After not nearly enough sleep and more than 24 hours of air travel, today is our first full day in Shanghai. The shuffling and confusion as we navigated the Beijing and Shanghai airports was a little worse than I had expected, mostly because we almost left our luggage behind in Beijing. I thought the bags were going to go straight through to Shanghai from Houston, but Dallas, the eagle-eyed thinker-of-all-details-Mom-misses, thankfully questioned the process, read all of the airport signs thoroughly, watched the other travelers who were transferring to a second flight, and kept us from flying on to our final destination with no luggage.
Getting to the hotel once we arrived in Shanghai was also eventful. Our cab driver had to find two different people for us to give the address to as his English was spotty, at best. He was not happy about the communication difficulties, clearly, as he turned off the engine to the car and started yelling and waving others over to us.
Yes, I am the typical American traveler who arrogantly believes that no matter where I go in this world, someone will be able to understand me. Dallas tried spelling out the address to him, which of course doesn't help when you do not know the English alphabet. We found success after typing the address into a note on the iphone, and soon our rackety, tiny car was clunking along the highway, windows down so that the musty night air could cool our weary skin.
With no concept of the distance between our hotel and the airport, we watched the taxi's fare calculator quickly move past 40. However, 40 what? I could not tell you if it was U.S. dollars or YEN, nor did I know which of the two had more value. Researching those details had been on the to-do list for the night before travel, but since the muscle relaxer I took for my strained back pretty much knocked me out when I got home from work, I never did get around to that research.
"Shouldn't we be there by now?" Dallas asked as the fare inched closer to 100. But of course, I had no idea. We could be in for an all-night drive for all I knew, and end up who knows where.
Finally we saw the hotel across the street from where we had stopped at a red light, but the driver would not complete the U-turn to pull into the hotel. Instead, he pulled up to the median and thrust a wrinkled hand back for his money. When I pointed to the hotel, he nodded as if he saw it, too. But he wasn't bringing us all the way. I couldn't get him to drive the additional 100 yards to the front door.
Something ain't right, I thought to myself.
Yes, something certainly wasn't right, I realized as soon as I handed him my debit card. He looked at it for a moment, then handed it right back. Cash only. YEN. Of which I had exactly....none. He pointed to the hotel and gestured to my debit card, and somehow Dallas and I figured out he wanted us to to go the hotel and draw out cash. We got out of the car with our small bags, but he refused to open the trunk to give us our suitcases until we returned. I tried to argue with him, but Dallas convinced me it was useless, so we traipsed off to the hotel for help.
The young man working at the desk seemed surprised and made an exasperated face towards the driver when we explained the situation. He asked me how much the bill was: 143 YEN. He gave us 150 YEN from the desk and told us to pay the driver, then we could pay him back.
The driver seemed almost surprised to see us return. He was there leaning against the trunk of the car, kind of staring off into space. I wasn't very happy about all the extra walking, but then, I'm just an ignorant English woman in China with no right to complain. After I paid him, he opened the trunk, retrieved our luggage, and then became quite jovial. He hadn't cracked a smile the entire time we had been with him, but now he was shaking my hand vigorously, repeating things in Chinese that I could only hope were pleasantries as I smiled back and nodded.
Once we made it into the room, at about 9:00 PM, we pretty much collapsed. I didn't sleep well because my sinuses were going nuts and I couldn't breathe. I was also irritated to learn that not only are Google and Gmail banned in China, but also Facebook. The frustration of losing my virtual avenue to vent about the day's events with my friends kept me awake longer than I had planned to be.
Changing into my pajamas, I realize that I had been wearing my favorite travel t-shirt all day. I like to wear it when I travel because I get so many compliments on it. I bought it in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, the last time we were there to visit The Passion Play grounds. It says, "All I need is Jesus and Coffee."
Might not have been the wisest shirt to wear in a communist country that bans most Christian churches and imprisons a LOT of believers on a regular basis. I had visions of being arrested and thrown into a Chinese jail, and Dallas hiding out in the hotel room until her Dad could fly to China to bring her home. Kind of freaked me out, but then again, also made me feel like a bit of a rebellious, secret missionary. Thinking I will wear it again if it's not too stinky.
Dallas didn't sleep well because I snored all night.
I awoke at about 5, waited until 6 when breakfast was served, and then went downstairs to eat. No surprise: I had a horrible migraine. All I could think of was food and caffeine so I could take my migraine medicine.
Now, one of my favorite things....well, okay, my absolute favorite thing about traveling is experiencing different food. The breakfast buffet was an interesting combination of different international food families. There were some staples I recognized as standard English or European fare, including fresh fruit, toast, boiled eggs, and cold cereal.
But there was also much more. One station included Chinese noodles, stir-fry cabbage and vegetables, green salads, and what appeared to be giant, pink, fried pork skins. There was a huge pot of boiled eggs floating in soy sauce, as well as corn on the cob and boiled purple potatoes. Three different pots held different colored broths, and a large silver chafing dish filled to the rim with curry vegetable fried rice.
The last station was an interesting mix. There was a large platter of scrambled eggs and fried eggs, served family style, constantly being refreshed by the cooks on the spot. There was also a basket of french fries and a few other fried items that didn't look familiar. Large fluffy waffles (with honey, no syrup) and my favorite: fresh dumplings.
As you ordered a bowl, the cook dropped a handful of dumplings into boiling broth. After a minute or two she added a handful of chopped Chinese cabbage, then lifted the basket from the broth, drained it, and poured the contents into a bowl. Fresh broth from another pot was then ladled over.
After a hearty breakfast, everything pretty much went to crap from there. We realized that almost NO vendors took credit or debit cards. So, the excitement we experienced when we loaded up our shopping basket with all kinds of goodies at the convenience store did not last long. The ATM machine would not take my debit card, probably because my little Texas bank had no idea I was in China.
So day one was a bit of an adventure, though not a great one. One of us was a bit more adventurous than the other and not as daunted by the little bumps in the road that come with international travel. One of us didn't care for that type of experience at all. I will leave it up to those who know us best to figure out which one is which.
Hope to have better tales to tell tomorrow.