Monday, September 12, 2016

A quick jaunt to China

Last week, I went to China for a couple of days! I woke up dazed and confused, put my rings on the wrong fingers, and headed for the airport. I saw the new SpaceX booster outside the factory on the way, got to LAX, checked in. Everyone seemed to have a terrifying quantity of luggage, including in some cases living creatures. Maybe I was still dreaming.
Photos: https://goo.gl/photos/3FumSMkeWaMft2d36
My flight was half full, so I immediately staked out three seats and then slept for the entire flight, waking only to eat. I felt that this was a good omen. I watched Captain America: Civil War, which was a real tear jerker. I always cry in films on planes.
Once on the ground I took the maglev into town at 301km/h, found my sister A at the Astor Place Hotel, and immediately headed back out of town to find the Hongqiao High Speed Rail station, which was extremely exciting, as it contained trains, which are some of my favourite things. Here we also found our parents M&D, went back to the hotel, wallowed in history for a bit, then headed out to an extravagant hotpot for dinner, on East Nanjing Road. Conversation was at least 60% how hard all the beds are.
The following day we got up and took a taxi to Fudan University, where A had been studying Chinese for a few weeks. We ate pancakes for breakfast, A checked out of her accommodation, we got some cash from a convenient ATM, and indulged in terrible puns. A took us for a tour of the campus, including a view from the tallest towers, a large statue of Mao, and some excellent beef noodles.
Not far from the university we found a gigantic shopping mall, which D and I attempted to catalog completely while the women conducted a shoe hunt. We wandered until we had lost all concept of space or time, then we wandered some more. We found the male bathrooms on the 6th level to be unusually clean, possibly because they'd never been used.
Next on the agenda was the silk market. Here the mission, I eventually determined, was to greet earlier vendors and conduct second fittings, to find new vendors, to discover new types of things to buy, to negotiate prices and a settlement to middle east conflict, to thoroughly audit every kind of cloth ever invented, twice, and to obtain a new lower bound for the radioactive lifetime of the proton.
At length we found the exit, wandered through a historical portion of "old shanghai", then headed back to the hotel, where I was still coming to terms with the Great Firewall of China. That evening we found one of the "old" "French" districts, located a place that did Peking duck, investigated fancy houses and a Tesla showroom, and then passed out on an approximately horizontal surface.
The next morning we discovered hotel breakfast in the Peacock Room, which was all you can eat 20 kinds of dumpings, then took a relatively terrifying taxi to the bus station. Here we found a robot that spun on its balls (see photos if you don't believe me!), then took a bus to Nanxun water town, a strategically important town on the grand canal that had existed in some for or other for over a thousand years, with its most impressive architecture dating from the very late 19th century. At one point it had one of the largest libraries in the world, and still retains a few canals, though is surrounded on all sides by the modern city. It is one of the smaller, less frequented water towns. Later that afternoon we took the bus back into the city, ate dinner at the Drunken Seagull or some similar venue, featuring many different kinds of pork. D, A, and I checked out the Peace Hotel Jazz Bar, which is like a time warp except for the price. I washed some clothes and passed out.
The next day a point of considerable anxiety was alleviated as A managed to get her visa to Russia, so she and M headed for the pearl market. D and I walked the streets looking for tetanus and answers. We found an ancient hutong district a few blocks to the north, dating from perhaps 1986, which included several interesting shops, a church, and so on. We headed back down through the city and the bund, specializing in the narrowest of streets, until we managed to home in on the cloth market. Did you know that GPS in China is off by about 1000m, relative to google maps? At the cloth market I found my successfully commissioned bowtie, bought a bunch more stuff, and went to the other French area for dinner. We ate enough to make us the wrong shape, then walked back to the hotel through insane crowds. We packed and passed out.
The last day, we woke early, walked to the metro and found it shut. So we took a taxi to Shanghai Pudong Airport, eventually found the right terminal, and got ready to check in. A ate a biscuit with indescribable gusto, which was (easily) the most entertaining thing that hour. At length we found our Asiana flight to Seoul. During take off the airframe creaked audibly, while loose debris rattled as it rolled to the back of the plane behind the ceiling bulkhead. On landing, it all rolled back to the front. The approach, between dozens of thunderstorms, was bumpy and twisty but we eventually landed with an amazing splash, wandered into the terminal, and found free wifi that was faster than my "best that money can buy" internet connection back home.
Of course, we were en route to Vladivostok for the Eastern Economic Forum, but that will be told in a separate entry!

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