Thursday, December 07, 2006

Back across the broad Pacific

Thursday was kind of an average day, nothing very exciting happened but there were lots of little things worth mentioning.

Lunch was Papa John’s pizza, worth mentioning just for the fact that it exists here. The pies were precisely what you would expect from PJ’s – not extraordinary but tasty. We had some time so we headed out for a walk around the big block. Found a bakery by the name of Croissant le France that was loaded with very attractive breads and pastries. Saw a bicyclist politely arguing with a motorist who had apparently hit them with their car. The driver was complaining that the bike had scratched his bumper and the rider was bemoaning the facts that his wheel was bent and that his foot hurt. An argument in the middle of a busy intersection that you would never see anywhere but here.

After a non-descript afternoon and a short stop at Starbucks we went out to the Hong Mei Leisure Pedestrian Street for dinner. It’s basically a narrow thoroughfare connecting two boulevards that has been given over to foot traffic and pedestrians. We stopped in the Little Bamboo Bar for a pre-dinner libation – they had one of those multi-page menus of drinks varying in degree of potential intoxication bearing names like “Cyclone” and “Tornado” and “Three-Mile Island.” I went simple, a Gimlet made only of lime juice and vodka. When it came to getting our orders concocted, we were surprised to discover that none of five bartenders knew how to make any of the drinks on the menu. This came to our attention as our waitress kept coming back to me for instructions on how to put the two ingredient drink together. Someone, sometime must have been traveling and taken with the notion of a fancy drink menu but never bothered to put the talent in place to actually pull it off. Another case of cultural transference that lost a little something in the translation.

Dinner was at Simply Thai where we shared some spring rolls and a variety of curry dishes varying in color from red to yellow to green. All outstanding.

Given it was only a mile to the hotel and that the night was pleasant, we decided to hoof it back. We witnessed the closest call between a car and a sidewalk riding cyclist that I’ve ever seen, the biker literally putting the bike in an off-camber angle as he passed the driver pulling out of a driveway in order to avoid landing on the hood. We also walked through a very dingy section of street – little alleys and warrens and shops under ugly yellow lights teeming with people. I was surprised, as this is a pretty nice part of town and despite several walks up and down the other side of the street, I’d never noticed this little patch. Turns out the whole little neighborhood was blocked from view by some big panels attached to the overhead road. Sort of a Chinese Potemkin village.

This morning dawned damp and misty for our daily hike and we headed down Ya’an Xilu to the last park on our agenda for this trip. As it turned out, it was the best one so far. Many little paths made from polished pebbles set on their sides in concrete wound their way up and down little hills through evergreen and philodendron forests. It was loaded with the normal horde of exercising people (as always) and singing birds. Of the latter, nothing new beyond the ubiquitous Eurasian Blackbirds and White-cheeked Bulbuls although I did see a dove that merits checking later. In the case of the former, I added a couple of new characters - tree bumpers and face scrubbers to my ever-growing list of oddball exercise practitioners. The tree bumpers were two women who stood opposite each other on either side of a tree and bumped it repeatedly with their shoulders. Again, don’t ask me why. The face scrubber was a man standing in the woods roughly rubbing his hands over and over his face while making a gape-mouthed grimace. We went around the place and took a lot of photos, none of which are prepared at the moment since I am writing this in the airport and cannot upload them.

While Badminton is popular in all the parks, this one held some serious ringers with hard serves and harder routines. One couple was playing with two racquets each, their purpose unclear to me until grandpa drove a liner into grandma’s forehead and she used the two like a pair of pliers to pick up the errant shuttlecock.

Coming around a corner, I met a couple of elderly people feeding a big calico cat. I observed “yi zhi mao” which elicited a chuckle from the woman. Apparently the park is the home of 100s of feral cats that the people come and feed every morning. Judging from the size and condition of the cats, it’s an arrangement that works. We saw several more instances of cats coming out of the bushes and eating from grocery bags.

Leaving the new park, we headed back and decided to take a quick spin through Tianshan Park before heading back to the hotel. On our visit here two days ago, we had heard dance music wafting through the trees and drawing closer, we’d come upon a dozen or so couples ballroom dancing off to the side on an old dance floor. At that time, they were doing the Russell One Step to Polka music. This time it was a waltz and it was just wonderful to see all these seniors gliding over the floor in the early morning light.

After the walk and the dinner it was time to pack up and head to the airport. Not much here to report aside from the nasty yellow haze hanging over the city which didn’t abate has I headed out to the ocean and the airport. Another opportunity to habla with a cab driver which was fun and I was standing in line at the gate.

Frequent flyer plans have their advantages as I made it through the Premier line very quickly, leaving behind the teeming hordes in the realm of the proletariat. Security was an easy pass although I did have to stand on the little pedestal to have my ankles squeezed. Then it just boiled down to waiting and people watching.

Shanghai airport is a little weird in that many of the gates are on a different level than the waiting area. You sort of stand around trying to decide if you want to go down below, or if you’re even allowed to. The 1st and Business class lounges are down there, but there really is nowhere to wait. Today, despite being in the Elite loading group I waited and wondered why so many people were heading down so far in advance of the loading call. Well, they were down there forming a line, of which I ended up at the end of when I finally went down the escalator. Stupid me, always following the rules. There was a second security check at the bottom which consisted of a young agent clearly in training that made me open my bag so that she could press down on my clothing. The only thing she appeared capable of saying in English was “any more bottles in there” and despite my answer of “no” she looked to her trainer for direction before sending me on.

Took a long bit to load the plane and finally when they closed the doors there were but two people in my four people row – me and the guy two seats away. No single travel related thing is better than to be granted that extra space on a haul like this. A woman two aisles up pitched a major fit when the attendant told her she was sitting in D when she should have been sitting in G. She copped an interesting attitude considering it was her reading skills that were clearly lacking. People are funny.

We got off on time and soon it was ready for meals. Once again the uncooked chicken entrée was offered up and once again refused by picky customers. Mine was fine and plenty hot.

Sat for a while and did a couple of crosswords and watch “Pirates of the Caribbean” with the sound off. Now it’s “My Super Ex-girlfriend” which I think I might just watch.

The rest of the flight rated a yawn. My favorite noodle bowl showed up sometime in the wee hours, the movie was dull, the next movie “Little Miss Sunshine” was interesting with the sound off and the intervening hours were filled with nodding and classical guitar music. The last meal of the trip was a spicy Shanghai noodle dish which always picks me up for the for the haul into the airport. Music switched over to something with a stronger bass beat and I’m ready to get off the plane and brave customs, security and finding my next gate.

We must have landed somewhere Oakland because the walk into the customs hall was long, long, long. Having no bag to claim and being one of the long strides, I made it through that routine quick and painlessly. Security was another matter, because like most airports the infrastructure has not kept up with the drill. It’s plainly not easy to juggle two pieces of luggage, a coat, shoes and my little personal baggie in a manner that reflects even the slightest degree of control. But I did it and getting sent back through the metal detector due to my belt didn’t set me back too badly. Unlike their Chinese counterparts, American security agents have no interest in squeezing my ankles. Outta there and off to the concourse where I now sit and wait for my flight to appear on the departure board. Such is the nature of 4 hour layovers. Hopefully it won’t be more than that.


This blog by the way is brought to you via a T-Mobile hot spot on the SFO concourse. Really pretty cool when you think of it - being able to sit and share your thoughts any time, any place. Years ago it was all journals tucked away for review in the twilight years. Now it's real time. Not sure something isn't lost in all this but perhaps the gains transcend. I certainly know it sure is fun.

No comments: