I normally don’t write this much in a story form, but here’s a good shot at me remembering what has happened in the last two weeks.
For the most part, I did not take a whole lot of photos. So to sum up some of what I did with my amazing companion, Jessie, here’s a little taste of what has happened and some of my/our observations… (Not necessarily in chronological order, but it’s close.)
After waking up early in the morning, and getting a ride to the Minneapolis-St.Paul airport, I checked in and checked my suitcase, and then continued through security. I was a bit early for the flight as the the one before mine had not even left yet. I used that to my advantage to go plug my phone into one of the cell-phone charging stations for a while.
At some point, I got on the plane and arrived in Chicago. (I seem to remember literally nothing that happened between these two points.) Once in Chicago, I found my gate, sat down, took out my MacBook and used my phone to supply me internet to give me something to do for the next hour or so. I turned on the 4G radio and I was surfing the internet at very decent speeds.
While I was sitting at the airport, I managed to start a web-chat session with Sprint to fix a voice-roaming issue I was having previously but just never really cared about until I got to Chicago and could not make any calls. After he told me to power off my phone and pull the battery (which I obviously did not do since it was supplying my internet connection at the time), I noticed that the update he pushed out was automatically picked up by the phone regardless and calls worked again. I also looked up roaming data, which at $0.004/KB, is about $5/MB. I decided to keep my international data turned off at that point.
After my conversation with Sprint, I set my laptop down and went to talk to some random Chinese guy visiting America for business reasons. Like what I always here of people doing, he bought a MacBook Pro in America and was bringing it back to China, as it’s cheaper than buying it in America than in China due to import taxes to help out Chinese companies (e.g. Lenovo). He also mentioned to me that those with blue passports are treated better around China than those without blue passports. To put some perspective on that, most Chinese citizens have a redish/brown passport. Most American citizens have blue passports. About twenty minutes in, the flight started to board.
My trip getting to Shanghai was rather interesting. I met a few cool people, and on the long flight to Shanghai, I had someone cool to talk to. The in-flight entertainment system sucked so I used my own. They were small, passive-matrix LCD screens built into the seats which did not respond very well to touch. My Motorola Xoom tablet proved to be a very beneficial investment. For the sake of not getting in trouble with airport security, I won’t mention how wonderful my Bluetooth stereo headset was. Oops…
Shanghai: The modern day America… in China!
When the plane arrived, I had to go through customs to register myself with the Chinese government as one would expect. That was easy. From there, I had to go pick up my baggage and wandered around the airport for a while with one of the guys I met on the plane. It’s a huge airport. It’s so big that parts of it are closed off because nothing exists there yet.
Anyway, I headed back to the main part of the airport to find a spot to find a taxi. I got in a taxi and after showing him my phone and where I wanted to go (Thank you Google Maps + Free Airport WiFi), we headed off and he dropped me off at the hotel. It was a huge hotel, but there was a certain thing it was lacking… decent internet. It was almost more painful to use than dial-up. Using the internet connection and the amazing Google Voice integration I have with Sprint, I called up Jessie from my MacBook to let her know that I arrived at the hotel.
The next morning, Jessie shows up at the hotel after she flew in from Wuhan and the first thing we did was check into a different hotel in a better location, threw our stuff in the rooms, exchanged some items we got for one-another, and wandered off from there. We stayed at this hotel for a couple nights do to the amazing location. (See below)
First of all, Shanghai is a beautiful city. It’s pretty much like China’s own slice of American culture. Restaurants of every variety, lots of shops, and depending on where you are in Shanghai, it’s relativity peaceful and quiet. Just about any kind of restaurant exists in Shanghai. We hit up some American restaurants, Mexican, Korean, Italian, Chinese, etc. We also did some shopping in a local department store that was about a mile walk away from our hotel. Picking up things like water, yogurt, grapes, peaches, and other items to help us through our journey in a completely foreign area to both of us (but at least Jessie knew the language of the area). This area in Shanghai is very clean as in there was not a lot of trash to be found on the streets, the buildings were in great shape, and everything just felt ‘good’. There’s no other way to describe the area that we stayed.
Jessie and I hit up the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum and were both amazed by that. Demos and information about medical technologies, space, computers, nature, etc. We then hit up the underground stores and found a really cool device that I just had to buy, regardless of whether it was counterfeit or not. (I still honestly have no idea.) It’s a device that turns any surface into a speaker. Jessie was awesome enough to bargain down the price to something more reasonable and now she has one too.
The more modern part of Shanghai (the part that everyone sees on TV and in movies) was jam-packed with people like a can of sardines. People all over the place, but yet, still amazing. Not quiet as clean as the area of our hotel, but not bad. Across the river was cleaner and more amazing though. Really clean, modern architecture. For example, the Apple store in Shanghai is huge.
We ended up going back to Shanghai for a night after spending a few days in Hangzhou (see below). We decided to book the same hotel we had booked there previously. We checked in, got a hotel room on the same floor as before, but a different room. We inserted the key into our door to unlock it, only to open it up and realize that the hotel totally upgraded our room to an executive suite. Bedroom, Office, Living Room, Bathroom, etc. It was quite amazing really.
We hit up some American style restaurant the last night in Shanghai only to find that Jessie was pretty much the only Asian guest. It was pretty much just Caucasian guests. I pointed out that now she knows I feel about most of China. Anyway, we ordered a few things, and while we waited for the food to arrive, we both admired the beautiful surroundings around us. Trees lit up with green lights and Chinese lanterns hanging from them. Really beautiful to see.
The next morning, we got ready to fly to Wuhan and we got a taxi ride to the airport. Once we checked in and checked our bags, we went through security, only to find out that about half the people on the plane were Caucasians. Turns out that there was some tourist group from Canada that was flying to Wuhan as part of their agenda. Jessie made some new friends with the people that sat next to her, and we continued on.
The Wonders of Hangzhou
Jessie wanted to visit Hangzhou, and boy, I’m glad we did. We got on the high-speed train system here and rode it as blazing speeds (190MPH / 305KMH) to Hangzhou (and then back to Shanghai). Actually, it feels just like Eurorail. Not a whole lot is any different. Eurorail had no security screening. China did have the security screening. All-in-all, it took about an hour, and it was a very pleasant and smooth ride.
Asides from some of the run-down structures, streets, traffic jams, and noise, it’s a really beautiful city to stay. Once you get out of the main city area, most of what you see is trees. West Lake was by far the most beautiful and relaxing part of this city though. There are amazing fountain shows where the water fountains are matched to the music that plays. Long walks on nice calm nights listening to Jessie humming some crazy snake song, it does not get any better than that.
While sitting down in a bench relaxing and staring at the lake and sunset, some woman randomly walked up to Jessie and offered her a palm-reading session. Needless to say, I was less than amused, and I don’t think Jessie was too thrilled about it either. If you understand how cold-reading works, you’ll be more difficult to read as you know the tricks involved.
The street lanes on the main streets in this city seem to be very narrow. It’s as if they repainted the roads to create two new lanes instead of doing the construction work to upgrade the street size.
History of Xi Tang
A vacation to a foreign area is not a vacation without a tour guide, right? Jessie and I both hooked up with this local tour-guide and went to visit the ancient city of Xi Tang. The bus ride was pretty long, and they made us all walk through some stores in the same fashion that you must walk through for an Ikea store if you want to exit the building. First store was on the way there and was more of general food, toys, accessories, etc. The second store on the way back was a silk factory. Needless to say, I was less than impressed with either. (Probably helps being a guy, huh?) Anyway, after our first store, we got back on the bus and continued to our destination of Xi Tang.
Inside most of the historic buildings, they ban cameras, but to sum it up, items such as ancient old shingles, statues, art pieces (non-painting). While the history kind of stuff does not impress me as much as it does other people (that, and I could not understand a word of what was being said), outside of the buildings were shops and a lot of restaurants. We even went on a nice peaceful boat ride on a row-boat. So peaceful in fact that I almost fell asleep a couple times.
Welcome back to Wuhan…
Arriving back in Wuhan at first was kind of depressing because the sun and sky were no-where to be found, but luck as it may be, it appeared and all of a sudden a nice positive vibe was felt. Still, it’s a very smoggy city as it’s a very industrial one. Sitting on the 15th floor of the hotel building in Wuhan really shows the hazy look in the air.
On the way to our hotel from the bus station, some guys laptop got jacked and at the stop Jessie and I needed to get off at, the bus locked it’s doors until the police arrived on the scene to check everything out. Needless to say, to my knowledge, not a whole lot came of that. Jessie and I were pretty sure that the culprit got off at the first stop before the missing laptop was noticed.
After getting off the bus, standing in the middle of no-where in a very run-down and shady area, I’ve never felt so uncomfortable anywhere before. Needless to say, I never thought I would be so happy and relieved to get in a taxi to take us to our hotel.
When we got to our room after checking into our hotel here in Wuhan, Jessie’s friend came by to visit her (and me). We went to eat at a fancy fondue restaurant courtesy of her friend, and then we hit up a couple shops. I have a new track-jacket thanks to Jessie.
Walking around this city outside, you see quite a few people begging for money. Some with no legs squirming around on the ground asking for change, some with no arms holding a donation bucket, some guy showing off his disgusting arm wound, and then an awesome violinist guy who I totally had to donate to. If you want people to donate for you, do something awesome like the violin guy. Don’t creep people out.
When it started to get darker out, the lights of the city really started to show. It looked absolutely amazing seeing people send wish-lamps up into the air, so Jessie, her friend, and I did the same. Basically, it’s a mini hot-air balloon made out of paper and random wax block or something that needs to be lit on fire.
The next morning, after a nice conversation with Jessie, Jessie left Wuhan to go back home since she could not take any more days off from her job. I saw her off to the taxi, and from there, my solo trip in Wuhan began once again.
I used that free-time to my advantage by jotting down notes and writing this story based on what has happened. Up until that point, I had really absolutely no free-time. The internet connection there was fast enough for me to listen to Pandora and watch Netflix movies when I didn’t want to write or walk around. I’ve also used this time to physically recover. The time zone in China screws with my head because the whole country is all one big time zone, so it starts to get bright out at like 4AM and darkens at like 5PM. Most days I was able to get like 4-5 hours of sleep. Also, a few days prior to arriving in Wuhan, I must have tripped or something and hurt my knee. After about five minutes of walking, my knee would stars to hurt and from that point on, I would look funny walking until I sat down and rested for a while.
Walking around this city solo alone can be quite amusing. You get the random guys that like to say ‘hello’, and then the girls who say ‘hello’ and then when I say ‘hello’ back, they giggle and walk away. After I replied back to one of the guys, he actually said “Welcome to China”. Pretty sure I ran into about twenty guys/girls that said ‘hello’ to me within an hour. Another day, I had a few people say ‘hello’, and then about twenty students all at the same time (all in sync) yelled “Hello!” to me. Now that was unexpected but it really made me smile.
The last morning in Wuhan I checked out at about 9AM and then Jessie’s friend Cici and her friend stopped by, grabbed me, grabbed a taxi, and brought me to the bus station. Cici got me a bus ticket, and while waiting for the bus, I packed the new gifts that she got for me to take back with me. After I got on the bus, I looked out the window only to see that they found where I was sitting and they were saying good-bye.
After the bus left and I got to the airport, I quickly drank the rest of the water I had with me so I would not have to worry about it later. I checked my suitcase, got my boarding pass and continued to the gate.
After the flight from Wuhan to Shanghai, after claiming my baggage, checking-in again, and going through security, I sat in the gate, plugged my toys in to charge them, and just sat back and relaxed with free WiFi and power.
Plane boarded after a while and took off. Without a decent pair of headphones, it was a pretty painful experience. I restored to the free pair that the airlines give you, which overall suck. The video screen that I for use if I wanted to use it kept on stopping and skipping. It was really annoying. Once again, my table and phone came through once again (even without a decent pair of headphones).
Once I arrived in Chicago, I spent about one hour going through US Customs and other Customs security stuff. It’s not that it’s a hard and a long process, it’s just that there were so many people and the US is more secure on some things. After doing that, I had to take the light-rail to a different terminal, and then go through security again to get to my gate for my plane to Minneapolis. This is why I like to give myself a couple hours between flights sometimes…
While waiting at the gate, I broke out my phone, turned on 4G, and tethered it to my MacBook for entertainment. It the two hours I was sitting at the gate in the Chicago airport, something about it just felt a lot more open and free there than when I was in China. That might have something to do with the fact that there was a TV on in the background talking about Twitter, free-speech, and how something with the US Government is screwed up, all in the same two hour period of me sitting at the gate. The US Customs guys are very polite and nice to talk to.
After waiting at the gate for a while, and then having the gate change while I was waiting, I got on the flight and took it back to Minneapolis. After probably about thirty-six hours of no sleep, I don’t really remember a whole lot about that flight. All I remember is landing, and how beautiful the city of Minneapolis / St. Paul looks out the window at night.
After getting off the flight, I met up with my father quickly, and then proceeded down to the baggage claim area to pick up my suitcase. Since I need to wait an hour for a ride home, I’ve decided to use this opportunity to finish-up and publish this story.
TL;DR: Best trip ever.
American Restaurants I’ve seen while in China:
- Starbucks Coffee
- Papa Johns
- Pizza Hut
- Dairy Queen
- Burger King
- “Oh my Lady Gaga” – Coined by Jessie. (What she says in-place of “Oh my god.”)
- A lot of restaurants do not give you free napkins. You must supply your own or pay for theirs.
- The internet connections here generally suck. A few of the things I use are blocked here which confuses my phone. Not a whole lot of Wifi. Every hotel has network access via an Ethernet cable.
- Most people here seem to think I look pretty young. Not sure if that’s good or bad.
- Thanks to Jessie, I’m sporting a fancy new wallet.
- Hand-washing and drying my clothes. Wonderful.
- Random people like to walk up to me and say “Hello”.
- There is a KFC at least every 2 blocks. It’s ridiculous.
- Netflix and Pandora are normally unusable here (not by censorship, but by US Copyright laws), but I have my ways around that. Let’s just say that Firefox thinks I’m back in Minnesota.
- A lot of people here can’t afford dental care (or probably any health care at all).
- Toys R Us in Shanghai… Really??? (Wuhan too?!)
- In all the cities other than Shanghai, as an American, people like to stare at me.
- A lot of the infants here wear pants that are cut between the legs so they don’t need to wear diapers. ಠ_ಠ (The look of disapproval has never been more relevant.)
- Do people in Minnesota actually ever get paid to clean up streets and roads, or is it all volunteer based? Here people get paid to do it. I suppose Minnesotan’s are more environmentally conscious.
- Wuhan, you smell bad. (Lots of people seem to wear breathing masks here.)
- To the girls/women/ladies/females/[whatever you want to be called] that wear high-heels and walk on the sidewalks in Wuhan, that’s just asking for your face to kiss the pavement. It’s almost suicidal.
- Why are American restaurants in other countries always better than the ones in America?
- Chinese citizens mostly drink warm beverages. :-/
- I want to throw my MacBook out the window. Remind me to never bring it on a trip ever again.
- Jessie ‘stole’ my Bluetooth stereo headset, so I ordered a new one off of Amazon from my hotel in Wuhan and had the new one waiting for me when I got home.
- Jessie: “Why are there so many English words for the same thing?” Me: “Umm… I don’t know…”
- The Shanghai airport waiting area has some seats with power plugs next to them, and also free WiFi.
- Sidewalks have grooved trails for the blind.
- I miss having 3G, but not bad enough to pay $4/MB. (1000KB)
- A lot of females here wear really thick glasses without the lens. :-/
- One of the first weird things I saw when I got off the plane from Chicago was that there was some woman dressed in a full leopard outfit. I was confused to say the least.
- I’ve never seen the iPhone, iPad more hyped than it is here. In fact, they are selling the ‘iPhone 5’. :-/
- For some reason, on my way to China, I noticed that majority of the Chinese people (that I could see) were using western utensils. The non-Chinese people were using chopsticks. Go figure.
- Waiting at my gate in Chicago, I saw a guy that looks like Einstein.
For some photos, check out the photo album. Not a whole lot, but it’s better than nothing. More Jessie than I due to me just not generally caring about taking photos of myself (except if I found it funny). Honestly though, pictures do not do justice for a lot of the amazing scenery.