Monday, October 17, 2011

China Trip

After an eventful late summer and early autumn of my munich trip, white water rafting, deep sea fishing, a marathon, and the Pocono 69.1, time for my Shanghai trip had arrived.

The trip to china started out well. I had stayed at my brother, Matt's, house the night before and he drove me to Logan without issue. I made my connecting flight and Newark and began my first sixteen hour flight of my life.

How did I pass the time? Very easily when they have movies on demand. After not one, not two but three superhero movies(Captain America, Green Lantern, and X-men:First Class) and the Hangover Two I only had another eight hours to fly. As the movie choices got slimmer, I decided to pass my time the best way I know how: sleeping.

Apparently, I can't sleep on a turbulent plane with people yelling across me speaking various dialects of Chinese, and pumping into me as they walked by. No worries. I decided to watch JJ Abrams' Super 8. Kinda reminded me of a 2011 sci-fi Goonies. Got bored of Bad Teacher and Zoo Keeper so ended up just reading. Those last few hours were spent reading "Reading Judas" a non-fiction interpretation of the "Book of Judas" which gives a very different perspective of Jesus' infamous betrayer. Interesting book.

Finally getting off the plane, I was met by a VIP guide arranged by the people I was staying with. He walked me through customs(managed to cut the large line of people waiting for some reason) and out to a car to take me to my apartment.

The drive from the airport to the apartment was an experience in and of itself. Not once did I see a directional in use: everyone merging, braking, and accelerating with what seemed, at first, abandon. After a while I realized that it was more like a well rehearsed dance as all the drivers knew there parts swaying on four lanes of concert at 100 km/hour.

I didn't know what to expect from Shanghai but my sister, Marilyn, warned me that I most likely would not be able to run outside due to the traffic and smog. That makes marathon training pretty challenging. I dislike treadmills enough after one or two miles but definitely am not able to do a long run on one. I had to find another way to train. I decided to take it outside. I made it about thirty minutes, twenty-nine of which was spent dodging scooters, motor-bikes, bikes, vendors, pedesterians, and, once, a car that had gotten up on the sidewalk. I got back to the apartment, thinking that it wasn't too, too bad and I would be able to manage. Only later was I told that it was a national holiday- National Day(which is actually a week long celebrating Mao's famous speech made on Oct 1st,1949) and that only one tenth of the population was out during this week.

It gets busier than this? Apparently much so. The next day I went out for another run, this time shooting for an hour run. I made it about five minutes before feeling the odd sensation that I was having an asthma attack. Not to be too over-dramatic it really felt more like the last .1 of a 5K but definitely not a feeling that I enjoy having, especially not so early in a relatively mild run. I slowed my pace further still and was able to pull off 30 minutes but I had had enough of the smog. Treadmill running it was for me at that point. Luckily the gym at the apartment I was staying at was excellent and my sister and I worked out together almost everyday. While not getting in any long runs, I was able to get some speed work(or it may have just felt like that with the speed in kilometers/hour).

Some artifacts from the Shanghai Museum
The trip wasn't about running though but visiting a country in a continent that I had never been yet read so much about. "The Joy Luck Club", "Chasing the Monk's Shadow", "The Good Earth", the biography of Genghis Kahn, Tao Te Ching and the Tao of Pooh all left me with expectations of what China would be.

I should have kept up with the reading. None of the books were written in the twenty-first century so the authors wouldn't have known of the transformation China had undergone. In 1990, Shanghai had no skyscrapers and now it currently has the second and third highest in the world and has so many that it is difficult to determine which direction is towards the center.
View from the River Boat of the Pudong side of Shanghai
Where tea houses and opium dens once stood now stands massive buildings each trying to outdo the next. Shanghai was nothing like what I predicted of China. We spent a day viewing this new city from the second highest building which looks very similar to a bottle opener and the night viewing it by boat along the Bund River.
The building in the reflection, when completed, will be the tallest in the world.
The way the city was lit up at night was amazing.

Despite the visible changes to the city, it did retain a lot of the "old time charm" that I had expected. Once out for a walk with Marilyn, we came upon a market place with live eels,chickens and ducks as well as hot peppers, nuts, seeds, clothing and a barber shop amongst other things. Also we were able to find some off-the-beaten path tea houses where we sampled teas ranging from the popular oolong to the aged fermented puerh teas. While surprised with how developed Shanghai was, its blend of new and old, and east/west styles(a large part of the city was conceded to various countries in the early 1900's) made for a pleasant "home-base".
View from apartment illustrates how the old and new live side by side

My sister and her boyfriend, Matt with whose parents we were staying, treated me to a trip to Bejing. This trip was amazing. Not only was I able to see the Summer Palaces and Forbidden City for the Emperors of the Ming and Ching dynasties, as well as indulge in local delicacies at some very local eateries and taste all the various teas, was I able to see the Great Wall of China. While being built too late(200CE) to be considered one of the original Seven Wonders of the World, it now holds its rightful place on an updated list.

The Great Wall really holds true in name. How many times have you had the Greatest Cup of Coffee or the World's Best Pizza and it ends up only being pretty good or fairy decent if not downright bad? This was not the case with the GW as I like to call it. Pictures can not capture the steepness of the stairs, the tortuous curves to connect the mountainous peaks, or the immensity of a wall this great.

Most tourists take a gondola to reach the wall from where the road ends, but I decided to run up the steep stairs. Our tour guide said she had once done it in an hour but thought I could run it in thirty minutes. I shot for twenty-five. I made it in eleven. Nothing but step after step to meet my rising feet as I was finally able to breath the clean mountain air I so missed in Shanghai. Gasping for air and with my quads screaming for me to stop, I could imagine ancient warriors having to scale these mountainous cliffs without the aid of the steps, only to be met by this Great Wall that held warriors there to beat back any attack.

After those days in Beijing and the five hour, 1,266 kilometer high-speed train ride back to Shanghai, it was time to take it easy. We went shopping, which against all expectations, I actually found enjoyable.

If their driving is a well-rehearsed dance, a day shopping is an improvised one-act play. Going to a market of high-end products(which we speculate may be "over-produced" at the factories so that there are "extras" to be sold at these markets) is nothing that I had ever seen. I have read about bartering at markets and coming up with a counter-offer somewhere in the range of 20-40 percent lower and then working to a middle ground. Here, however, the vendors would give an outrageous price( 4,000 RMB or $600) and I'd come back with something like 400RMB or 10 percent.

Vendor: Impossible! Give me your best offer!

Danny: That's it that's my best offer.

Vendor: Okay okay, how about this(holds up calculator showing 3,000 RMB).

Danny: I can end this in the States for cheaper than that. 400.

Vendor: I am here to make friends not money- you're killing me! 2,000!

Danny: Actually I don't think I want it at all- look that this right here. Doesn't look like good quality.

Vendor: No, no, no! The best quality. Only the best. Real leather- look( holds a lighter to the product(cannot divulge what it is as someone will be seeing it under the christmas tree)). 1,200!

Danny: (starting to leave) I can maybe go as high as 425 but that's it.

Vendor: You joke! Best offer,best offer!?

Danny: 425.

Vendor: 500.

Danny: 450.

Vendor: Okay.

This was how it went at every single spot we stopped, and I knew I paid too much when the vendor would immediately accept my first counter-offer. The whole experience, while extremely different from the spiritual one on the GW, was very enjoyable and made me feel like I had gotten a little more of an authentic Chinese experience.

Overall, I had an amazing trip but was glad when I arrived back in Boston. The best trips are made like this- where you see and do enough to get the sense of a city, experience its true nature but not so busy that you arrive back so exhausted that you need another vacation to recover. Now back, I've got one week to pick up my mileage again before it's time to taper for the Cape Cod Marathon.

View from the glass observatory on the top of the second tallest building in the world

The Drum Tower

Inside the bottom of the Drum Tower

The Summer Palace

Up Next:  Granite State 10 Miler this weekend, Cape Cod Marathon next weekend for Danny, and IM Arizona November 20 for Amber.

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