be lying to me about the train just to get a lucrative fare, but I got in. Traffic wasn’t really that bad, and he took kind of a roundabout way (probably to avoid bottlenecks). I have to admit that we paralleled the maglev track for quite a way and I never saw a single train go by. I had read that Shanghai’s maglev, while an engineering marvel and thoroughly cool, is regarded in many circles as an expensive bid for prestige, and ridership has never been very good. If the blasted thing doesn’t run until nine in the morning, I’d say that takes a serious bite out of its practicality. According to Wikipedia, it starts at 7:00 and runs till 9:00pm but I know that is inaccurate, since it ran until 10:00pm when I arrived. Maybe I did get taken for a ride.
Did I mention that Pudong Airport is really big? I got there way too early, so I killed some time in the coffee shop and did some reading.
Once again I found myself in a shuttle bus going across the tarmac to board a plane. My ticket said Air China, but this was the plane. Dragon Air is based out of Hong Kong, and code shares with Air China on certain routes.

After landing at Narita, I managed to successfully use a cash machine. I bought a train ticket to Sakuragi-cho Station in Yokohama, which involved one transfer at Yokohama Station. I picked up some snacks from the kiosk and waited about an hour for my train. It was no bullet train, but it was nice and comfortable. It was very full, and I didn’t have a window seat, so you don’t get any more shaky pictures of the Japanese countryside. I got to my hotel pretty easily. It’s got a pedestrian bridge over the street that practically joins it to the train station.
The room at the Yokohama Washington Hotel is very small, but clean (aside from a slight cigarette odor) and has all the modern conveniences.
If you take the main room and the bathroom together it’s about the size of the spare bedroom in my apartment.
I changed clothes and walked over to the convention center where the World Science Fiction Convention is taking place, not sure what I’d find there. They were still open for registration, so I picked up my packet.
It included a lovely big Souvenir Book which reads from both covers. You turn it one way and read the English, and reading from the “back” you get the Japanese, since Japanese books are read in the opposite direction. The English side cover features a beautiful painting by Michael Whelan, who is one of the Guests of Honor. SF conventions typically have three GOH’s: a writer, an artist, and a prominent fan, but given the bilingual nature of this con, both Japanese and English were represented in the author and artist categories.
The Japanese side has cover art by Yoshitaka Amano, a well-known Japanese artist, who has done everything from manga to book covers to games.
The center has a full-color gallery of works by the two.

I went downstairs to the large theater just in time to catch the opening ceremony. I didn’t have my camera with me, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it was kind of fun. I saw Robert Silverberg down front before the lights dimmed, so I knew he’d made it, but didn’t manage to get anywhere near him.

The MC was a Japanese voice actress who spoke pretty good English. There was also a translator at the side of the stage to handle the guests’ speeches. One of the first guests was the mayor of Yokohama, who arrived on stage riding a rickshaw. Apparently he’s known for his environment-friendly policies, and he joked about proposing rickshaws to replace cars.

There was a very amusing opening animation piece that took scenes and characters from dozens of famous Japanese movies from Godzilla to anime and mixed them up, with all the monsters, aliens and robots converging on Yokohama. the Guest of Honor speeches started with American author David Brin. He’s one of my favorites (I just finished his second Uplift trilogy a couple months ago), and started his speech with a little bit in phonetic Japanese about being a “crazy foreigner” that got some laughs. He told about how he had just been in Chengdu China for a science fiction convention the previous weekend, and how he sees Asia growing in the SF world just as it is in the real one. The con in Chengdu would have been extremely cool to visit, but timing did not allow.

Japanese author Sakyo Komatsu was up next. He’s a grand master of Japanese SF, and has been writing since the 60s and has been involved in a number of movies. He’s in his 70s, and was wheeled in by an assistant. He gave a fairly long speech that must have been pretty amusing from all the laughs it got from the Japanese in the audience. The translation must not have done it justice.

Whelan and Amano both had speeches, and they were followed by an emotional reminiscence by fan guest Takumi Shibano, who has been at the center of the Japanese SF community since the late 50s. He had the convention chairman in tears, and was pretty choked up himself.

As I walked back to the hotel afterwards, I kept my eyes open for dinner prospects, and happened to walk right by the Hard Rock Café. That works – burger and beer. By this time I probably should have known better than to check my email (Blueberry and mobile phone are both incompatible with the Japanese network). Once again I ended up connecting to Beijing and working late.

Which makes for a good place to take a pause.

Will our hero ever get a break? Will he survive in the Land of SF? Only time (and the next episode) will tell.

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