Friday, July 6, 2007

China: First Impressions

Note: This blog entry has been published with pictures here.

I’m finally in China! Not only am I in China, but I’m in a CRAZY nice hotel in China. No joke. Nicest hotel I’ve ever been in. But let me start from where I left off in the last post (which is under this post, if you haven't read it yet).

Dad and I got 5 hours of sleep in Shanghai during our overnight layover. That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of sleep, but after 27 hours of being up, it’s like having just kicked that annoying guy at work in the crotch a couple times. What a great feeling.

So fun fact about China – it gets crazy bright at 5 in the morning. This means that you’ll probably wake up then because your body is used to waking up when it’s light out. Imagine that. Or it could have been because it was 4 p.m. in Dallas at 5 a.m. in Shanghai. Whatever. I’m all screwed up either way.

Oh man, I just got really excited because Scrubs is coming on next. So much for any kind of Chinese culture via television. I’m going to watch Scrubs while I write this. In English.
Okay, so anyway, on to the airplane ride. The ride from Tokyo to Shanghai Wednesday night then Shanghai to Wuhan Thursday morning were in “economy” class for me (first class for Dad, of course).

Tokyo to Shanghai on Wednesday night was pretty much a blur. I was so tired that I fell asleep, knees up against my ears and all, before we took off. No, I didn’t stay asleep the whole time, but the 10 minutes here and there I got were glorious.

As for Shanghai to Wuhan on Thursday morning – Dad and I sat in the airport for several hours just because we had been ready since 6 a.m. and our flight wasn’t until 10. After we checked in, we headed to the first class lounge, and apparently there were several different ones. The one we were assigned to was about a quarter of a mile from the place we checked in, which was noooooo problem because there were a bunch of those handy dandy moving sidewalks going that way. Unfortunately, we ended up going way past the lounge and had to go back, and in China (and Tokyo too, actually), the moving sidewalks only move one direction. There are none that come back. Same goes for escalators. And you know what direction those escalators go? Down. They go down. Which means you have to walk when you want to go up. And with a 30 pound backpack on your back, if that’s what you brought with you. I think I lost 10 pounds in that airport.

Oh yeah, and as we were sitting in the terminal before boarding our bus that took us to our plane (that's how they do it here, apparently. More room for planes that way) I look over at two airport workers as they start to each other loudly in Chinese. All of the sudden, Dad makes noise.
"Ching Chang!" he chatters. Pause.

"Shi how!" he says. Pause. .

"Chin shea!" he says.

I'm looking back and forth between my Dad, who is making Chinese-sounding noises and everyone else, who are talking in Chinese. I lean over to Dad, glancing around the room filled with Chinese people.

"Do you really think this is the best place to be making fun of the Chinese language?" I ask. He looks at me, confused.

"Making fun of the language?" he asks.

"Yes, weren't you just making noise like you were pretending to talk Chinese?" He starts laughing.

"I was reading names of cities," he laughs, and points to the big board of departing flights.
I read the names, which are indeed what he was reading. Apparently I don't know my Chinese geography very well.

I just picked up the remote to re-see something on TV. That doesn’t work without Tivo.
Also, apparently that “rambunctious kid chattering stupidly while kicking the back of your seat” thing is universal. At one point the kid stood up on the seat and pulled my hair from behind. There’s some birth control. Oh and by the way, I think “GRRAWWWWWWWAAAAAA!!!!” means the same thing in Chinese.

So we get to Wuhan, and the nice driver comes to pick us up and as we walk to the car, I decide that it’s hot here. Everyone told us it would be, and they were right. However, it’s not really worse than Houston in the summer. It was 40 Celsius (about 100 F) and the air conditioning in the van didn’t work that well when the driver had to stop. Nice guy though. He hit a bump and I said “weeeeeeeeeeee!” and he said “Sorry!” – I think that’s the only word of English he knows. Good luck, Dad and Darlana.

The hotel is insane. I’ve never been anywhere this nice before. Everything's marble or oak or tiny tile or whatever. Plus, since Dad is a platinum-gold-diamond-chrome-jewel-crystal-something-or-other member, they upgraded our room and we get to go to the Club Lounge, which means free food for Mandy.

The pool is an indoor Olympic sized one, with skylights, fancy chairs, and a swim up bar table thing (it's not really a bar with alcohol, but it's there. I'm not really sure why but it looks fancy).
The workout facility (where you walk in and attendants pop to attention everywhere, I think to hand you towels if you may want one) has individual flat screen TVs in front of all the workout machines, which are also each stocked with towels, bottles of water, and headphones.

Turn into the male or female changing rooms, and you'll find a "relaxing room," where the nice lady tells me you can get a foot massage, massage rooms (massages are only 200 Yuan for an hour, which is about $30), hot and cold whirpools, a steam room, and oh yeah, you can change and shower in there if you want to.

The beauty salon is also nearby, where I can (and will) get a 35 Yuan pedicure or manicure ($6). Yeesssssss.

We also have a doorbell outside our room. The first time we heard it, we were a little confused.

"Is that a doorbell?" I ask Dad.

"No," he says, "it can't be a doorbell. It must be something outside."

It rings again, and curious, I get up and open the door. There is a little lady in a crisp Renaissance Marriott uniform on the other side, holding a silver tray. On that silver tray was something I've never seen in my life on a silver tray.

Two band-aids.

"We noticed you had a cut on your finger when you checked in so we brought you some band-aides."

I know you probably don't believe that, but Dad can vouch for this. You absolutely cannot make this stuff up.

Apparently Dad had pulled back a hangnail at some point in the trip and had a little bit of dried blood on the side of his finger. The front desk lady noticed this and sent the band-aides to our room (on a silver tray, no less!). That's just an idea of the level of service you find here.

Wuhan Wal-Mart

Okay, on to the outside world. I didn't go out a whole lot today, but after I ate my free breakfast this morning and my dad and Darlana went to work (yeah, I got up at 6:30 a.m. today and wasn't ticked about it. Apparently I'm a morning person in Asia. Who knew?), I took a little walk (in a straight line - because I'm afraid to turn when I walk away from the hotel) to Wal-Mart, which takes about 15 minutes from the hotel. Not a bad walk, except that it's 115 F out and I'm a freak show.

Elizabeth and my other sign language friends know what it's like to get stared at when we're talking to each other in sign language. People can't help it - it's interesting. It's different. You don't see it much. I'm sure it's the same if you've ever been in a wheelchair. But that's what people did to me for just walking by them. Apparently they don't get a lot of 5'8" light brown-haired white American chicks who don't speak a word of Chinese here. I didn't get any of that in the hotel, but man, the minute I walked outside, they were interested in me.

The heat didn't really bother me until I was on my way back from Wal-Mart. At that point I had been in the heat for quite some time and I was ready to get back to my comfy little spoiled air-conditioned life in the hotel. Plus it's more fun to be out with other freak shows, like Dad or Darlana. Dad's bigger than anyone they've ever seen and Darlana's blonde (and Canadian). I'm pretty Chinese compared to the two of them.

What did bother me is that cars will hit you if you're in their way, and there's a point on the way to Wal-Mart where the sidewalk becomes a road, like a REALLY long intersection. It's pretty scary to be the pedestrian here. The driving is surprisingly not too bad (nothing like Rio!) except for this fact.

Wal-Mart in China isn't way different than U.S. Wal-Mart, except for the (smelly!) fish market when you first walk in, mostly because I think we put it there for Americans like me. All the signs there were also in English, which you definitely don't see anywhere else in Wuhan. Plus it was right next to a KFC, McDonalds, and Pizza Hut.

The Wal-Mart here is underground, I think because it's easier to keep it cool that way. After walking down into the tunnel, and turning into the store, the first thing I saw was a bunch of lockers on my left. I was a little confused. Did they not allow backpacks in the store? If they didn't, I would need a locker, because I was carrying a backpack. If they were just there for convenience, I didn't mind carrying my backpack through the store. I went over, hoping I would see something that indicated whether or not I needed a locker. What I saw was something like baidof hgiwo nfjkdslu bioadf gnklda iochbakld jfk ldaboa hdkgls fadsjkgou giosw asdgio hsadfkl dasigoh jdfio afgjsd asdjgiohd fkbndx kl ghioa sadhgio adsjgkl jdioghas odghiaso, except in those funny little pictures. Not helpful.

I decided I'd just keep it with me, because I didn't have any coins anyway and that's what the lockers took. I started walking into the store and the greeter (yes, there's a greeter here too) stopped me and said something to me about my backpack. Uh oh...what did she just say? I give her my best "I'm a stupid American who doesn't speak Chinese" look and say "huh?" and she says "You need to put the water inside your bag" in pretty decent English. (My backpack has a little side pouch for water, where I had a bottle of water) I happily comply, just excited that somebody said something I understood, and walk into the store. Side note: if I work at Wal-Mart, I probably will not learn another language for you. I'm not that ambitious.

My quest is a laundry hamper (I was looking for one of those foldable mesh ones), some wire hangers, and a suction cup hook for the shower or shelf to put my loofah and put all the little shampoos and things in (the shelf in our shower is pretty small and dad had to put his razor on the very top of the shower in the back, which made me laugh and sad for him at the same time. He's so tall he probably didn't notice though.) It was actually very easy to get around and find things, because like I said before, everything is also in English there. Yay! I found the hangers and shower caddy, but had a little trouble finding a mesh hamper. I did end up finding a small, foldable hamper that is apparently meant for kids, because it looks like a duck when you open it. I think it's cute though.

I found all the things on my list (and spent only US$7 total) and went to the checkout. One of them was labeled "speedy checkout." I wasn't in much of a hurry seeing as how I have about 3 weeks to kill, but speedy is always nice anyway. It was crazy busy in there anyway, and I was still a freak show.

Perhaps speedy doesn't mean the same thing in China, because I think I waited about 45 minutes in that line. I realized about 15 minutes in that I should have gone to look for some swimming goggles to swim laps with, but I didn't want to get out of line, so I stayed. It didn't take the checkout girl long to figure out that I didn't speak Chinese, so she pointed at the price on the computer then the change on the receipt for the transaction. Looks like it's not her first time with a stupid American. I appreciated it though. There's not many things more stressful than somebody rattling something off in Chinese and looking at you quizzically while you try to figure out what you're supposed to say or do now.

The only other thing I have to tell you about Wal-Mart is that the bags still have the smiley face on them, and that apparently there's a I can't visit it right now because we don't have internet enabled in the room yet and I'm too lazy to get up. Maybe you'd like to; I don't know.

That's all for now. I'm going to the pool! (It's a hard life).