Written 2 October and posted only much later. I have pictures to add as well, but will get to them later.
Update: Pictures added 6 November.
In the standard irony of my blog-life, the more I have to write about, the less time I have to write about it. So over the next few entries I’ll probably be tackling a wide variety of events in no particular order.
The quick recap, for those who don’t have my schedule memorized, includes:
• The end of my Japan trip to the World Science Fiction Convention.
• Various non-convention events and observations regarding the city of Yokohama.
• The arrival of D for an extended visit in Beijing.
• A quick trip to Tianjin to see the FIFA Women’s World Cup game in which the US beat England.
• Some sight-seeing, shopping, and going out with D around Beijing.
• A trip to Shanghai for the FIFA Women’s World Cup final game between Germany and Brazil, along with some sight-seeing, shopping, and going out in Shanghai.
For no reason other than it’s fresh in my mind, I’m going to start with yesterday, which was an amusing day in many respects.
October 1 is National Day in China, so most people had the day off. After a late night involving football matches, crazy taxi rides, and drinks in a UFO, we got up kind of late, and in spite of constant distraction from the National Geographic Channel Asia, managed to make it to the breakfast buffet before it closed at 10:30. Like the one at the Kuntai in Beijing all those months ago, it featured a wide variety of English, American, Chinese, and Japanese breakfast items, but all in all the quality was not very good (maybe because nothing was fresh by that point). Certainly not worth the $25 each it cost. We checked out just before noon and left our bags with the concierge, who, given our flight’s departure time, advised leaving the hotel at 7pm.
We started out by going to the multi-story shopping center next door. D was thinking of shoes. The streets were rather crowded with people out for the day off, and there was a magician performing on a stage set up along the sidewalk. Inside the shopping center was crowded as well, but at least you could usually walk without running into people. There was a sale going on, so D ended up buying two pairs of shoes at the Arnold Palmer booth. I didn’t even know Arnold made women’s shoes, especially cute non-sporting styles. With the discount, they came to around $75 for the both of them, and paying was a small adventure. In many of these Chinese shopping centers, purchasing works like this: the little shop gives you a slip or invoice that has the item number on it along with the price; you go to a cashier and pay for it; the cashier fills out a three-part duplicating form and stamps all three copies; the cashier keeps one, you keep one, and you take the other back to the shop; the shop takes the stamped form and gives you your purchase. As a further complication, only certain cashiers can take credit cards, so I had to traipse all around to find a place to use my American Visa card.
After finishing with Arnold, we strolled around some more, and I ended up buying a pair of shoes from someone named Alain Delon. I tried on a bunch of nice looking Jackie Chan shoes, but they didn’t feel right on my foot.
We eventually tired of that shopping center, took our bags to the hotel for safekeeping, and went outside. It was even more crowded out than before. When we came up from the pedestrian underpass to the Nanjing Street mall, it was a sea of people as far as you could see. Lots of them stopped at the top of the steps to take pictures, further adding to the lack of room to move.
We made our way to another shopping center just to get out of the heat and have room to move without bumping into people. We stopped at a Japanese style place for lunch, and then did some more wandering. We came across the FIFA Women’s World Cup Official Merchandise Store, where everything was half price. I bought a cool T-shirt. A bit later we came across a shop called Miiow where the sportswear has cat-oriented graphics. D bought a jacket there.
In spite of what you may be thinking, neither of us is really a shopaholic, and we were getting pretty tired of the endless stream of booths for oddly named brands. We decided to make our way back to the hotel and have some drinks in the lobby lounge while we waited until it was time to go to the airport. The crowds in the street had lessened somewhat by this time. It was nice to just chill for a while and sip a Manhattan, even if it was kind of a strange tasting Manhattan.
This is one of the decorations in the hotel lobby.
At a few minutes to seven, we went over to the concierge desk and retrieved our bags. He waved a taxi up, and when we said we were going to Hongqiao Airport, he asked what time our flight was. I said it was at 9, and he said with the street so busy for the holiday, it might take almost two hours to get there. Nothing to be done about that, so we hopped in and off we went. He took a lot of back streets, since the main ones were all clogged, and the first expressway onramp was blocked off, leading us right back into the surface streets. The second ramp was open, and we found the freeway to be only lightly inhabited, so we actually ended up getting to the airport in only ten minutes or so.
Check-in was simple with no bags to check, and we got to our gate with more than an hour to wait. We amused ourselves with people-watching and fashion commentary, standing the whole time because the waiting area didn’t have enough seats for a whole plane’s complement of passengers.
Just as a Fashion Police aside: The Number One Fashion Faux Pas all over the world seems to be the same. Over-tweezing of eyebrows. I don't think I've ever seen a natural pair of eyebrows that didn't look better than thin lines drawn on with a pen.
To return to the Hongqiao waiting area... There was a big Samsung TV showing a series of ads and movie trailers, but without sound it was pretty hard to tell what was being advertised sometimes. About a half-hour before boarding time, people started lining up at the gate. We all had reserved seats, so I don’t know why they felt the need. We took advantage of some vacated seats and got a little leg rest after standing so long.
We walked on easily at the end of the line, and managed to find space in the overhead bins for all our shoe boxes. We could tell it was going to be an interesting flight. Unlike the trip to Shanghai (where half the passengers were asleep before we left the gate), this cabin was full of very talkative people, including a number who seemed to be on their first air journey. The flight attendant had to keep coming back to one woman who was always speaking loudly and doing odd things like putting her tray table down as we taxied. We were sitting next to a couple of British guys from Beijing who had also gone to Shanghai for the football matches. As it was a late night flight, we only got peanuts and beverages.
A while into the flight they started a movie from Hong Kong called My Name is Fame. In between reading chapters of my book, I kind of watched it, reading the subtitles without listening. When they made the announcement to put up trays and return to seats for the descent into Beijing, the movie was still going, and the screen went blank before it ended. It seemed like a pretty good movie, so it’s going on the Netflix list.
In typical Chinese air travel fashion, the second the plane touched the ground, you could hear the clicking of seatbelts being undone and the noises of mobile phones being turned on while the announcement told us to remain in our seats and keep electronic devices off. The newbie flyer lady next to us stood up and opened the overhead bin to take out a package. A flight attendant came running, abruptly shut the bin door, and spoke harshly to the woman.
So all in all, an amusing day. I suppose some people would be annoyed by some of the things that happened, but part of surviving in China is learning to take such things in stride. You don't ask why, you just smile and accept.
I'll try to catch up on all those other events as soon as I can. I know the world is holding its breath, and I wouldn't want anyone to fall over from lack of oxygen.