Part of Day 4–To China

We checked in for our flight after a brief delay while security insisted we move three of our gifts from our checked luggage to our carry-on. Seems that lighters are not allowed to be checked, and we were more than happy to move them to our backpacks. Of course they missed the other two in another bag which I didn’t mention because I quite honestly had no idea where they were in the first place. Our flight was rather boring. A rather old JAL 747 and they stuck us on an aisle in the middle, pretty much the lamest seat there is. We did get a bit lucky in that there was no one else in the row and Wei could stretch out, but I was pretty bored and spent most of the flight staring at the inflight magazine which was in Japanese. The Customs form was in Japanese and the stewardess couldn’t find a Chinese version for Wei. I managed to take my American one and finally found the fine print that said we didn’t need to declare anything. I was a bit afraid about my laptop and camera, as I’ve heard horror stories about US businessmen who lost them at the border, but Wei specifically checked with the guards and they said go for it. We had a SARS check when we got off the aircraft, basically clicking “no” on a form that said “do you have a fever.” It didn’t really matter as the first security sweep we had entering China was past a set of thermal imaging cameras that looked for people who were running a high temperature. INS at PVG was PDQ. I was in an out in about 30 seconds, not quite as fast as the UK or the US, but quicker than the Russians. Our luggage arrived and we made our way toward the taxi stand. Unfortunately Wei got grabbed by a “hack” cabbie instead of finding one at the rank, and me, not knowing how things are done, just figured that was the way to go. I think it is safe to say at any airport in the world, never get in a cab of a person who seeks you out. There is probably an established way of finding fares at an airport, and those who run up seeking of offer you a ride are outside of those norms. Wei didn’t know this and I didn’t speak up so we were in for a bit of an adventure. I recall at about 120kph the car started to oscillate left and right in those more or less uncontrollable movements I’ve seen in the footage of high speed police chases on COPS and FOX. Our cabbie seemed to be setting a land speed record for a Toyota as we flew down a six lane highway with NO ONE on it. I mean the road was 99% empty with the exception of our car. However, whenever we did come up upon a car, just to make us feel awake, our cabbie would start in the left lane, merge right so we were behind the slower vehicle, and then overtake him on the shoulder or through a rumble strip. Just a little something to make the trip more adventourous. Driving in China kind of reminds me of the joke about a cabbie who runs a red light, runs a second red light, and then slams on the brakes at a green. When asked why he says “well, there might be a cab coming the other way.” While they do stop in China for red lights, there are quite a few other norms they feel no problem in disobeying. My favorite is the “running start left turn” in which a vehicle wishing to make a left turn proceeds to immediately make the left turn, drive against traffic (the wrong way) to get up speed, and then eventually merges into the lane he is suppose to be in. I’ve been through about a hundred of these thus far and am still not quite comfortable with the idea. It also seems that merging traffic has the right of way over all others. We done a number of high speed merges with little or no regard for the traffic coming behind us. In fact our car has two large pillows in the rear window that render checking for cars behind us essentially irrelevant. $20 later, which we later found out was too much, we arrived at a compound that housed the Radisson Plaza hotel. Our cabbie had told us that the place “was listed as 4 stars, but really wasn’t that good.” However, “I know a place that is four stars and very cheap, if you would like me to take you there.” We said no (scam) and ended up at our Radisson at about 11:30 PM. The cabbie was right about one thing. It wasn’t a four star place. It was a five star place. Due to our late check-in and a full house we got bumped up to an executive suite which had two bathrooms, a living room, entry room, and a rather large bedroom. We looked out over some buildings in Shanghai to one side, and out the other over some large colonial homes which we later discovered were owned by Chairman Mao for when he stayed in Shanghai. Now the capitalists have a hotel on it. Go figure.]]>