China Full of Surprises

Did you hesitate when you heard I was going to China? What was your gut reaction? As much as I try and travel without preconceptions, China definitely came with a anticipated flavour. This place has such a reputation for being a hard place to get around.  A dirty place.  An unsafe place.  A place full of pushy people who are trying to take advantage of you at every corner.  These are all the things that I have heard about China.  A place that doesn’t fuck around.  A place with a standing army in the Millions.  A place that will be the next super power. A place that will challenge you as a traveler.  A place that has questionable moral behaviour.  Even a place that doesn’t have any moral construct that is remotely close to that which we have come accustomed to back in the west.

This is the oldest sovereign nation on the planet.  This place has had many rises to world dominance and many falls.  This is a place that makes nearly everything that we consume.  They have more than 4 times as many people as us.  They invented paper, the printing press, and gun powder.  They were the birthplace of elegant poems and philosophies.  They are a place that kills sharks by the thousands to eat their fins for good health.  They are a place that pollutes their skies to the point that every day is bogged in a thick layer of smog.  The sky is murky.

I was a little jumpy in the Japanese Airport when they were warning passengers to not fly to China if they have a fever because they would be quarantined in China.  It’s so Japan to look out for everyone.

For what ever reason, I was queasy in the airport and felt like I was going to barf.  I don’t think it was nerves, possibly the motion of the subway car on the way to the airport.  Either way, if I showed vomiting symptoms in China, it could be game over.  My number one priority was to mask it to make it look like flying sickness.  I began building the story by asking the flight attendant for some motion sickness pills.  Somehow I made it through the 2.5 hour flight without vomiting.  To my surprise, two Chinese agents boarded the plane directly and began to inspect people.  They were in painter’s overalls, the type of material that breaths, the same that Japanese people wear as face masks.  They also had the face masks and were armed with a laser guided temperature gun (yes, it looked like a hand gun from the future, and yes they point it directly at your forehead).  It was wild to say the least.

If you didn’t pass that test, they would insert a thermometer into your mouth forcefully.  I didn’t pass and the Japanese flight attendants shamefully stud by as their cherished passengers were militarized.  You could see it on their face.  They felt helpless.  They didnt see a need for this.

I passed the thermometer test thankfully.  This really sets the tone for a country.  Unapologetic, do what ever it takes, crack as many eggs as it takes.  The customer is not always right and we do not live to serve you.

Still the most interesting parts were yet to come.  The Shanghai Airport looked closed.  It’s massive columns were all but empty, like the place had been thrown together yesterday and no one has heard about it yet.  The customs agent was completely easy to deal with just as I noticed a large electronic box facing directly at me.  It read “please rate my service” and had 4 buttons ranging from very good to very poor.   What a game changer this little box was.  If the customs agent was mean or indecent, you could just hit the button of your choice as they let you bye.  It wasn’t even facing them.

Next I boarded the MagLev which is officially the fastest train in the world and cost only about 7 bucks to ride.  Short for Magnetic Levitation, this machine travels 270MPH (430km/h) to get you from the airport to the city in a staggering 7 minutes.  It was the perfect way to enter the city that will soon be the centre of the universe.

This city looks like someone got a hold of a shrink ray and reversed the polarity.  The structures that live here are marvels of engineering and design.  Remember the ping pong concentration that the Chinese are so famous for?  The Architects seem to share that innate sense.

These are super high-rises with dangerously provocative sharp edges.  Some buildings look like a space ship standing on its tail.  Some look like they belong in Gothem city.  I live right by the Marriot, a 60 story monument that looks like to belongs in lord of the rings.  It seriously looks like it is going to jump you to a new dimension or blow up a star.  Where 4 sharp edges meet, there is a light that looks suspended in the air, like a evil crystal.

The streets here are surprisingly clean, despite the culturally acceptable hocking and spitting while walking down the street.  The people push vigorously to get onto the subway instead of patiently and curiously waiting at the side like the Japanese.  The people are loud and boastful, making eye contact if not blatantly staring at you.  When the doors close in the subway, a sound more akin to a fire alarm goes off instead of the Japanese tunes that I grew to love so much.

The people here are still helpful, but also looking to take advantage of you.  The streets are completely safe, especially for foreigners in terms of violent crimes or pickpocketing.  If you are going to get robbed here, its just because you paid too much.

The cab driver from the train station wanted 5 times as much for the short cab ride as I paid for the Train Ride.  I told him that he was crazy and eventually we settled for 3 times as much, only ripping me off by 300%.  Either way, this was my first day in a new country.  My rule is, I am fine with taking a rip during the first day, the damage is controlled and I can handle it.  But tomorrow, there will be a new street wise.

China seems to be an inconsistent nation.  Where as everything was important to the Japanese, the Chinese seem to ignore big pieces of the puzzle and perfect others.  An example of this is in the subway where there are giant plasma screens hanging down from unfinished ceilings.  Power cords hang in-front of the screens partially.  China seems to be a rushed empire.  Skipping the steps in-between, the profisizers who claim that China may terribly fail at this attempt of world super power appear to be right.  I call it reckless ambition.  Like taking a company from 3 employees to 12000 in one year.  They seem to be moving forward at such a rate, that they never plan to look back even a day.

This, as you can imagine, is increadibly exciting witness.  You can feel the resources being consumed.  It’s a lot like if Las Vegas was not just a strip and more of a 200 mile radius.

It’s not that cheap either.  Well, I guess it’s what you make it.  Today I had a fine pasta with marinara sauce that was top 5 I’ve ever had.  It ran me back about 13 bucks.  Tonight I had Brazilian Barbecue with ended up being 20 bucks.  But my hostel is only 8 bucks a night.  Go figure.

Who have I met so far?  Some Spanish people, a Brazilian, and an Italian.  Oh and lets not forget the three Chinese people visiting the city from a city about 3 hours away.  They just bumped into me in the park and took me under their wing for the better part of the day.  Teaching me Chinese and showing me the sights.  They also complied a list of must see places in China.  They talked my ears off, showing off their proficiency in English.

They invited me to try some traditional teas out and I agreed to come. The teas were expensive, about 8 bucks a go, but I though who cares, I’m only hear once, and I was being so entertained by them that I didn’t mind being ripped off.  They were all paying just as much too after all.  Well, after a bunch of teas, we got the bill and the girls of the group tried to get me to pay for their purchased teas which amounted to 110 bucks (the teas that they would take home) and the male of the locals would pay for all the tea tastings which amounted to over 150.  I hesitated and they said why don’t we just split everything 4 ways which ended up being 70 bucks.  I felt raped, but it sure was fun.  Did I just say that?  But this was fine, it was all part of my first day in the country, my screw up day.

That night, a man in the hostel told me about the expensive tea scam that he had read in his lonely planet book.  I’d like to think that it wasn’t a complete scam, seeing as they exchanged email with me, and didn’t try and ditch me after.  They all paid as well (easily staged admit ably).  The real part that makes me wonder is that they warned me when it got a little expensive. “Do you want to stop now?  We have tried quite a few teas.”  They also insisted in giving me some teas since They had purchased some themselves and we split the bill 4 ways.  Who am I kidding, I got ripped off royally.  Ignorance is a bliss that I don’t often have the luxury of and it was a nice change.

Next I went for a wonder and found a back alley store that has 500 gig thumb drives.  I’ve been hopefully searching for these on my trip the whole time since I knew this technology is scheduled to hit the market in 2009.  This is nano technology that has the capacity to fit 2 terabites in a thumb drive (that’s 2000 gigs).  The price for 500 gigs in a thumb drive is 25 bucks.

………Wait for it………

I’ll now be taking orders.  I’ll start the bidding on these little devices for 100 bucks a piece, and that’s still probably 4 times cheaper than they will be when they hit America next year.  That is, of course, if it is actually true.  If they actually have the technology yet.

They said it was out in Japan and I could check.  “it just came out”  I replied with, I was in Japan This morning, Its not out.

There is a roomer that they have a software implanted in the thumb drive to fool your computer into thinking that it is 500 gigs when in reality it is only 1 gig.  I will put it to the test soon enough.

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