Sunday, February 19, 2006

Leaving the Middle Kingdom

Greetings from this side of the world.

I never would have thought that the light snow I mentioned in my previous posting would end up having such profound impact on my travel plans. But it did.

We started the day with our final penthouse breakfast, this time loading up on pastries, considering the fact that food in the short term was going to be a challenge. We would be on a plane, after all.

Catching a taxi for the trip out the Maglev Train was not a problem. Our final ride was pretty good in a couple of ways. First of all, the car itself had received a coating of sun shade on the windows at some point in its past. My window was completely opaque save for a 10 inch diameter hole in the sun shade, clearly due to generations of taxi riders picking away at it. Secondly, the wet roads really afforded the driver a chance to show off his skills. We went across the town and across the Huangpu for one last time.

We arrived at the train with plenty of time to spare. It was freezing in the station, due to the fact that it was completely open to the elements. Very modern, but very frigid.

We bought tickets (100 RMB or $12 for the "VIP" section and went up the platform. A young security officer met us at the top of the escalator, checked our tickets and escorted us to the VIP Section. Everyone else was at the other end of the station, even though the difference in price was only about $4.

This sign about says it all, you're either a VIP or you're Ordinary!

The train pulled in and we boarded. It was quite impressive, and totally silent - the benefit of magnetic levitation technology. No moving parts, no wheels and no friction.

The difference between the VIP and ordinary boiled down to seating. VIP, fancy leather, two to a side. Ordinary, pretty nice fabric, three to a side.

The seats were comfortable and the cabin was absolutely silent. I wonder what it's like during rush hour? The subway was mobbed, and I imagine that someday this will be too. For now though, it runs only from Pudong out to the airport, about 40 kilometers. The station though is designed to allow it to also run in the Shanghai direction and I gather that someday it will. Perhaps it will be possible in a couple of years to catch the train at the plane and be at the hotel in 12 minutes. That though would replace the cab ride, which is really a nice "Welcome to Shanghai" when you come in.

I've included a couple of shots of the speedometer. Sorry for the focus, while the train was smooth, it was not completely smooth. My camera battery was running low and I could not get these last two shots with the flash, which would've helped. Perhaps the rapid increase in speed is better conveyed with a little camera shake?

We topped out at 460 KPH, or 285 MPH. Did I say it was fast?

A shot out the window. You really don't get a sense of the speed, except in relation to the cars that you pass. They appear to be standing still. The snow gave a nice dusting to the country side which was otherwise flat. This is the delta of the Yangtze, and like all major river deltas, there isn't much to it except miles and miles of board flat plains.

We arrived at the airport and took our place in line. Unlike most airports, the gates at this one are not open unless there is a plane to load. When it gets to within three hours of departure time, the agents come out of the team room (off to the side) and march single file to their stations. They then open the gates. I made what turned out to be a fateful decision and checked my bag knowing that I'd have to collect it at San Francisco customs. We went off to the concourse to kill some time.

The duty free zone was pretty amazing. Prada, Ferragamo and lots of liquor. Also cigarettes. Rows and rows and rows of cigarettes, entire stores dedicated to them. Amazing. Bill stopped for a Coke and I sat down across from him. The little restaurant was pretty crowded, and smoky. As we were talking, a man smoking behind him let out a lungful, and Bill's head was suddenly crowned with a halo of blue smoke - from shoulder to shoulder. That was it for me, I headed out to a duty free curios shop where I picked up a little terra cotta soldier (like the armies in Xian) for 20 RMB. We headed down to the gate where 400 of our closest friends were waiting to board.

About an hour passed and the announcement came, sort of. "Time to board" sent all 4 groups and all people to the door. The plane was not at the gate, it was out on the tarmac being de-iced. We had to ride buses. What the agent failed to mention was the fact that they only wanted the 1st class travelers and that mistake turned the boarding area into chaos. Everyone jammed the doors, which naturally opened into the crowd. One bus came, the lucky 1st classers left and then they announced a delay due to the weather! While that sank in, three more buses came up and we boarded them. So much for coordination. I think China is moving forward quickly, but often the little things throw a fly in the ointment. The bus ride was uneventful, climbing the cold, wet stairs to the big plane was not nice, but it felt good to be heading home. Got on board, grabbed my seat and then was treated to an announcement of a 1 hour delay. Seems one cannot de-ice a plane while fueling, it has to be a serial process. Now, we knew the plane was leaving last night, but why bother when you can wait until the last minute? Let's do both things in order, while time runs out. All this from a little snow. Now my connection was close - 2 hours, and I was starting to get just a bit antsy about the mess I would be facing if I missed it. Some of you know, Albuquerque is not the easiest place to get into in a pinch. What really came into quick focus for me though was that decision to check my bag. If we were late, and if I had to run, I had essentially cost myself 30 minutes of leeway. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

We did get off, about 55 minutes late and climbed quickly. Having a window on the way out was nice - I was able to see the mouth of the mighty Yangtze and as we crossed Japan with the setting sun to our backs, I could see the lights of the island's mega-cities come twinkling on.

The first meal was pork loin and potatoes. Just about everyone I know hates airplane food but I have always considered it a treat. It's not great, but considering the circumstances it's hot, it tastes good and it brings some cheer. I do miss the old metal combination spoon/fork that used to accompany the meals. Today they're plastic, and a step down in grace.

A rumor passed through steerage that the 1st classers were roasting a pig and having a luau. I didn't see any evidence of that, but it did sour the mood among the proletariat. I thought back to the Maglev sign - VIP or ordinary. I was feeling plenty of the latter.

Caught some sleep and woke of for the second meal - Ramen in a cup and the requisite dance with danger of having steaming water poured in your lap. Dozed off again and was abruptly awakened by serious pain in my right leg. The guy on the other side of my row (we thankfully had an empty seat between us) was trying to bring down the middle tray table. Only one thing stood between him and his mission - my knee cap. I mentioned this and he apologized profusely. Slept some more and woke up for the last meal - stir fried pork and noodles. The food on these flights has clearly had some Chinese influence, and I assume that's due to the 85% easterners on board.

I was treated to the sight of the sun slowly rising over the leading edge of the wing - the reverse of the sunrise I saw way back on last Sunday. The map on the movie screen showed us closing on home, over the Pacific, directly across from Eugene. The sun came up and the sky was filled with puffy white clouds. Figuring this was the perfect moment, I dialed up the 3rd and 4th movements of Ludwig's 9th and turned it up. Another life moment - the Ode to Joy as we flew over Point Reyes in a beautiful clear blue sky, heading into SFO.

By now, I'd resigned myself to missing my connection and began to mentally develop my recovery plan. For some reason, Customs was checking passports at the end of the jetway. I enabled wireless on my phone and was surprised to find a voicemail message. Dialing it up, I was treated to an automated message from United apologizing for my missed connection and cheerfully informing me that they'd taken the liberty of booking me on the next available flight. At 7 PM that evening, arriving at 10:30 PM. It was now 9:45 AM.

Handed in my customs form and went to the baggage check to wait for my bag. I still had about 35 minutes and an outside chance of making it. If only my bag would show up. Which it didn't, for exactly 35 minutes. Watching the time tick off and with my fate finally accepted, here comes my bag. Last one off the plane.

Walking out of the international terminal, I checked the screen if only to torture myself. But, Albuquerque was there, at the top of the list with a gate change and a delay. Could it be? Scheduled to leave at 10:49, it was now 10:36.

Walking really, really fast, I hit the first security check - mobbed. I explained my predicament to the guard. Checking her official TSA script, she told me to go to the next one. Trying my story there, the guard told me to get in line, I'd make it. So now I went into super fast mode and threw things on the table like a dervish. My glasses and phone flew out of my coat pocket and onto the "secure" side of the folding cafeteria tables. I was nearly tackled while trying to retrieve them, a guard finally handed them over. I cleared the check, read the gate and did an Olympic record 440 down the concourse. Of course, it was the farthest gate but I made it! Gasping for air, I handed my ticket to the agent. She blithely informed me that we'd be boarding in 30 minutes. I told her I'd just run all the way from Shanghai, she said "You didn't....where's Shanghai?"

I knew I was in America.

One last little tidbit from my great adventure. Recall in the very first post that the Canadair 700 does not have room for carry-ons, they collect them at the end of the jetway. No different this time, I was handed a ticket as I crossed the tarmac (another outside boarding) and walked my bag over to a pile of suitcases. A middle-aged Japanese man was doing the same but didn't quite get the drill. He looked at the pile and continued to walk toward the stairs. I told him he had to leave his bag there and that there was no room on-board. He understood and left it, boarding the plane in front of me. The ride to Albuquerque was uneventful. I nodded as we flew across the center of the Grand Canyon. As we left the plane, I moved to the side to wait for my bag and the Japanese man came off and stepped up to join the queue. He took a look out of the jetway window and said, "This is not Burbank."

And no, it wasn't.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Snow falling on Shanghai

Final morning here at the Renaissance and I'm treated to a dusting of snow. The New Town Central Park assumes a tiny frosted appearance. The flakes continue to fall as the city wakes up.

Another Sightseeing Day

Today's entry covers a day that went from one extreme to another. The first shot - the sublime, another day spent in the New Town Central Park, this time with my Xiangyang Market binoculars.
I began the morning practicing the little Chinese necessary to inform the Policeman at the gate to the park that I wanted to look at birds. I've not carried binoculars around Shanghai much so I didn't know whether it was okay or not. So, repeating "jur yun-hsew kahn nyow" over and over, I walked the 2 blocks to the park and found the cop. My resolve flagged a bit at this point and instead of marching up to him and stating my intent, I did a pantomime of a bird with my hands and held the binos up to my eyes. He looked at me and made some noises and waved his hands, not unlike what any policeman in any city of the world might do when faced with someone of obvious mental limitation. It was cold today, and windy, but I did manage to build an impressive Chinese Lifelist of 5 birds. One more or less Robin, an obvious Shrike, the ubiquitous Rock Dove, a sort of kinglet and something that might be related to the Waxwings. I did have one special moment - as I was walking my last loop, I stopped and looked at two cages hanging in the trees near a small arboretum. The held two Robins who had been hung there, with a clear view of their free flying friends in the park. An elderly man was slowing walking by (backwards, more on that later) and I girded my Lions and said "nyow?" He solemnly nodded yes, and repeated the word back to me. For all my goofy attempts to play with the language, this moment really did it for me.
While birding, I did a complete inventory of the people of the park:
  1. Badminton players.
  2. Tai chi groups.
  3. Backwards walkers. Many people just walk around the park, backwards.
  4. Flag dancers. Today the group of ladies was listening to barely recognizable American oldies, sung in English by Chinese women.
  5. Plant standers. These folks stand by a tree and massage parts of their heads.
  6. Leg wavers. Place a leg on a rope chain and swing it back and forth. Repeat with other leg.
  7. Joggers. Just as you'd expect.
  8. Walkers. Ditto

Getting cold, I returned to another penthouse breakfast.

I joined my friends and decided to travel out to Pudong with them for two reasons, first to attempt the subway and second to try and see my old friend Albert who now (unbeknownst to me) works there. The sign above sums up travel restrictions in China. Nuts and drunks must have a guardian if they plan to ride in a taxi.
We found our way to Zhongshan Park station and boarded the Metro. It was fast, clean and an all around positive experience. Made our way across the river and out to Pudong, caught another cab in a surprising snow squall, went to Intel. Saw Albert for an hour - it's always great to catch up and then headed back again on the tube. This time, instead of standing in line for the ticket, I decided to try the automatic dispenser. I managed to do it without using the English translation but relying a bit on a helpful man standing by. Back to Shanghai we went for our next adventure.
It was time once again to brave that bartering madhouse, Xiangyiang Market. Recall from an earlier entry, that I did not feel I had successfully brought these vendors to their knees with my superior marketing intellect. I needed to go back and prove that I really knew what capitalism was. Well, that plus I had a mission to complete and I wanted a couple of watches. So off we went. Doing a feint of crossing the street to photograph a pagoda, we dodged the masses that normally descend on you the moment you exit the cab. Got the photos and charged back in. Tried an a couple of Chairman Mao hats, not for me. Found one item I'd been looking for and talked the salesman down from 1800 to 250 RMB. It took three salespeople to separate me from that money. All that took was five refusals to budge and storming out of the store.The first saleslady made the motions of rubbing her eyes and said "boo hoo" when she saw how low a price I had received. Picked up some watches, paid a bit too much but got them down 75% and made a friend. Returned there later, and while Bill was shopping, got the young lady to teach me a little Chinese. Everyone in the store was smiling and laughing and helping me pronounce "luh-uhn" which means "cold," because it was. The word for people is "lu-un" and the word for "cold" is "luh-uhn" so everyone found it very hilarious. She told me that Chinese is an easy language to learn. I asked her what she thought of English, she said, "very hard." But she was good at it. Soon the counterfeit market will be moving, and as we left, she wrote down the new location in pinyin, English and Chinese. Another highlight for me and although the crowding and the smoke and the relentless picking by the vendors got tiring, this place was a lot of fun.
Last night we had dinner in the Xiantiandi District. This is a section of old limestone tenements that was recently renovated and turned into a fancy restaurant/club area. It was written up in the architecture column in the 5-December issue of New Yorker. Our work dinner was in a restaurant called Luna and featured Mediterranean food prepared by what appeared to be a Sri Lankan couple. Believe to or not, we had tapas, many, many tapas. Liking the area, we wanted to go back so after dropping our stuff at the hotel, we caught a cab and braved the traffic one more time.
It was getting colder, that nasty Boston waterfront kind of cold so we picked the first spot we liked and headed in for what we thought was going to be a quite French dinner. Wrong. We'd picked a cabaret. The menu was prix fixe and pretty good. The show was amazing. A dopey master of ceremonies introducing some very talented dancers - young men and women of a wide variety of nationalities (Russian, Ukrainian, Niger, Kiwi, Spanish, Italian.) They did a number of skits, a Michael Jackson tribute (which of course would never fly here,) a Mariah Carey tribute and some other dances that were in the spirit of the odd, debauched scenes in the movie cabaret. The MC did some audience participation magic tricks between acts to allow the dancers to catch their breath. It lasted a solid hour and honestly, was quite incredible. The young man from the Ukraine was clearly trained in classical dance, as he could do that Russian Cossack spin in a manner that you could not believe.
Caught the cab home and here I am, packed up and ready to head to the airport tomorrow morning. One last surprise in store - instead of the cab ride out to Pudong International, we're doing the subway again and finishing up on the 200MPH bullet train. That, is going to be exciting.
My number one learning of the week - Freidman is right, the world is flat. German caterers, Swiss archtiects, Ukranian dancers, Sri Lankan restauranteurs, Pizza Hut and Australian steaks, all in a city in China. A city no less that was closed to the rest of the world perhaps 35 years ago. Things change.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A Word or Two about Architecture

Shanghai has some incredible architecture. Many, many competing styles crowd the skyline and lower elevations. From modern glass and steel to ancient warrens consisting of limestone two-storey houses with dormers. It's a bit of an assault on the eye, and the sensibilities. One unique feature of many buildings is a modern skyscraper with some oddball item stuck on the top

A great place to start is the Bund. This is the colonial waterfront, and all the buildings along it were built in turn of the century Victorian style. These are the original office buildings, banks and customs houses of Britain and the other Sphere of Influence nations. Lots of Opium was traded through here on its way from India. In this shot you see a bit of the contrast - limestone tradition contrasting with the building known as "The Pineapple." Guess why?

This is the well known Pearl of the Orient Tower on the Pudong waterfront. Twin earths on the bottom, one at the base and two more up the spire. Even I cannot decipher the true meaning behind this design. If anyone finds one, please let me know

Are we missing a Space Shuttle? If so, it might be found at the end of Nanjingdonglu

I included this shot to provide a bit of insight into standard construction methods. The scaffolding is bamboo - 10s of storeys up into the skyline. Steel - who needs it? Need more bracing, grow some. Most of the skyscrapers under construction here are framed in Bamboo. I know a Russell who would be a Bamboo Tycoon if he only lived 6500 miles to the west.

This line-up evokes the idea of several giant chess pieces towering over the city. R-B7, RxQ, Checkmate.

Found this beauty down by the Counterfeits Market. It appeared old, and I'm sure it was a Russian Orthodox church at one time. Checking for signs, we discovered it was now a combination disco-restaurant.

This beauty exemplifies the finest in Russian Bureaucratic style. Note the corrugated steel pagoda that seamlessly melds the cold Eastern European efficiency of pressed concrete with the sensuous mysteries of the Orient

In this example students, we get the cross between the Plains Indian Aesthetic and late Neo-Swiss industrial post modern zeitgeist. Or maybe not.

And finally, after more than 50 years we now know where the spaceship that carried Michael Rennie away from Earth went when it left Washington - the Hongqiao Business District.


A Senior Level Seminar in Culinary Culture Shock

Today was an exercise in cultural extremes. Well, food culture extremes anyway. And some architectural ones too.

Began the day with the traditional penthouse breakfast, this time minus the window washers swinging on the side of the building. After that, another cab ride to our first day of business review. Clear your mind for a moment and visualize if you will, the last stab at the Bauhaus aesthetic, dropped down in an Asian development sector with a rotting Communist era concrete monstrosity in the back yard which sports its very own corrugated steel pagoda on the roof. That more or less describes our meeting place. Steel, glass, more glass and more steel formed into a giant inverted ice cream cone and surrounded by sections of giant cylinders and big, square boxes. You get the picture, right?

The meetings were interesting, and I was excited to see my first Shanghai kittycat stalking in the privet hedge.

Lunch was the first intimation that today was going to be a very special day, one to share with you, my loyal readership. Catered by Shanghai's premier German provender, we feasted upon schnitzel, spaetzle, sausage and sauerkraut, the Big Four "S"es of the Deutsche Diet. Desert was even more grand - little cheesecakes with white chocolate Stars of David embossed with musical scales. Those plus a large chocolate log emblazoned with "Bavaria Uber Alles" done in tan ganache and swimming in a pool of what may have been maple syrup.

Coffee was plentiful and strong, in the true Prussian tradition which excludes all other forms of beverage. More meetings and then we gathered for the coup de grace - a trip to the Live Food Restaurant. No, you didn't misread that name.

Imagine for a moment a world-class aquarium that's situated in a hall that's one-half 1950s Las Vegas casino and one-half pinball parlor. Got that? Well, what makes this aquarium different from every other one you've been to is that here, you get to eat the animals!

Say what! How's that work? You go to your table, collect your server and then head to the tanks. "I'll take one lobster, one sea snail, half a shark, a scallop and two flounder." "Throw in a soft-shelled turtle, a sea snake and the other half of the shark for my date if you will."

(It's just a little too much like the scene in Douglas Adams' opus "Restaurant at the End of the Universe" where the talking cow goes from table to table telling the patrons that they might like a nice slice of his shoulder.)

It all then appears at your table as if by magic.

Knowing this was coming, I was heavily into the Tsingtao and then Coca-cola figuring a healthy dose of alcohol and caffeine could stave off all those dire warnings about seafood, shellfish and anything raw.

We had many courses, starting with raw lobster sushi. The tail had been removed and scooped out. The head was included for garnish which was enhanced by the fact that it was still waving it's legs at us. In the words of a co-worker, the wasabi is provided to kill all the germs. That was followed quickly by a plate of barbecued duck jaws. Next up a half dozen dishes ranging from baked lobster to crayfish to bull frog (yes, I said bull frog) to langoustine tails that looks so much like legless New Mexico centipedes that they mostly went uneaten. Some tasty white fish, head and all was presented along with plates of asparagus and broccoli. In the middle we had a palate cleanser of bananas smeared in tortillas and desert was a tasty little custard tart. Isn't it funny how tortillas appear is all cultures going by many names yet still remaining tortillas?

So now I sit here staring at my watch and wondering if food poisoning really does kick in after only three hours. Two down, and one to go.

Pictures below of the essential elements, including the bull frogs (yes, I did say bull frogs) in their before and after configurations. Make sure you stare long at the Abalone that are the size of salad plates. IIf Steinbeck were still alive, their presence would surely transport him back to the Cannery Row of the 30s. The pictures run in chronological order, from meat on the hoof to dinner on the plate. Sadly, I was not able to go out with the fisherman and giggers to capture the pictures of them being pulled from their habitat.

I should count my blessings, I neither had to eat the shellfish whose homes we often find at Pilar nor the sea snake.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Day One continued

Today we took in about all there was to absorb. After breakfast in the penthouse, which was punctuated by the incredible sight of window washers being lowered down on playground swings to wash the side of a 30 story building, we headed out.

First stop was The Bund, the former colonial seafront. Architecture was distinctly Victorian and by now, quite eaten away by the caustic air. Speaking of which, while the sun worked hard to burn through the morning fog, it wasn't doing much for the exhaust. Visibility across the Huangpu River was decidedly tinged blue.

This is a shot of the Pudong waterfront with a nice emphasis on air quality.

Chen Yi, the first communist mayor of Shanghai keeps a close watch on all that he had changed and created.

From there, we made our way to Nanjinglu, the upscale shopping district. The sensory overload begins here, every shop is playing some sort of loud music, people are calling to you, the signs are extravagant and it's far more than one should be expected to take in.

This is looking down the street at the part where it becomes a pedestrian mall.

We poked around in a few stores including one major department store that had every international brand you can imagine.

Next came the hike across town to the old district, where the modern, consumer driven China takes a step back a few generations. It's much as you might imagine, a warren of little streets and courts and alleyways that weave in and around. Pretty amazing place, with all manner of food being sold at the curb, streetside kitchens, a Confucian temple, bunnies in cages, simply more non-western things than you can dream up. See the pictures, these few don't do it justice. I made our intrepid team wander through some of the back alleys, where laundry was hanging across the lane, people were sitting in chairs visiting and life was just sort of going on. Pretty out of character for me to take that kind of dip into real life, maybe it was oxygen deprivation from the 30 odd cigarettes I've smoked, second hand. My friends fully expected to be kidnapped.

After slogging across town again, we decided it would only be fitting to do a western thing so we had lunch at the Nanjinglu Pizza Hut. The only one with a line and a 25 minute wait, in all of creation I'm willing to bet. We did get in and ordered and while we waited, the music brought the whole cross-cultural experience into tight focus - Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias singing "All the Girls I Know." The Pepsi tasted like Pepsi should, and the vegetarian pie had tomatoes, pineapple and corn on it. Go figure.

Walking along the street, I had two pretty interesting experiences, both within a couple of blocks of each other. The first, in which I was accosted by a psychotic shoeshine woman had me pleading with my companions to lend me some chicken feed just to pay her off. She started by squirting some shoe polish on my shoe at a cross walk and then hounding me for 2 blocks for the right to wipe it off. I steadfastly refused until I thought she was feeling sorry for me and stopped to let her do it. That was a mistake, because she then hounded me for two more blocks until I paid her a dollar to go away. Interestingly, her twin brother got Bill later in nearly the same spot. A racket? I guess so.

The next one was far more dire and embarrassing. I was playing pedestrian chicken with oncoming walkers and stepped too close to the curb. Lost my footing, twisted my ankle and did a full body slam onto the dirty pavement. I was helped to my feet by and Irishman whose Chinese girlfriend was uncontrollably laughing. Still haven't made sense of that experience.

We ended the day at the Xianyang open air knock-off market. Rolex watches, 100RMB. Tommy Bahama shirts, 40RMB. Gucci bags, 30RMB. (1 USD - 8.8 RMB) The vendors are like crows, they pick and pick and pick at you as you walk by, grabbing your sleeves and coat-tails "Sir you want watch, DVD, bag, shirts, underwear?" This place is all about bartering, going back and forth and walking away only to be chased down to continue the battle. Everyone smokes, the lanes are about 10 feet wide and hawkers prowl all the intersections. It was good for about 1 hour and then, you just can't take anymore. I picked up a pair of binoculars to aid my birdwatching for about $50, probably paying too much. Got a couple of other things too (surprises) for a far more reasonable price. Argued long and hard about a Glasshute knock-off watch that was going for about $25. You get caught up in the battle for a couple of bucks. This picture gives you a flavor of the close quarters.

Having worn out our welcome there, we struggled to find a taxi (it being rush hour) but finally connected. Then we got stuck in a traffic jam to beat all traffic jams. Our driver, being frustrated with the situation decided to cut across country. Of course, the only way out of the gridlock was to use the oncoming lane. Which was notably filled with a large bus at the moment he chose to do so. We survived that due to his skillful maneuvering and made it back mostly in one piece. Dinner was downstairs in the Italian restaurant where we ate Australian filet mignon and drank more domestic Tsingtao.

Now, it's time for bed.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The park

Here's a guy watching a BMW 5-series TV ad at the bus stop.

The park was quite beautiful considering its location in the middle of the city. It is new, having started in 1999. I made a major miscalculation not bringing binoculars as the birds were quite accessible and plentiful. Saw a couple of Grackle-like birds and of course, hordes of House Sparrows (these being the Eurasian variety.)

Many types of bamboo (love it, Dave) and Philodendron everywhere.

Left there and did a bit of cruising through the neighboorhoods which are quite a bit like Mexico aside from the signs in Mandarin. More pictures on that later.

Next stop - The Bund, Shinyang open market and Old Town.

Day One

Had a good night's sleep and managed to stay out until about 6AM when I was awakened by the sound of birds! At first, I thought I'd left the radio on, or that some oddball alarm was going off. But no, it was the common "peter peter peter" of the Tufted Titmouse. Problem - there is no Tufted Titmouse within 6000 miles of here. But clearly there's an asian analogue. The other thing that pulled me out of my slumber was the distinctive smell of exhaust.

Went outside at 7:00AM to walk the streets and visit the park arcoss the street (unquestionably the source of the birds.) Many people on the street - cyclists, motorscooterists (new word) and pedestrians. The park was full of people, mainly midde-agers doing Tai Chi, jogging, walking backwards (no lie) and standing in bamboo groves yelling "Awwwwwwww" (again, no lie.) There were two groups of women doing a flag dance to some martial music and several groups of young men playing badminton - without a net.

Chinese people do not make eye contact. I attempted some smiles, but no response. Walked around there for an hour and came back here where I now sit, eating breakfast in the 33rd floor penthouse lounge.