Friday, May 05, 2006

The Long Fright Home

It's only a week late, but here's my final China post.

Our last night in Shanghai, we were invited to dinner at a restaurant on the top floor of the building which housed the hotel we were staying in. The view of the Bund, the Blade Runneresque bend in the Yangstze River that represents the city's window to the world, was spectacular. If you saw "Where in the World is Matt Lauer Wasting NBC's Money?" this year, it was exactly the view they opened his Shanghai segment up with.

Apparently the executive plan from our hosts was to take the crew out for a massage after dinner. And not just any massage. A "frip" massage. As in when you're halfway done, your masseuse says, "Frip, prease." We respectfully declined and opted to walk along the riverfront instead. Our Chinese hosts were obviously disappointed, but I couldn't tell if is was because we were obviously less than men, or they were upset that they missed out on a rub and tug for themselves on the company dime.

Walking along the Bund was breathtaking, but no matter which way we headed it seemed it was the wrong direction versus traffic. I felt like a catheter.

We decided to take in some local color and asked our guide to take us to a bar for "just one beer" before we went back to the hotel, since we each had at least twenty hours of travel ahead of us the next day. After walking for another half hour toward an undisclosed location, our host decided we needed to get in two cabs instead. A ten minute e-ticket thrill ride later we found ourselves in front of our destination: The Shanghai Hofbrau Haus. Oh sure, why not? When in Rome, drink like the Bavarians.

Not wanting to disappoint our host again, we made the extreme sacrifice to go inside and drink a few very large beers while we watched western tourists dance spasmodically to a really bad 80's cover band and hit on Chinese women who they apparently did not realize were working girls. "Duuuuude, I think she totally cares about me! I looooove Shaaang-haaaaii!" Didn't you see the meter that was running on her ass? She has landing lights on her stomach. If ignorance is bliss, these guys were extremely blissful.

Two of our party, myself included, decided to keep to our "last stop" strategy and asked to head back to the hotel. Our host said that we should walk a little bit to get to the subway and then take a quick ride home. So we did, threading a few more tubes the wrong way down one-way streams of humanity up and down the streets of the city and through the biggest subway station I've ever seen. A short crowded ride on an extremely clean train later, we emerged a mile deep in another subway station. But this time we were headed in the right direction with the crowd and surfed our way out of the buliding. My feet actually left the ground a few times in the teeming throng.

We emerged from the station and I did a quick turn around. I didn't see our hotel anywhere, but hey, it was only a 50 story building with a big-ass crown on the top of it. That would be easy to miss. When I inquired where we were, I was told that something about returning to the hotel had apparently been lost in translation. We had actually headed several miles farther from home and been deposited at the door of the "Cuddle Kareoke" bar. When I said that the two of us that had originally wanted to head back to the hotel an hour ago still wanted to go home, our host asked, "How about just several hours more?" At least he didn't lie about it like we do when we ask to stay for just one more beer.

We left the rest of the group and tried to take a cab home. Not knowing where we were and not knowing exactly where we were going made it difficult to find someone who could understand our intentions. After trying three different drivers and being met with blank smiles and shrugged shoulders, we finally realized that small colorful pieces of paper with pictures of Chairman Mao on them were the ultimate translators. The ride was uneventful and sleep came easily.

Morning came quickly, but not as quickly as for our compatriots who had stayed at the kareoke bar. I felt bad for abandoning the Ranger policy of "no man left behind," but it had been totally voluntary. Apparently they stayed at this place until almost five in the morning sitting in a room the size of a small living room which had a big screen TV, a cooler of beer, and 5-6 (fully clothed) non-English speaking young women who sat between them and cuddled like puppies while taking turns standing in front of the couch singing very bad kareoke. The repertoire of the Americans was varied, but for the Chinese girls, the list began and ended with Michael Jackson. Now I know why he's hiding out in the far East. When we met the returning group on the way to breakfast the next morning, they reeked of beer and rice wine. I made a mental note to get a seat on the plane next to the other intelligent guy who came back early.

We had a little time in the morning to hit the market before heading to the airport. I took advantage of the opportunity to buy some nice, cheap small gifts to carry on, but some of the rest of my group wasn't so smart. They bought so many knock-offs that the last stop was by the luggage store to buy extra suitcases. Two of them bought full sets of golf clubs and little travel bags to carry them in. Despite the fact that I told them that you can't carry clubs on a plane, they went ahead and tried to take them through security. Always listen to the Road Warrior's advice, I say. After a two hour near international incident, they finally got to carry them on as far as Los Angeles, where they were immediately both forced to mail them home from the airport at an expense greater than the cost of the clubs. I imagine they'll have to have the clubs regripped when they get home anyway. And reshafted. And the heads replaced. But at least they'll represent the same space intrinsically...

My favorite lines from vendors:
"You like Versace? This is like Versace."
"Hey, man. You need a knife for the plane?"
"How about silk bra for your wife? Somebody else's wife?"

Thanks to tailwinds, the flight home was only 11 hours. The newest movie on the plane was "You've Got Mail," so I slept most of the way. It was nice to see Meg Ryan before her lips got stung by the collagen wasp, though.

Surprisingly, the worst third world airport we traveled through was LAX. My connection was tight and I had to change to a terminal that was under serious construction. So I ran like O.J. across the parking lot dragging my luggage only to encounter a secrity line that was out the door along the sidewalk. Luckily, you can always depend on the inefficiency of the airlines to be running late on their own, so the security delay was offset by the tardiness of the flight.

So 36 hours after Friday began for me, I arrived home around midnight on that same Friday and into the welcoming embrace of RUABelle. Of all the amazing sights I saw on the trip, none was more appreciated than her smile. I'm glad to be back!

1 Comments:

Blogger Nashville Knucklehead said...

Let me share the best foreign-country -where-you-don't-speak-the-language trick I learned working on the cruise ships. Grab a postcard of the hotel (in my case, the ship) and take it with you when you go out. When a cabbie doesn't speak English, just pull out the postcard and point.

Don't you wish I told you that two weeks ago?

2:08 PM  

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