Lindsay and Baolu's trip to China
by Lindsay Korst
October 29 to November 12, 2005
Finally, I get to visit mainland China, meet
Baolu's family, climb the Great Wall and get
paid an unfortunate visit from "Chairman Mao".
But first, we have to GET there...
Saturday, October 29, 2005
A very, very long day today. We will be traveling
from Seattle to Vancouver to Shanghai to Beijing in
one, continuous series of hops. To speak a little
Shanghai-ese here, "Ai Yo!" (which means, "Oh my
goodness!"). It will be exhausting. For some reason,
there are no direct flights from Seattle to
mainland China, at least not where we are going.
Taxi to Sea-Tac airport and grab a Horizon Air
flight to Vancouver, BC, Canada. Our plane is
a 37 seat Bombardier Q200 propeller aircraft which
whisks us north in a scant 40 minutes. Once
at YVR, we have some lunch and wait for our 3pm
China Eastern airlines flight to Shanghai.
This leg of the trip was dirt cheap -- $1,400.00
round trip for the two of us. China Eastern is
a recent start-up carrier to the Far East with
Shanghai as their hub. "They're new at this"
will become our battle cry as the day progresses.
China Eastern does things in a rather awkward manner.
First, you are not issued tickets until you show up
at the counter. Then you go to ANOTHER counter to
check in. You cannot check in or get a seat assignment
until 2 hours before departure. Finally, they do not
board by rows, at least in the traditional sense. Result?
Long lines and crowds and odors.
Yes, odors. As I look around in the seat assignment
line, it is apparent that half of Canada's turbaned
Pakistani community will be joining us on today's flight.
I thought we were flying to China. This looks like the
bus to Bangladesh. Bathing appears to be optional.
Now to the gate. Yes, Pakistan is well-represented here.
Chinese are actually in the minority on this flight.
I suspect Shanghai is a gateway city to the sub-continent.
Anyway, here comes the announcement to board "first-class
passengers and those requiring assistance". The entire
planeload jumps up and surges toward the door. We are
"Now we will board by rows!" the beleaguered stewardess
bellows into the mike. This only seems to excite the crowd
more. "Rows 50 to 30!" she yells. This is akin to yelling,
"FIRE!" in a crowded theatre. Rows 50 to 30? I do a quick
count of this appropriately-named AirBUS A340 and that comes
to 160 people! Nice job, toots...
Using our carry-ons as battering rams, I force a path for
Baolu and myself onboard. Seating is 2 + 4 + 2 across.
We have one of the twos (an aisle and a windows) which is
nice but, unfortunately, our neighbors for this trip are
First we have the smoker. Yes a SMOKER on a non-smoking,
10 hour international flight. Oh, he thinks he's very crafty.
On the hour, he goes into the lavatory, somehow disables
the smoke detector inside, and puffs away. Then he comes
back and sits down across the aisle, smelling like an ashtray.
None of the flight crew notices or says anything to him.
Nicotine fix sated, he pulls out an assortment of cellophane
bags, noisily crinkles each one, and processes to crunch
and slurp pumpkin seeds and other snacks and smacking his
lips with relish. He is by far the loudest
yawner I have ever heard. "ahhhhohhhhhhhhYAAAAWWWRRRLLL!!!"
Next, directly in my line of sight is "stocking feet lady". She
hasn't bathed recently and places her large, misshapen feet
on the armrest so whenever I look up from my book...there's her
Worst of all is "stinky feet lady" sitting directly behind us.
She is using Baolu's armrest as a footrest. Her socks smell like
she's been living in them for a while. The rank stench is
horrible and borderline nauseating. This ripe odor will come
in putrid waves whenever she moves. She even picked a fight
with Baolu when B tried to recline her seat. Baolu told me
later that this woman is what is not-so-politely referred to in
China as a "peasant".
Dinner tonight is...fish! They ran out of the chicken by the
time they got to us ("We're new at this") Yeah, let's add a little
more "atmosphere" to this flight by serving fish! I need a drink.
How about some wine? OK, here are "two fingers" of wine for you
(around two swallows). Sigh. Pass me some of those pumpkin
seeds, will you Mr. Smoker-Across-The-Aisle?
The flight seems to take forever. The video is broken so I
content myself with my book. The turbaned dudes are nervously
pacing the aisles and glaring at me each time they pass.
Ha! Infidel! You too will bow before my stinky feet!
OTOH, glaring seems to be their normal facial expression.
Maybe it's just gas.
It's not my imagination. We arrive in Shanghai 90 minutes late.
There must have been quite a headwind we were bucking. Line up
in China Customs for 40 minutes. I managed to pick the one,
diligent customs agent who takes twice as long as everyone else.
AI-YO! Now we're off to get our boarding passes for the final
Shanghai to Beijing leg of this night-without-end.
The domestic flight to the capital of China is MUCH nicer than
the international flight (go figure). The stewardesses are
cuter, the food is better, and the passengers are all Chinese
businesspeople tapping away on their laptops. Baolu even
points out one fetching lass amongst the flight crew saying
she has a very pretty face! I can't argue with that.
After a couple hours, we are flying over the lights of Beijing.
It is almost midnight local time and we are both pretty much
zombies. Curiously, as we land, we don't pull up to a terminal,
but the captain parks us on the tarmac far away from any buildings.
Now comes the interesting part. They roll up some stairs to the
plane and herd the entire 737 passengers and crew into one bus!
We are packed together like sardines in oil and I am sweating like
a pig from the humidity. Like all bus drivers everywhere, it
is, accelerator/brake, accelerator/brake, accelerator/brake. We
slam against each other in the heat hanging on for dear life. He
drives us around the entire airport for about 15 minutes and still lets
us out at some distant location.
After hiking through the deserted terminal for a good 10 minutes, I
have to go use the bathroom. I find one and relieve myself. As I
turn from washing my hands, this joker thrusts a tissue in my hands.
Whatever, dude. I start to leave and he blocks my way with a wise
grin (no no no!). I fish for a one yen note. Another wise grin.
No no no! "B-A-O-L-UUUUU!!!!!!!", I bellow. I explain that this
dork wants money or something. She thrust a few more yen at him
and told him to take a hike. Later, Baolu explains that was probably
just a janitor who saw a white boy and thought he could get some
US dollars from me. Then she taught me a phrase I would use through
the remainder of this trip. BOO YAO!!!! Which means "Not interested".
China is full of bathroom attendants. I got very good at wiping
my hands on my pants.
Are we there yet? Nope. Gotta take a taxi and get to our hotel,
Now to get a taxi in Beijing airport, you must cross 5 lanes of
high-speed traffic to reach the taxi stand. I pulled Baolu
back from certain death once and she did the same for me seconds
later. Finally, we are seated in a little VW "Santana" taxi.
Soon, our driver has us rocketing along the tollway towards
the city. It is 1:40 am local time as we approach the deserted
downtown. Mercifully, our room was ready and we went upstairs
for 4 hours of very deep, restful sleep. We were staying at the Capitol
Hotel which isn't much to look at on the outside (blah, unpainted
concrete), but was very nice inside -- many restaurants and
all services imaginable. The room was clean and quite posh.
Monday, October 31, 2005
That's right. We lost Sunday somewhere between here and there,
yesterday. Now a few words about China...
The Chinese are very good hosts. They take good care of
obvious foreigners (like me). They like to feed you.
They will keep bringing dish after dish of food and just
when you're about to burst, they'll bring a few more dishes.
Traffic rules are only suggestions. They aren't enforced.
We were stuck at one intersection about 30 minutes because
the cross traffic simply kept going when their light turned
red...and kept going until it turned green again!
Horns are used routinely, not in anger, but to let people
know you are there.
Everything is negotiable.
Cabs are incredibly cheap and the way to get around town.
All men smoke. Constantly. It's the national pastime.
Even non-smoking floors of the hotels smell like an ashtray.
Women do not smoke. If they do, they are considered "bad".
Another national pastime is hocking lugies on the floor
(spitting) although I'm told that's on the wane.
All heating/air-conditioning is centralized. That means if
the hotel doesn't feel like turning on the A/C when it's 80
degrees outside, too bad. Since we couldn't cool our room
down, we left the "A/C" off and opened the windows at night
to catch a cool breeze.
If you are a Westerner, EVERYONE will try to sell you a plastic
Rolex watch. Look ahead on the sidewalk for men holding
wooden cases about the size of a briefcase which they will
quickly snap open for your inspection. They are very
persistent, so just tell them to stick it up their boo yao.
There is no tipping in China. This is why they love
Americans so much, because they are the ones who still
tip anyway. In Beijing, when we were at the Cashier's desk,
the head bell boy came over and proudly showed the girls the
thick stack of U.S. $1 bills he had gotten that day as tips.
All building scaffolding is bamboo, not metal tubes as in
this country. I saw bamboo scaffolding up to 30 stories
high on some buildings under construction.
Bicycles and scooters are common as transportation, although
more and more they are being replaced by cars. The scooters
have these very annoying, ear-piercing disk brakes (SCREEE
SCREEESCREEEESCREEEE) you hear as they stop at intersections.
Monday, October 31, 2005 (continued)
Baohai (Baolu's brother) called us about 0630 from Shanghai
to see if we had gotten in OK.
We shower up and head downstairs for the breakfast buffet.
The elevator doors open and....I am surrounded by Westerners!
We head for the crowded buffet and except for the staff,
Baolu is the only Asian present. Weird.
Very good buffet at this hotel. Well stocked with eggs,
bacon, French toast, cereal, you name it. They'll even
whip up an omelet for you on the spot. Our first decent
meal since we left Canada.
Today we decided to "only" visit Tiananmen Square and the
adjacent Forbidden City AND a nearby Park where Kubla Khan
himself once had a palace.
We ask directions at the front desk and they tell us rather
than take a taxi, we should simply walk over there. It was
a beautiful, warm, cloudless day about 65 - 70 degrees F and
very muggy, yet cool in the shade. We made it over to the
square in about 20 minutes. I was kind of disappointed in
Tiananmen Square which is nothing more than a huge, paved
plaza a few blocks square. However, the Forbidden City was
Starting at the edge of Tiananmen Square is a huge gate
and palace entryway -- I figured that would be pretty much
it. WRONG! The Forbidden City goes on for MILES with
palace after palace after palace. In fact, after a while
you get, what I call, "palace fatigue". All the palaces bear
a family resemblance and indeed most of them were built
during the Ming Dynasty which lasted almost 300 years
and had 11 different emperors. (Baolu slept through most
of the 5,000 years+ of her Chinese History classes as a
schoolgirl so I relied on the signs and audio tour to
tell me all this...)
There were narrower palaces along each side which were no
slouches either. My favorite was the one built to house
various concubines, one of whom "Xie Xie" (pronounced
See-See) bore the Emperor a son. When the father died
and the son became ruler, he was too young, so Xie Xie
stood behind a screen and told him what to do and say!
To quote Rhett Butler, "What a woman!". Apparently
Xie Xie was not too popular as she was kind of bossy,
but you have to deal with these things when you're King,
Another spiffy place was the Imperial Garden (Restaurant)
which had lots of old trees and ponds and pagodas and
was downright peaceful (I added that restaurant part).
There were also these intricate mosaics made of little
pebbles pushed into the sidewalks -- incredible,
intricate details everywhere.
After a short rest in the sun (it was getting hot now,
80+ F), we left the Forbidden City for the Kubla Khan park
(actually named Beihai Park) just to the north and west.
Immediately outside the Forbidden City, we were set upon
by hordes of shysters, selling plastic Rolex watches,
out-of-date tour books, and DVDs. With my white skin,
I was like a magnet drawing flies to butter (sorry, I'm
mixing my metaphors). Anyway, walking over to the park
was an adventure in advertising. Hello, friend! Rolex?
Tommy Hilfiger? Maidenform? Tour of Great Wall by Pedicab?
Boo Yao! Boo Yao! BOO YAOOOOO!!!!!!!
Anyway, we got to the park. As we were walking up to buy
our tickets, another old lady tried to hustle us. By now,
Baolu was getting sick of it and she yelled at her. Once we
got inside, Beihai Park is very pretty. It is this large
lake with an island in the middle and a temple up at the
top of the island -- right in the middle of downtown
Beijing. We took some pictures, climbed the steps, paid
our respects to the Buddhas in the hillside caves and called
it a day about 1:30 pm.
Rather than walk all the way back to the hotel (our pedometer
showed we walked over 12 miles), Baolu hailed a taxi who
picked us up, then did a U-Turn right in the middle of a
busy, eight-lane boulevard. Horns! Curses in Chinese!
Cool! This is my kind of driver. We tipped him lavishly.
Got back to the hotel in good shape and then the jet lag
hit. We took a nap and watched TV. On the Korean channel,
Baolu found this TV show called "Sweet 18" about a very
cheeky 18-year old girl in an arranged marriage to a rather
nerdish 28-year old police inspector. Baolu started watching
the show because the guy was quite handsome (eye-candy)
and even though I couldn't understand a word of it, I
enjoyed the girl's saucy antics and facial expressions.
The gist of the story is that "Love conquers All".
In fact I enjoyed the stories so much, when we got home
I bought some of the episodes on Ebay -- supposedly
with English subtitles so I can find out what they're
After resting up a bit, we walked over to the downtown
Beijing shopping district and had dinner in a "typical"
restaurant. We had some sort of pork dish with bits of
fat still attached that I gobbled down. Baolu was VERY
impressed. Apparently, that is a very Shanghaiese dish.
It was yummy, I thought, and as long as it's not snake,
I'll give it a try.
Tuesday, November 1, 2005
It is 7:00 am and we are sitting in bed watching
"High Speed Chase" (stuff lifted from "Cops") in
Chinese! Car chases are fun especially when narrated
in frantic Mandarin. At one point, they start showing this
riot of college students (for variety, I suppose).
Anyway, the drunken darlings are tearing down
light poles, overturning cars, setting fires
and fighting each other when Baolu starts laughing.
I ask her what's so funny? She translated the Chinese
and said that was Pullman, Washington and good,
old Washington State University! Ironically, the school's
motto is "World Class Education - Face to Face".
Nice. We come all the way to China and THIS is
what they show of my State on TV. If that's a "world
class education", I shudder to think what they're teaching.
Back downstairs to the breakfast buffet. Again, it
is good, unfortunately it is also crowded and they
seat Baolu and myself at the same table as a couple
of old biddies from Indiana who spend the entire meal
complaining and describing to themselves their various
ailments as we're eating. Such phrases as "My sinuses
had dirty mucus" are not exactly enjoyable with scrambled
Today's trip is to the Temple of Heaven, south of the hotel.
The temple is in the center of a huge park forested with
around 4,000 cypress trees, some of which are 800 years
old (that's eons to you and me, kids...). A short taxi
ride later, we have paid our few yen and have entered
the lush, green park. It is a beautiful spot and early
enough so it is just us and the locals.
What struck me were the large groups of people gathered
together to sing! They were quite good and a nice
counterpoint to the otherwise silent park (no traffic
noise is heard, the trees screen it out very nicely).
It was pleasant just to slowly walk among the greenery
and enjoy people-watching.
At one point, a very precocious little girl, around
six or so, walked right up to me and said, "Hello,
Good Morning!". That was interesting. Cute kid...
she'll go far. At least she wasn't staring at me
like many people.
The Temple itself is being renovated (bamboo scaffolding
and green screens), but we still saw some interesting
things. Like the place they used to have sacrifices!
Ah ha, NOW I know why Baolu brought me here.... (see picture)
As the morning wears on, the tour groups with their little
flag-equipped guides arrive as well as the shysters. Again,
they zero in on me offering me everything from "official"
2008 Olympic manuals to cases of 20 watches.
After escaping from the park, we walked over to the famous,
or notorious if you like, "Pearl Market". This is a four
story, indoor shopping mall containing nothing but faked
brand name merchandise.
According to Baolu, the faked stuff isn't as good as
it once was because the government is cracking down.
I didn't even bother with the boo yao. I tried very hard
to avoid eye contact, but I kept bumping into things.
"HELLO, FRIEND!" "POLO!" "CARTIER!" "ROLEX!" "HERMES!"
"YOU WANT SUIT?" HELLO! HELLO! HELLO! The kept touching
me on the forearm. HEY! HELLO! Imagine four floors of
girlies trying to tempt you with bogus merchandise.
It was like the Castle Anthrax from Monty Python
and the Holy Grail. "We are but eight score young
blondes and brunettes...all between sixteen and
nineteen and a half...cut off in this castle with
no one to protect us!" CLOTHES! TOMMY HILFIGER!
HELLO! CAMERAS! JEWELRY! HELLO! HELLO! AAAAAUUUUGGGHH....
Finally, Baolu decided we'd had enough and we grabbed
a taxi back to the hotel. Wow.
We had a late lunch/early dinner at one of the hotel's
eight restaurants. This one was authentic northern
Chinese cuisine. Baolu read the menu, laughed, and
said they had "Beef Penis" and "Dog" on this menu.
We settled for less exotic fare (I think) like pot
stickers, chicken, rice and beer.
Now what do we do? We are WAY ahead of "schedule".
Time for another nap and watch some TV. So far,
Baolu has done an excellent job of hustling me from
attraction to attraction.
Wednesday, November 2, 2005
Today, we are off on an all-inclusive mini-bus tour
to the Great Wall of China (and a few lesser-known,
but wonderfully kitschy attractions).
Baolu and I are standing in the lobby of the hotel
when "Linda" runs up to Baolu (not me) and asks
if we are on the English speaking tour. We are, so
we get on board the small, 20 seat bus and wait
while Linda rounds up the others.
We depart promptly at 0830 and head to another nearby
hotel to pick up some more tourists. Linda is on
her cell phone arguing with someone. Baolu is translating
for me. Apparently there is a woman back at our hotel
who missed the bus (she was asleep and wouldn't respond
to any of Linda's phone calls). This woman is now demanding
we come back for her. We do. We all kind of look at her
funny when she gets on board. She looks like Martha
Stewart's older sister.
Linda then proceeds to ask where we are all from. Baolu
and I are from the U.S., we have two couples from Australia
and one from New Zealand and folks from Great Britain,
Czechoslovakia, Italy and Hong Kong. The woman who overslept
is from France. When he hears this, the Australian bloke in
front of us mutters, "Ah, a froggie..."
0930 - We are hauling ass north along the Badaling
Expressway. Our driver is passing everything in sight
trying to make up time for "the French Mistake, Viola!".
The speed limit is 100kph (62mph) and I'm guessing we're
doing at least 130kph+ (80mph).
The first stop is the "world-famous" (everything on this
tour is world-famous) Jade Factory. They take us through
and we see all these artisans (free of any safety equipment)
cutting, shaping and polishing these intricate little jade
baubles and trinkets.
We are shown how real jade will allow light to pass through
and jade also has a clear tone when a tuning fork is applied.
Jade is very hard and will also cut glass!
The factory's signature piece is a jade ball inside a jade ball
which was carved from one solid piece of the green rock.
The gift shop is very elaborate but Baolu's mom gave us
explicit instructions not to buy anything there "because
it is too expensive!". Instead, we just wander around and
gaze at the shelved rock. I didn't realize jade came in
so many different colors including dark green, light green,
white, yellow and red.
Next stop is the fabled Great Wall of China. Our tour company
must have a "deal" with the parking attendants here as our little
bus pulls past everyone else and parks within 100' of the Wall.
Ahhh, there it is! Just like it looks in all those pictures!
I didn't realize how STEEP it is. It goes right up the mountainside
at least a 45 degree angle. Luckily there are block steps cut into the
Baolu and I hike up a ways taking pictures of each other as
we go. When we get back to the bottom, we opt for the
"commemorative, laminated, hermetically-sealed" official
portrait of ourselves with the wall in the background. (But
first the photographer has to chase off some Japanese tourists
who have strayed into "his" background.) It is a very hazy
day at the Wall, but the photo turns out pretty good.
I bought a T-shirt saying, "I Climbed the Great Wall" but
the XXXL size label turned out to be false. It was more
like a medium size and barely fit over my immense girth!
Maybe I can just use it for a washcloth. It is difficult,
if not impossible to find clothes in China that fit me.
They give us 3 hours at the Wall which is more than enough
time. We chatted in the parking lot with an Australian couple
from the tour. Our group had gathered together and we were
just about ready to leave when one fellow came puffing up.
He had walked the entire "loop" in our area! My hat's off
to him. It was a hot day and the wall is very steep here.
Next stop is the (wait for it) world-famous "Jing Tai Lan"
or "Enamel Factory" where we had lunch. Yes lunch. In a
factory. Actually, it wasn't that bad. They put on quite a
spread as a matter of fact including beer and wine all included
in the tour price. Our tour group had two tables upstairs in
the huge dining area. Apparently ALL the Great Wall tours
stop at this place for lunch. The area was pretty impoverished,
so this must have been the big employer for the area.
Next stop were the Ming Tombs, a world-famous site also known
as the 13 Tombs. Here the emperors of that dynasty were
buried. It is exactly 50 km from here to the Forbidden City
in downtown Beijing and supposedly the entire way was a
straight line (I don't know, I might just be making that
part up. I THINK that's what they said on the tour...)
Final stop on today's tour is the excruciatingly, world-famous
"Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine Research Center". It was
also the most unintentionally funny moment of today's trip. We pull
through this archway and park in the courtyard of a small
collection of seedy buildings. They hustle us inside past the
non-operating fountain with murky water and one listless
goldfish, past the 50 or so dead potted plants and down a
long hallway. There are men in white lab coats everywhere.
It looks like an ad for Bayer Aspirin.
Past several classrooms we are herded until we reach the end
of the hall where we are shooed inside what looks like an
ordinary school room with children's desks. The door is closed.
The windows are closed and locked. There are bars on the
windows. The shades are drawn down. Bright, fluorescent
light causes us to blink uncertainly. We all nervously take
a seat, with Baolu steering me to the back of the classroom.
In front of us is a gentleman in the de rigueur white coat.
He greets us and then launches into an explanation of why
acupuncture and Chinese medicine is far superior to anything
Western Civilization has come up with. "Chinese medicine is
completely natural, while Western medicine is full of
Dangerous Chemicals!" he assures us. He whips out a chart
showing acupuncture "pressure points" on the human body
(practically everywhere to my untrained eye). With a hint
of satisfaction, he informs us that Chairman Mao himself
used to come up here for treatment during lulls in his
Moving in for the kill, he announces we will now be
introduced to the honored staff of this tony institution.
He's as good as his word and four white coated scholarly
types march in as if on cue accompanied by their lovely
female assistants (in matching candy stripe outfits and
that little hat thing nurses wear).
"May I introduce Doctor Futon, Doctor Chan, Doctor Kwan
and Doctor Wang?" our host pipes up. "They will now
examine each of you in turn and determine your state
of health! Extend your wrist!" One woman hesitantly
does so and Doctor Wang takes it in the traditional
"Any others?" says our host looking meaningfully at
the three Asian guys in the back of the room. We all
shake our heads. Now's our chance to make a break for
it. As nonchalantly as possible, Baolu and I, (she's
leading me by the hand now) the three Asian guys and a
couple others slowly move toward the door. Baolu tries
the doorknob and it opens. We're free!
Scooby-Do style, we hustle down the hallway towards
daylight past the startled staff. As we burst out
the double doors into the courtyard, Baolu loudly
pipes up (in English), "What, no Asian guys want to try
the Chinese medicine????" They don't reply, but everyone
else cracks up. One by one, the others trickle out of
the building. We are all giggling but not trying to
be obvious about it. Suppressed laughter is the best kind.
As theatre, it was superb. However, as Baolu pointed out,
they presented it so clumsily it was hard to take seriously.
Still, a good time was had by all and they had us back at
the hotel in time for an early dinner.
Thursday, November 3, 2005
After the excitement of the last few days, we just took it slow
for a change today. We slept in until noon and then had a
leisurely lunch. Afterwards, we hiked out to the shopping
area downtown for a look around. Back to our hotel, we enjoyed
several drinks in the lounge then headed to dinner.
Friday, November 4, 2005
Another easy day. We checked out of the hotel, stowed our bags
and went for a walk up to the shopping area to have lunch at
McDonalds (Baolu was getting sick of the buffet). Soon, it was
time to taxi out to the airport and fly to Shanghai. Because it was
Friday evening, the place was crowded with people heading home
for the weekend.
Standing in the airport listening to the endless recorded
announcements of flights departing (in Chinese), I SWEAR I heard
each message contained the phrase, "Conversation Wookie".
Baolu thinks I'm making it up, but that's what I heard. As often
happens when I'm bored, it became an obsession. I started giggling
as I envisioned Luke Skywalker battling the evil China Eastern
Airlines with an overcooked fish entree.
My heart sank as I realized the airport was going to pull that
stunt again of busing us out to our plane. Apparently this is
standard operating procedure in both Beijing and Shanghai for
domestic flights. To add insult to injury, our bus rolled up
to a plane THAT WAS ATTACHED TO A JETWAY. Yep, all 150 of us
carting our luggage struggled up the stairs and could look
INTO the terminal building before walking the jet way down
to the plane. All I can say is they better get their act
in gear before the 2008 Beijing Olympics start, because that
busing-the-masses-around thing is pretty retarded.
Once the plane was loaded and everyone was settled in, we
pushed back about 10 feet and stopped. Uh-oh. Here we
stayed for around 30 minutes. Finally, we started to move
backwards again and we rolled out to the runways and took
off. Once airborne, they apologized for the delay saying
a visiting dignitary was leaving the airport and they had
to shut everything down for a while.
Hmpf. I see some things are universal. If it was up to
me, "visiting dignitaries" would be required to arrive/depart
at odd hours like 10am or 2pm instead of 6pm when everyone
else is trying to get home. Jerks. ;p
Shanghai airport is HUGE. After landing, it takes about
20 minutes for the airplane to taxi over to....no, not the
terminal, heavens no. Let's roll way over to what looks
like a freight handling building and stop here. Here come
the stairs and sure enough, there's our bus! Grrrr....
OK, I know the drill. Circle the building for a while
(I SWEAR we did a complete circle at one point), then
park at some double doors. OK now, up those three
flights of stairs. Hup! Hup! Schlep those bags! Tote
that carry-on! Hiiii-yooooo!!!! Just follow the crowd.
Hopefully, some of them know where we're going...
\begin historical interlude
In ancient times, Chinese airports were used to foil
and confuse enemy invaders. Casualties were high
for the conquering hordes as Chinese bus drivers
savagely slammed the troops against one another
whilst the remainder became hopelessly lost somewhere
between the duty free shop and customs. What troops
remained had their wallets stripped from them by
smiling bathroom attendants.
\end historical interlude
Baolu's brother is there to meet us at the Shanghai arrival
gate. He is a sight for my sore eyes! He looks so much
older and bigger than the pictures I've seen. Baolu gives
her little brother a big hug. We walk out to his nifty
bright blue Peugeot 307 sedan and soon he has us speeding
towards downtown Shanghai.
Baohai drives fast! He has us up to a good 130/kph or so
as we hurtle along the empty freeway. Go, Baohai, Go!!!!
Closer to downtown we hit some traffic. Shanghai has
monster traffic jams. California class traffic jams.
Baohai has fixed us up at the historical Astor House
Hotel on "The Bund" in downtown Shanghai.
Baohai hustles us past the front desk and up to the
second floor check in. This is the executive section
of the hotel where Baohai has all his business clients
stay and it is very posh. Thank you brother-in-law!!!
Our room has a view of the river which flows past
The Bund as well as the foreboding Russian embassy
just across the street! "The Bund" is the old, historical
area of Shanghai when various Western countries first
began to trade with China. Lots of old buildings built
in the 1840s which are lit up at night and look sensational.
We are tired, so we call it a night.
Saturday, November 5, 2005
We are up early. A busy day, today! The executive buffet
on our floor is wonderful and included in the hotel price.
At 0930, Baohai picks us up and I finally get to meet his
main squeeze, Ling Li or "Anne" if you prefer. She's a
sweet kid and seems to take good care of Baohai.
First stop today is Baolu's old middle school, then her
elementary school. Both are very neat and elegant with
lots of dark wood paneling. What struck me as interesting
in the elementary school was a very large sign at the
entrance admonishing the kids to "Always Speak English".
After school, we visit Baohai's business (yep, HE'S the boss!)
on the 23rd floor of a downtown office building. His company
makes refill kits and toner cartridges for printers.
For lunch, we visit a small cafe near an intersection
which serves these wonderful steamed buns, cuisine
Shanghai is famous for. The first bite of the little
dumpling gives you a rush of steam. The second bite
has all the juice and flavor inside. Mmmmmm..... I'm
salivating just thinking about it! Very yummy....
Next stop is what I call the "Hello Market". Just like
Beijing's notorious Pearl Market, here is where all the
counterfeit merchandise is sold. I know the drill. Lots
of hands on my forearm. "Hi Friend!" "Hello!" "HELLO!!"
"Polo Shirts!" "DVD" "Rolex" "HELLOOOOO!!!!!"
A few blocks away, we are walking down the Huai-Huai Road,
a more traditional shopping area. It is quite crowded
with weekend shoppers and we walk a good two miles one
way and ride the bus back a couple stops to Baohai's car.
(Don't tell Baolu's mom...she forbid us to ride the bus...)
Getting on into afternoon, we visit a very famous tea
house. Baohai is really spoiling me now as he orders
up some very expensive (and very good) tea for me. I
really do like my tea (I've never enjoyed coffee) so
this is a very pleasant interlude as we munch snacks
and sip our chai.
My type of tea comes with a floor show. They bring
out this slotted wooden box on top of which are various
tea-making vessels. The gal goes through the entire
ritual (they throw the first cup of tea AWAY as the
buds haven't had a chance to completely open. Like
drinking a fine wine, you sniff the empty tea cup
as you roll it in your hands. Then it is refilled,
a cup is placed as a lid and you invert the thing
and remove the vessel. Mmmmmm...so smooth and good.
We spend a good 3 hours in the tea house sipping,
munching and chatting. For me, this is the most
enjoyable moment of the entire trip. What a
wonderfully-relaxing way to spend an afternoon.
This is the life.
Thoroughly tea-infused, we next set off for tonight's
light dinner at a "world-famous" noodle shop! No,
really! This place was written up in Gourmet Magazine
and everything! The shop is off the main street
and hard to find. You go down this alley, turn left
and there it is.
For dinner, I had wheat noodles with a crab/pork
meatball to add to the soup. Oh, so good. Words
cannot describe how delicious that soup is. Excuse
me again...(slurp, salivate).
My first day's impression of Shanghai: Much more
cosmopolitan than Beijing. All the kids (and most
of the adults) are in Western dress including polo
shirts, blue jeans and white tennis shoes. You don't
see as many "Mao types" (blue cap, coat and sensible
shoes) as in Beijing. Not as dirty as Beijing partly
because frequent rain showers at night scrub the
place down. It is very noisy and crowded with
at times, immense traffic jams. Shanghai is like
New York City times four in size. Skyscrapers go on
to the horizon. Plus, I have two natives with me to
steer me to only the best local restaurants.
Life is good here!
Sunday, November 6, 2005
Today, Baohai is taking us to the Yu Garden and market.
The Yu Garden has a crooked bridge that twists 9 times
(to ward off evil spirits). There is lots of shopping
to do (trinkets and baubles), legit this time and we
pore through the various shops. I am looking for a
small jade tiger to bring home, but I don't find any
to my liking today.
The famous steamed bun place at the market has a TWO
HOUR WAIT for table service, so we pass on that and
walk over to another famous restaurant...which is
closed for renovations! (oops...). Baolu announces
she is getting hungry, so we buy a "snack" of a
vegetarian big bun from a sidewalk vendor to sustain
ourselves. Going back to the car, in the parking
garage, I take a picture of Baohai and Ling Li
next to an old car decorated up as if for a wedding!
THAT should give Baolu's mom a charge when she
sees our trip pictures... ;p
Baohai takes us over to a dim sum place! (southern,
Cantonese food) It is quite good although the steamed
buns are not as good as the first place we tried.
I'm becoming something of a steamed bun snob now.
After lunch, we head to the downtown People's Square,
a swatch of greenery in the urban jungle of downtown
Shanghai. More pictures! We see the huge opera house
downtown and generally putz around killing time.
Back to the car which Baohai points north, out of the
city. We are heading for another province to have
dinner. This province is famous for "hairy crabs"
(a fresh water crab found in a local lake) and they
are "in season". This is a MAJOR delicacy for the
Shanghaiese and they flock up north to eat at the
dozens of neon-lit restaurants.
But first we have to get out of the city. Our exit
route is blocked by cross traffic which simply does
not stop when their light turns red! We can only get
one or two cars through this intersection at a time
and it takes a good hour before we are through.
I'm glad I'm not driving.
Once free of Shanghai's terrible traffic, Baohai
puts the pedal to the metal on the toll way having
us up for sustained stretches of 150kph running
(93mph). I didn't bother looking to see what
the actual speed limit is. No one else does.
It is a good thing Ling Li is along, because she is
the only one who knows where we're going. Baohai
has trouble with orientation and Ling Li is gently
telling him where to turn and guides us to our
It is a Sunday night, so not as crowded as usual.
There are restaurants EVERYWHERE, all lit up in
their neon glory. We park and enter the mostly-empty
restaurant and are warmly greeted and ushered in
the back room where the live crabs are kept.
Proudly, the owner fishes various crabs out of the
tank for our inspection. Baohai accepts some and
rejects others, finally settling on six of the
snapping beasts for all of us. In fact one of the
little critters lunges at me with a fierce
snap! Ha! Thou shalt be our supper, naive!
Next, they lead us upstairs to a private room and
then start rolling out the food. I am not a big
crab lover (this culinary feast is mainly for
Baolu's benefit), so I concentrate on the side
Finally, with much panache, they bring in the crabs
all neatly trussed up and ready for eatin'. Baolu,
Baohai and Ling Li each eat two crabs whilst I nibble
on a few crab legs Baolu slips to me. I can tell
Baolu is really enjoying her meal proclaiming the
meat inside the large shell to be the "best part".
Many pictures are taken as the feast is devoured.
Finally, all sit back exhausted and full of crab meat.
It is a long ride back to our hotel and we have
not trouble falling asleep.
Monday, November 7, 2005
It's Nabu day! We are both awakened at 0530 by loud
fog horns out on the river from the passing boats.
Also, we are right above the main entrance and we
can hear cabbies yelling at each other.
After breakfast, I notice a small line has formed just
outside the Russian embassy. Most likely businessmen
trying to get a visa to visit the former Soviet Union.
Baohai picks us up at 0930. We are going to visit
Nabu...Baolu's and Baohai's grandmother who raised
both of them as children. According to Baolu, her
grandmother's cooking was legendary and she fondly
remembers time spent with Nabu. It was Nabu who
taught Baolu how to cook and it is those wonderful
skills which contributes to my waistline and
First we stop to buy Nabu some presents and then
trudge up to her apartment, just off the main
shopping street of Shanghai. We arrive and meet
Baolu's Mom's younger brother (another auntie)
who, along with his wife, are visiting Nabu also
from Montreal. Nabu looks very well for someone
celebrating their 90th birthday and I give her
a big hug.
We have an hour long visit during which Nabu is
constantly trying to feed me (there's that Chinese
hospitality again) a variety of munchies and a
can of Pepsi! Eat...EAT!!!!
Finally it is time to go and I give her another
big hug. She doesn't want to let me go. What
a sweet lady! I'm glad I got to meet someone
who has meant so much to Baolu growing up.
Afterwards, Baohai announces we're going to
lunch! Ahhhh....where am I going to put it?
I'm full of oranges and munchies...oh, another
steamed bun place? Well...LEAD THE WAY!!!
Yep, it's yet another world-famous sidewalk
dive with a twist on the steamed bun style.
These are more like pot stickers -- seared
on one side, soft on the other with juice
and a meatball inside. Oh so good. Fresh
out of the oven. We ate them standing up
in the alley dripping juice all over the
place. Forget gourmet. This is HEAVEN.
Digesting our lunch, Baohai takes us on a
tour of the "new Shanghai" (across the
river from our hotel). First stop is the
famous Oriental Pearl tower, a sort of
Space Needle on steroids. We visit the
upper and lower observation decks. It is
rather hazy today (smog), so pictures are
After coming downstairs, the ticket price
included a look around a neat little museum
about Shanghai's history as a trading city
opening China to world trade. The museum
is huge with old cars and models and interactive
displays of Shanghai's history. Conveniently
left off is any mention of the backwardness
of the "cultural revolution".
Next stop is a Starbucks on the riverfront
where we enjoy the view and Baohai downloads
some of our pictures to his laptop and gets
a little office work done. Later he will burn
a CD and hand us back our pictures, freeing
up space on the digital camera storage chip.
Before dinner, Baohai takes us on a car tour
of the new Shanghai. It is much more affordable
to live on this side of the river and traffic
isn't as bad as downtown. As in downtown there
are skyscrapers as far as the eye can see.
Back to downtown Shanghai for supper, we park
and climb via escalator to the top of a very
ritzy shopping mall. We are eating in a
"Shanghaiese" restaurant tonight to sample
local dishes. Eel is on the menu which I
pass on, but Baohai and Baolu lap it up. The
"fatty pork" is quite good as well as the
mushroom and bean curd dish. Eat...EAT!
Tuesday, November 8, 2005
Today, Baohai is off on business to Hong Kong for a
couple days so we are on our own.
After a light breakfast, we are off walking along the
river (The Bund!). Today's mission is to take another
crack at those steamed buns at the Yu Garden we missed
during Sunday's crowds.
We take some pictures along the river, but the haze is
so thick, it is difficult to see any landmarks. We make
our way along getting hit upon by every vendor and beggar
in sight (boo YAO!). It is a long but pleasant walk and
soon we reach the Yu Garden and market. We make our way
upstairs and what luck! They can seat us. However, we
have to share our table with a couple Japanese chicks.
Baolu orders us three levels of buns which we gobble down.
We can see them making the buns right from our table. It
is very labor-intensive (all the buns are made, painstakingly,
by hand). They are superb. Fluffy on the outside, hot and
juicy on the inside with a nice puff of steam at the top!
After lunch, we peruse the market and outside on the street
I come to another jade shop. They have a tiger I like, but
it is rather small. The shop lady gets me a stool to sit
on and dashes across the street to look for more tigers.
She comes back shortly with several and I select a medium
sized, dark green one. Now the negotiations start, quite without
my input. Suffice to say, it started at 430 yen and Baolu
got it down to 300 yen. Everyone's happy. The little green
tiger is now proudly displayed on our buffet in the dining
room at home.
After tiger purchase, we consult our map and walked through
a "typical neighborhood" (don't tell B's mom) over to the
main shopping district. Actually, I felt more comfortable
in the typical neighborhood than anywhere else in Shanghai.
No one hustled me. No one stared. Just people at their
homes going about their business.
Once in the shopping district, Baolu announces she wants
a snack to tide her over until dinner. We search high and
low but can't find a pastry shop! Finally she settles on
a small eatery. Beer and wonton soup for me and soyamilk
and "Chinese donuts" for Baolu.
After snack, we catch a taxi all the way back to our hotel
for a little nap.
Refreshed, the big question is what's for dinner? Once again
the map is consulted and Baolu decides on the recently-renovated
restaurant district in yet another shopping area. This
place originally was a French area that had fallen into
disrepair. It has since been renovated with lots of food
places beamed at foreigners and, of course, shopping.
We take a taxi over and eventually decide on a GERMAN
restaurant! (don't mention the war). Ah...lots of
sausages and meat...a nice change from our steady diet
of steamed buns. They even had real live German beer --
ah, so creamy and mellow goodness.
Back in a taxi and over to the Bund. We got out short of
our hotel so we could walk along the waterfront and
see all the lights. The haze had lifted and it was
beautiful. Now our pictures looked sensational in the
Soon, we were back at our hotel. Time to catch 40 winks!
Wednesday, November 9, 2005
It rained last night and the streets are all washed clean.
People are riding by on scooters and bicycles wearing
ponchos. It is windy, but the rain has stopped.
We get a late start today as none of the stores are open
until 10am. We take a very short taxi ride over to a
different shopping district (I guess we shoulda walked over).
This is the only shopping area that is closed to cars --
pedestrians only. Suddenly Baolu veers over toward a
department store. She has spotted another old childhood
"snack" and bought it from a sidewalk vendor. Quietly,
she munches and crunches the savory bits as we walk along.
At my request (for pictures), we enter and ride the new
Shanghai Metro underground, taking it over to that noodle
shop I was so crazy about for lunch. Not wanting to mess
with success, I order the same thing. It is just as
heavenly. I get my picture taken with the noodle shop
Afterwards, we potter around including a visit to the
Shanghai Library. Hmmm... Where are all the books?
They appeared to be locked away or at least not in plain
sight. Oh well, back to the hotel. Wait. Let me THINK...
That evening, Baohai and Ling Li took us to yet another famous
restaurant with a 30 minute wait to get it. 7:30pm on a
Wednesday night and the place was packed. I get a kick out
of the "Budweiser Girl" dressed all in white including boot,
miniskirt and scanty top and a walking advertisement for
America's "King of Beers". Once again, the food is very
good and I am particularly fond of one dish, the peppered
beef....(can you see where this is leading?)
Thursday, November 10, 2005
About 0200, my gut starts rumbling. Uh-oh. It's a visit
from the dreaded Chairman Mao! He HAS his revenge! Ha, HA!
Take THAT, running imperialist DOG!
I won't bore you with the details. Suffice to say I stayed
flat on my back the entire day. Oh the humanity!
Friday, November 11, 2005
Awaking surprisingly refreshed albeit a bit EMPTY, Baolu
and I set off for the Jade Buddha Temple, near Baolu's old
This is yet another pilgrimage to a very important place
from Baolu's past. We met Baohai at the temple and he
led us in. Baohai is actually much more devout than
Baolu (he once told his big sister she was kowtowing
incorrectly). We bought some incense and paid our
respects even trouping upstairs to see the two jade
buddhas (one sitting upright, one reclining).
Next on the agenda was lunch at a very good vegetarian
restaurant -- run by the monks from the Jade Temple!
I assume it was very good because Baolu and Baohai
gobbled it down while I watched. I was still on my
bread and tea diet enforced by Nurse Baolu.
Afterwards, they dropped me off at the hotel to rest
while they all went off for a last dinner together.
Baohai had kindly dropped off some DVDs and I watched
"Madagascar" and "Loonie Tunes" both pretty good!
Saturday, November 12, 2005
WE'RE GOING HOME!!!!!!!! Yea! Oh, come on, I did have
a good time in China, but there's no place like townhouse.
Baohai and Ling Li pick us up and drive us over to the
German-built Magnetic Levitation (Maglev) train which
runs between Shanghai and the airport. This sucker
attains a top speed of 431kph (267mph) as displayed
in each car and makes the 30 kilometer trip in 8 minutes.
Baohai followed in his car so we wouldn't have to
lug our suitcases and met us at the airport. Actually,
we beat him there, but it took a while to get out to
the parking lot and find him.
Over to China Eastern Airlines to check in. We flipped
a coin over whether to check our bags or not and it
came up, "Carry them on!!!".
We say goodbye to Ling Li and Baohai (THANKS GUYS FOR ALL
YOUR HOSPITALITY AND TAKING SUCH GOOD CARE OF US!!!)
and start the long walk back through customs and filling
out endless forms.
As our standing joke goes, your gate is always at the
far end of the terminal. Our flight was no exception
as we were way WAY out at one end of the mile-long
building. We positioned ourselves carefully for the
boarding call and I hustled us onboard at the first
It's a good thing I did because the plane was full
and the overhead luggage space filled up very quickly.
COMPLETELY different crowd on board today. We have a
planeload of mostly elderly Chinese quietly taking
their seats with no stinky feet to be smelled! Wonderful!
The flight back was uneventful, a welcome respite. We
even arrived early back in Vancouver. Once we got off,
Baolu took us right over to the Horizon Air counter
and got our tickets switched to an earlier flight.
While we waited, we had a quick breakfast bagel at
In another pleasant surprise, the Vancouver airport
has U.S. Customs right on site so when you reach Seattle,
you just get off the plane and head for the taxi stand.
Our driver had us home by 12:30pm. Done! We both
had a great time and I'm so glad I got to meet
Baolu's brother, his girlfriend (probably my future
sister-in-law) and Baolu's Nabu. And oh those steamed
buns...I'm going to miss them!