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Chengdu: It feels like the Chicago of China

And that bring up a lot of ideas and criteria

sunny 97 °F
View Preston Family Trip to China on Kwpres's travel map.

At this point, I think it's proper to give a tip of the hat to Larry and Qin Herzberg. Their "China Survival Guide" was full of "heads up" issues that the new traveler to China should be aware of. I know they have been criticized for being a little cynical, but it's important to realize when you come here that China is a large, populous country with some growing pains that the newbie China traveler should be aware of. I am grateful for their book. It's not perfect, but it's been very helpful in the areas of things to make sure to do, as well as caveats that will save you some pretty significant hassles.

Last night, we experienced chapter 8 - domestic air travel. Hefei's airport is brand new, like so much of China, and I mean it is NEW: opened on May 31st. But I think there are other bugs being worked out. Also, there is a typhoon (pacific hurricane) down by Hong Kong, so a lot of flights that were to connect in Hefei were running late. Our flight originated from Seoul, South Korea, but for some reason got delayed too. (air traffic congestion can mean a lot of things.) In the end, we left at 7:50, not 6:30 and landed at 10:45 not 9:20. The way our trip has gone, we didn't find this a reason for big concern, but the Chengdu portion of our trip has been a little squirrely from the beginning. We were originally put into a hotel that we didn't think was getting very good reviews from Trip Advisor, so we asked to be moved to one near the New Century Global Center. The center has been touted throughout the media over the last few months as one of the biggest buildings in the world. We thought, "Hey, we can't go all the way to Chengdu China and not go see that! It advertises an indoor beach with a flat screen sunset! How cool is that?'

The hotel we wanted never quite showed up on final versions of our itinerary, and Faye informed us on our last day in Hefei that the hotel was "full" and that we were being put in a new hotel, the Dorsett Grand Hotel. Little did we know that our adventure was just beginning! I quickly looked it up and saw that it had many of the things we deem important: good breakfast, swimming pool, connecting rooms, and it was new and in the downtown area. Ok, we thought, we're flexible. Let's get excited about our new "digs!"

Faye got us to the airport early (as we requested. It's good to give the kids downtime and not feel like everything has to be Mach 3 with your hair on fire) and saved our bacon (as our guides have over and over). It seems that the tickets, which require your passport number on them, had Laurie's old passport number. Bruce had replaced it over the summer, because you need to have a passport that won't expire within 6 months after you have completed international travel. Bruce gave the new number to our agency, we know because it had been right on all the other tickets, but it was wrong on the Hefei to Chengdu flight. Good thing we got there early.

Faye went through the necessary channels, and while we don't know exactly what she did, our twenty-something dynamo handled this sticky situation calmly and adroitly. As we said goodbye to her for our full security groping, the girls and Faye exchanged hugs and a fond farewell. WE spent about 3 1/2 hours waiting for our tardy flight but got off the ground for our 3 hour flight southwest to Chengdu. The food was an indentifiable beef product and rice with what I guessed was carrots, and a bun, a something, and another something (which no one ate) Laurie scooped up all our rolls, (except she was too late with Bruce. He already downed it) and before we knew it, we were in Chengdu! It was only 12 hours to panda time!

Getting off the plane reminded me of the old days of flying in to Midway when Southwest first started flying to Chicago. large_IMG_0703.jpg You get off on the old style portable stairways, get hit in the face by yellow dust, carbon monoxide, 100 degree heat and 100 % humidity. Oh boy, this will be even better tomorrow when the sun comes up! If I sound a little silly, it's because I know what's coming next. We piled onto a bus, kind of like the one in Hong Kong to go to Guilin, and off we went to the terminal. It was a living breathing (barely) Dial commercial. We quickly got our bags in another beautiful huge new airport, and met Sandy (the second) and Mr. Something Mumbled, our driver, and took off for downtown.

Downtown Chengdu at night looks like part VegasIMG_0708.jpg, part ClevelandIMG_0710.jpg, part Gotham City (Dark Knight) IMG_0707.jpgand part Blade Runner. As we were talking, a $260,000 Porsche went blazing by us. We caught him at the lights. He was @ 28, and in a dirty t-shirt. No Alfred driving Bruce Wayne in that car. It was clear that Sandy was very proud of Chengdu, and for good economic reasons. It has 15 million people (most in the city, about 6 in the suburbs) and we passed every imaginable car dealership on the way it. It was not your Chairman's China anymore. This was boomtown. even the welding continues at night! IMG_0711.jpg The air was so dense, it was hard to see much of the skyline in spite of plentiful neon and LED signs. The city's main business is Foxconn: the guys who build iPads, iPhones, etc, are in the outskirts employing over 100,000 Chinese. It's not by any means the only game in town, but it's an important one with many tentacles.

Once we arrived at the hotel, the real fun began. We didn't have adjoining rooms; the hotel doesn't have them. So the girls were going to be some ways down the hall from us. Oh well, it's only a coupla nights. The big bed was kind of small and the girls do NOT like sharing the bed (Hayley sleepwalks and is quite "active") But the biggest issue was the noisy next door neighbors to the girls' room. There were two pretty plain but well dressed guys, and six, yes six, drop dead knockout girls, and they were all...uh....quite noisy, inebriated, and raring for partying. What the heck is going on? We then go into the room...have you ever been in a hotel room where the wall from the bathroom to the bedroom part of the room is a solid clear pane of glass? Uh...what? Now, there is a shade you can drop...but then...why would you keep it up?

Bruce and I are not stupid and quickly put two and two together. It was a paid party going on next door to our girls. Nope, not gonna happen. We zipped downstairs and informed all that we needed to be moved. Sandy came through and help persuade them to give us room next to each other on another floor. We then realized we would need more cash for the panda experience the next day. One needs to give a healthy "donation" in order for the girls to feed, and be photographed, with a live panda, and we weren't planning on coming back to China again. So, darn it, we're gonna do it! China is pretty much a cash economy and, as I said earlier, they are kinda picky about the condition of US currency that they accept for exchange. Looks like we had better get to an ATM!

We left the girls in the safety of their room to get ready for bed and Sandy came to guide us to one and we quickly felt like we were not where we wanted to spend much time outside. IMG_0714.jpg The "ladies of the night" hand out business cards with their pictures on them. We saw them scattered all over the street. Over and over, Bruce's card was getting rejected after his first withdrawal. Hmmm...sounds like Bank of America is refusing to work in China. Beastids! I took some out and "exchanged" some cash for Bruce (thank you Commerce Bank) and we headed back. While we were in this little room where the ATMs were, the speaker overhead was playing some gibberish at an ear-splitting volume that sounded like Ferengi or something. We deduced that they probably do that so you get out of there pronto after contracting your business. It keeps the riff-raff out.

It looks like we were finally wrapping our day up when we put the girls to bed and headed back to our room in order to get ready for bed. Bruce checked his online banking and saw that BoA had shut down his checking account for suspicious activity. Hmmm. He had let them know that he was going to China before he left (as I had with Commerce) BoA fail. Their website suggests you call toll-free (can't in China) or collect (try finding a Chinese operator who understands that English phrase. We didn't) Oh well, we should be good till tomorrow. But just to get things going in the right direction, we once again put my iPhone with the Chinese SIM card to work and called BoA. "All our account specialists are busy at the moment but your call is important to us..." If we were so important, you'd hire more people so we didn't have to wait at $1.30 a minute.
We decided we'd give it 5 mins, then hang up. Right near the end, a gal picked up. We quickly told her we needed her to call us back and work out this problem of getting his account shut down while he was in China. We gave her my Chinese phone number, she said she'd "try" to call us back (Yoda, where are you when we need you!? "Do or do not...there is no try.") and we hung up. Finally, at 2 am, we gave up and went to bed.

I'm going to end this story here, even though it really doesn't end here. But we need to get a little dinner in the girls and so much happened last night that I wanted to get it down before I forgot any of the wonderful details. Seriously, our trip has gone so well that for the few times when it hasn't (weather, being lost, wrong turns, whatever) Bruce and I keep saying, "it will make a great story." And they all have...

More in the next post,

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 03:25 Archived in China Tagged buildings skylines people parties sky night planes hotel Comments (0)

Captain's Log: Stardate 16-8-2013 Supplimental

How about a Q and A session?

sunny 97 °F
View Preston Family Trip to China on Kwpres's travel map.

Ok, no pics on this one. We are waiting for our flight to Chengdu and it's late "due to air traffic congestion."

So, let's have a little fun on the "small game." A phony Q & A session. If I don't finish this before we board (currently set for 90 mins from now) I'll finish tomorrow morning. Right now, I'm thinking we are getting in to our hotel on a late night timetable. Ugh. I'm pretty sure it's a long drive to the Panda Center, and that is just the morning schedule. We hit Dufu Cottage in the afternoon. Bruce and I have been having fun with his name for days. Can't wait to be laughing hysterically for no reason once we get there.

Ok...the Q & A

Q: What is the strangest things you have witnessed in China so far?

A: Probably some of the English language T-Shirts that make no sense. It's largely a fashion statement for the Chinese. Now, they don't get a total pass. Most of the younger people start learning English early, like we teach French and Spanish to our elementary and middle schoolers. That's how Faye, our most recent guide, learned hers. But there are some real howlers. We've put a few in our pictures, we'll try to get some more up.

Q: What has surprised you the most?

A: There haven't been a ton of surprises. I like to do my research and I did a lot this summer before we headed over. I guess what is interesting is some of the things I read about that have become readily evident. The dust, the construction, the masses of people, the jostling, the cigarette smoking (unbelievably bad) the poverty, the staring at us (two old westerners with two little Chinese girls who speak english, not Chinese), the people who walk up and ask questions. I get quizzed by people when I'm at the bathroom, I think so they can practice their english. When I tell them I'm American, they don't act surprised. It's probably similar to the way we can't help staring at Amish in Lancaster County; we expect to see them, but we still can't help staring in surprise. "Gee, they really exist?"

The biggest surprise for me is the incredibly evident Chinese wealth as evidenced by automobiles, luxury stores (full of Chinese, not westerners), large groups vacationing at 5 star resorts, and on. Bruce and I agree: Mao may be on the money, but he would be cheesed to see what has happened to his socialist revolution.

Q: What do you like the most over there?

A: The people have been largely outstanding. Our guides are little short of amazing. I know this is what they do for a living, but they know they will never see us again, yet they keep in touch. We have continued to exchange emails with every one of them. Example: When we left Nanning, the driver threw away a bag that he thought had trash in it. It actually held a tile from the site where Laurie's original SWI had been. She had picked up a piece as a memento. Bruce just got off the phone with Hannah: she had obtained another tile and will be sending it to our hotel in Beijing. Seriously. I can't tell you some of the other amazing things she did. Sandy got us front row seats to the cultural show. We wouldn't have known the difference, but he worked hard to do it. Faye just saved our bacon when there was a discrepancy in Laurie's passport. Evidently, the ticket had her old passport number on it; Bruce had to get her a new one this summer because the passport must be more than 6 months from expiring when you travel. This young lady in her early 20s cut through some pretty tough red tape and got the situation resolved in around 15 mins.

Q: What do you like least?

A: Hard to say. Some of it is simply comfort issues, and I know that, as an American, I am spoiled. They consider air conditioning at 80 degrees to be ok; we don't. We drink a lot more fluids, especially because we sweat so much when it's hot, and we miss ice-cold drinks with ice. Some roads are super smooth and nice, others are like tank traps at Normandy. Dust, heat, noise, yelling, chattering, excited gesturing, massive crowds and pushing, and a resistance to lining up. All of these can grate on your nerves if you let them. Being pre-warned made it easier for me, but didn't make me like it any more. I also have strong opinions of a national/cultural need to do things for higher reasons. I see an important place for religion there. I think it is something some are seeking, but for many, it's simply about getting ahead, keeping your forward momentum, and advancing. Most of those we meet are interested in coming to visit America. We would love have them come visit. I think it would be more of a cultural shock for them than China has been for us. That's due to availability of information. Many Chinese are learning to get around the "Great Firewall of China "(government blocking of websites like US Google - they use Hong Kong, and Facebook) But most aren't interested in wasting their time with that when there are so many approved portals they can go through. In 20 years, what will the government do when all that is for naught? Interesting question.

Q: What would you hope people would take away from your experiences from this blog?

A: Ah, I'll save that for the end...many places still to go.

Q: What is modern air travel like in China?

A: Pretty good. Most of the facilities are new, security is not nearly as draconian as it is in the US, and luggage comes out quickly. I could tell on our flight from Nanning to Hefei that a number of them were flying on a plane for the first time. They were posing, taking pictures, and having to be told the flight rules. I love the way each member of the flight crew is introduced over the PA and they bow as each name is announced. It's kinda fun. The attendents work hard because they need the job and want to keep it. For the most part, you see that around China with service personnel except the stores. You can tell the store salespeople are bored; and not on commission! Probably because they see us Americans. We spend all our money just getting there and are cheap, or don't buy much in the stores. Whereas the Chinese figure they are on "vacation" and drop a bundle on gifts, souvenirs, and parties when on vacation. At least, this is what Sandy told us, and I'll bet he's right!

Q: Do you tip in China?

A: In theory, no. But westerners have ruined things there also, and it's starting to get expected. The Chinese culture would say that you shouldn't get extra money just for being proper in performing your tasks. But the consumer culture is booming in China and tipping is catching on. In a few years, in the major cities, it will probably be like most cities in the world.

Q: What do the Chinese do for fun?

A: From what we saw, smoke, drink, eat, talk loudly, and stare (just kidding on that last one). We see a lot of ads for liquor (not beer), fashions, but mostly by the government (police, admonishments to behave better (I don't know what else to call it) and government construction.) The models are starting to look western in revealing outfits and made up to a T western-style. Looking around the airport here, many of them read a lot (books, newspapers, etc) but, and here is another big surprise of the trip, EVERYONE, AND I DO MEAN EVERYONE, OWNS A CEL PHONE. The telephone is a relatively new reality for many Chinese. We had wired phone technology for a century; China has not. Cel technology has allowed them to connect hundreds of millions of people simply by putting up massive numbers of cel towers, not miles of pole and wires. People are motorbiking with one hand and yelling on their cel. They walk and text and expect others to get out of their way (from what I have witnessed, amazingly, they do.) Numerous signs tell people on the highway not to text and drive (they do anyway) I have seen people in what looks like abject squalor texting on a smartphone. It's truly amazing. There are few iPhones, unlike the USA here. The smartphones are largely Android, with those huge Samsung Note IIs being most popular. There are other manufacturers like Lenovo, Huawei, and others. But you can walk for a long time around any public areas and see swarms of people in groups, or individually, swiping, texting, or, more often, yelling (not talking quietly) It's quite a massive experience.

Q: Anything you forgot?

A: Sure, and perhaps I'll do another of these sometimes. Some I hold back on. We have had weird blockage of some sites we use from time to time. I don't know if that is intentional or accidental, but it does make one a little paranoid. Some things I hold back because it sounds petty. Like the spitting phenomenon. Chinese spit...a LOT. It's ok, because it's usually presaged by a loud HOOOOWWWWWAAAACCCCCCK..then a pause, then PTOOOOH. So you do have time to not get in the firing line. I attribute it, as outlined in one of my guide books, to the smoking, but also the poor air quality. Bruce and I are ready to leave Hefei. It's nice, but it reminded us of Anaheim in the 1970s...or worse. Hopefully there is a clearer air in the hilly regions of Chengdu.

Well, I hope this has been fun. Allegedly, our plane leaves in 30 mins...but I'm preparing to be disappointed. :) It's all good. The Chinese take it in stride...and I think I should too.

Zai Jian

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 03:48 Archived in China Tagged me buildings people parties night hotel research prep Comments (1)

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