Sunday, February 28, 2010

Day 1: Welcome to Shanghai!

I am totally in love with biz class flat reclining seats. O.M.G. heaven! But despite the nice new flat sleeping console in business class, this was a rough flight. The turbulence lasted longer than normal. This route usually is, because it flies against the gulfstream; but wow. But it’s strange what you can do when you are determined. I wasn’t going to be afraid so I concentrated on keeping my food either on my plate or in my mouth. Chewing carefully & enjoying every bite. After eating, I kept my seatbelt fastened, pull down my seat, close my eyes and found my happy place.

At Chinese immigration my smile changes my face & confuses the official since my passport pix is a mug shot so I try to re-enact the same look. Friends pick me up at the airport, we go thru dark highways. In China, side streets are dimly lit for energy conservation. But Shanghai dazzles like a glamour girl, until around 10pm when they turn off her lights! Seriously, they turn off the lights.

I didn’t realize how tired I was until I walk into my room and saw the bed. I dumped the luggage and ran back downstairs. My friends took time out to take me to dinner, I can’t deny their hospitality.

Shanghai is a fascinating city. It is bipolar in that it doesn't seem to know what to do with itself. It is even more cosmopolitan than Chicago. I ran into French, Caribbean, Portuguese, Italians--and that was just in the lobby of my hotel.

The city is split into two, Pudong and Puxi, the east and the west banks of the Huangpu River. Pudong is the bank with all the magnificent new architecture. The Pearl Tower rises over the bank like a giant finger for all the world to see, insouciant and brash.

Puxi's bank is lined with stately old mansions built by the first western settlers, all stodgy and brave, granite and crenellations. They were the old embassies of the west. They are now restaurants and bars. Go figure. My friend laughingly tells me that Shanghai clings to its conservative past as it reaches for its cellular phone!

It is the Lantern Festival, the 1st full moon of the Chinese Lunar year. There were fireworks by the river tonight, but you’d think that the country that invented fireworks would have had a bigger display. But the government had requested no fireworks. I was told that there were 20 deaths on Friday due to a fireworks incident.

We had dinner at a private club, I never figured out if it was a hotel or an apartment complex or what, it was very discreet. There is no sign or indication of where we’re going. We go to quiet elevators, enter a series of dark wood panel corridors and I’m glad I know my companions; otherwise, it could have been disconcerting, very James Bondish.

This is as good a photo as I could get considering I couldn’t tell if it was my camera that was blurry or me.

My friends have a special favorite table right by a large picture window that overlooks the Huangpu River and a view of the Pearl Tower and the Bund. I let them order, relying on their expertise, it is a gourmet Chinese meal, it was ok, I found it on the bland side. If this is the cream of Chinese culinary arts, give me random peasant food any day, with one exception. I was so stunned; I risked embarrassing my hosts by taking a picture.

That is julienned egg omelet, green sweet peppers and ham. But if you look closely, that IS a fish head and tail. That isn’t pasta underneath; that is boiled fish reconstituted into noodles(?). Boiling fish maintains it’s ‘fishiness’. I’m sure it’s healthy as can be, but the texture challenged even my cast iron constituency.

My friends are fun as we swing around the famous iconic vistas of Shanghai, the Pearl Tower, the Bund. I got really lucky, it’s cloudy, but no rain. I hope the video uploads to But it doesn’t come close to the breathtaking beauty I saw. It isn’t me singing as we arrive at the Bund, that’s my friend. All I could say was ‘gorgeous’.

We head back to my hotel when I start to get that fuzzy, grey vision. I see my friends, I hear their voices, but it’s like my head is wrapped in cotton; I need to get to bed.

When I get to my room, I jump on the bed, it’s what I do to ‘christen it’. I want to know its bounce factor; it’s perfect!

Warning: the water does have a noticeable yellow cast to it, don’t drink from the tap, use the bottled water, even to brush your teeth.


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