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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)

Some downtime...and entering the People's Republic of China

We enter the PRC through to beautiful karst mountain countryside of Guilin

sunny 94 °F
View Preston Family Trip to China on Kwpres's travel map.

When we fell into bed Thursday night, after our excursion through Hong Kong, we decided to give the kids (and let's be honest, ourselves too!) some downtime in the morning. Our flight to Guilin was not until 4:10, and we had seen more of Hong Kong in 24 hours then we had ever planned to! So we let the kids sleep as late as they wanted, and figured we'd get the hotel breakfast and start introducing our group to some local dishes. We ended up with the four of us just enjoying some blogging, reading, and writing/drawing in the cozy little room Bruce and the girls were in.IMG_0397.jpg It was only a twin bed, so Bruce got forced into the "crack" of the pushed together beds, and the whole group was a little light on sleep. We would have to catch up later as events were in going to follow in quick fashion as we entered the PRC.

Most hotel breakfasts in tourist-land China consist of buffet style offerings with a mix of Asian and western choices. The four of us really dug into the breakfast because our exhaustive efforts on Victoria's Peak had also caused us to pass up on dinner. Now, we were going to make up for it. I went for a varied selections of both cuisines, especially the dim sum,IMG_0393.jpg90_IMG_0394.jpg

The kids loaded up on fruit, rice, waffles, bacon, juice, and this wonderful feast recharged our batteries for the day of travel ahead of us. We made the decision, based on our observation of Hong Kong's unpredictable traffic situation, to head out to the airport several hours early and simply hang out there for a while until our flight. We had not been able to acquire seat assignments, and hoped that a personal appearance at the Hong Kong Airlines ticket counter would resolve all of our questions.

We did the reverse of our process from the day before (bus, train, airport) like old pros, and found ourselves all checked-in and ready for flying into China's Mainland...four hours before our flight. One little detail remained to be resolved - the gate for our departure. This will come into play later on...

No one was hungry after our wonderful feast, but we were constantly up for cool refreshing drinks since arriving in Asia. Lo and behold what do we see? IMG_0405.jpgSTARBUCKS!! After a few refreshing Frappachinos (Does St. Louis have Red Bean and Green Tea Frappachinos?) We looked for things to do during our wait. The girls always have game booklets (Thank you Aunt Gloria), Laurie has a book to read, IMG_0403.jpgHayley has her iPadIMG_0404.jpg, and Bruce and Keith made good use of the free WiFi (Thank you Steve Jobs for FaceTime!) Eventually, we would need some lunch, and while it sounds blasphemous to be eating McDonald's on a trip to an area of the world with some of the world's great chefs, in the airport, it's better to get food that the kids are familiar with.

A short while after our fries, burgers, and chicken fingers (they don't like the term nuggets. I think it may refer to body parts unmentionable), we decided to go through security and go wait at the gate. Uh...wait a minute...no gate chosen yet. No problem. Let's just get past security and wait for the gate assignment. 2:30...3:00...3:15...uh...folks, the plane is supposed to leave at 4:10. And there is no "Hong Kong Airlines" desk to get answers from past security. And there is a "language problem."

Eventually, we find out that the plane hasn't arrived yet, and we do get a gate...at 3:45. So, we will be leaving late, which is fine, just so we know where to wait! Hayley picked up the iPad under the watchful eye of one of the locals in her age group. IMG_0406.jpg

When the time comes to get on board, you board a bus with, what fells like, half of China.large_IMG_0408.jpg

Then, we hauled our "carry-ons" up a rolling set of stairs, like we used to all the time at airports, to get on Hong Kong Express #8121. Some juice, a cookie (I guess their version of honey-roasted peanuts) and a few government films about how friendly all the government workers will be that will smilingly goes through the immigration procedures with you, we landed in Guilin!

We were met after customs by our guide, Sandy, and our driver Mr. Yang,IMG_0413.jpg and headed into the scenic landscapes that surround Guilin.IMG_0421.jpg It was a fascinating mixture of past and presentIMG_0414.jpg in one of the smaller major cities in southern China (only @700,000 in the city proper). The wonderful scenes make people-watching a real fulfilling experience!

We got into our Sheraton rooms latelarge_IMG_0429.jpg, because of our adventures in the Hong Kong Airport, ordered some pizza (the Chinese taught the Italians how...and still are masters!) and finished up for a big day Saturday on the Li River Cruise!

Posted by Kwpres 16:32 Archived in China Tagged landscapes mountains buildings people trees planes hotel Comments (0)

Over the Pole and into Seoul

We establish our first Asian adventure in Korea

overcast 88 °F
View Preston Family Trip to China on Kwpres's travel map.

Going from Boston to JFK was a hop, skip, and a plop. But getting ready for our 14 hour flight to Seoul seemed daunting. Bruce and Jo had gone on Korean Air when they went to meet Laurie in 2003 so we decided to take KE for our first leg of our journey even if it was a bit more. We later realized we had bought at just the right time and we had an experience that reminded us of what air travel can be like.

The flight crew of KE 82 were gracious, patient, attentive, tireless, joyful, creative in solving problems, and, with the exception of one young man, all women. They came to the airport looking like they would be walking the runway at a fashion show, rather than an airport! By the end of the trip, many of us felt like something on the floor of a theater after a Saturday morning matinee. The crew was as effervescent as ever. Bruce and I remarked again and again that this KAL crew was showing the world that it can[i] be done. We saw them line up before entering the jet in JFK and it looked like their version of the pre-game meeting at the Super Bowl! large_IMG_0318.jpg

Once onboard, we settled into our "new economy" seats in KAL's massive A380 Airbus. I sent a text to my bride, who remarked, it looks as big as an apartment building. True...but how many buildings hold over 400 people?! It's a 3-4-3 configuration, and we had chosen a row of four near the front (and the bathrooms) We were excited to get on our way! IMG_0320.jpg

Food was tasty and nicely presentedIMG_0329

IMG_0329

And once we landed, we promptly got on a very nice bus for our trip to our hotel!IMG_0332.jpg After a bit of excitement trying to find our hotel (which was only "one block" away) we checked in, dumped our luggage, and headed off for some quick Korean cuisine...at Burger King! IMG_0346

IMG_0346

Finally, it was time to head home. We scouted out some eating places for the morning. It's going to be a quick beginning to the day as we head to the Seoul USO for a tour of the DMZ between the two Koreas. IMG_0348.jpg

On our way back, we had a glimpse of the active small stores around our hotel. Perhaps tomorrow, we can be a little more adventuresome than Burger King!IMG_0350.jpg

It's late and I must rise in a few hours. Good night, all!

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 07:51 Archived in South Korea Tagged me buildings children night planes hotel Comments (1)

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