Q: What, no running diary?
A: I thought of doing that, but this was more of a social visit than a tourist trip. As an example, two of the days I was there (the second and third I believe) were very nearly exactly the same. Just as you would expect if you were sitting around your own home, and who would keep a diary of that?
Q: Where’s the usual biting Sandmich style of snarky B.S. in regards to the China trip?
A: Let me first point out that the Chinese don’t do well with criticism (‘self’ or otherwise), so I feel that I have to be somewhat guarded in my comments. Additionally, despite whatever issues I encountered, my hosts were very generous and worked to help me with any issues that I thought worthy of bringing up to them. It’s hard for me to say ‘X‘ sucked when if I actually felt that ‘X‘ was that big of an issue I could have asked for help with it.
|OK, but I’ll need his address.
Q: How about the flight experience?
A: We packed a bunch of food, which I was against since I’d have to dedicate my limited space to hosting it. The Air Canada flight (Toronto->Shanghai) was crazy with the food and the beverage cart (two and half meals along with four beers). This meant that starting out the trip, I was already traveling full of food, something which would rarely go away.
Air China was interesting in that they had what had to be at least a full inch more between the seat rows which meant that I could sit and not have to fold my legs in at an angle under the seat in front of me. I thought the extra space was all the more interesting due to Asian people’s reputation for shorter stature (though I saw plenty of Chinese dudes at my same height/weight and got to sit next to one, yay). Air China made up for this though by not having air vents (so I got baked like a piece of smelly toast in the middle row) and an incredibly inane policy of not allowing cell phones to be on at all (“off” meaning the screen is off).
Which since I’ve brought up unreasonably stupidity in regards to Chinese air travel I should bring up Chinese airport security. I’ve found that the only thing worse than the American ‘airport security-kabuki theater’ is the strict Chinese airport security (I’d read an article recently talking about how American airport security was the worst and the author listed all the places that were better, and oddly not one place in Northeast Asia made the list). Lighters (even empty) are not allowed onto checked bags, everyone gets patted down by a goon with a wand scanner of some sort, and security checks are layered and redundant as if the government is absolutely terrified of…something (this is actually a theme that would come up again and again on the trip). At Beijing we had to go through four security check points before getting on the plane:
- An explosive chemical check upon entering the airport
- Baggage inspection at check-in
- The ever popular x-ray/metal detection station
- A spot bag inspection within the tunnel entrance on the plane where fluids purchased within the airport had to be disposed of (?!?!).
|Note the scooter in the far distance; chances are it A) is electric and thus silent, B) is peeling down this narrow alley at 30mph and C) will run you over if you’re not quick enough.
Other than that the police state was more PIA than ‘goonish’, at least where I was. It was more of a ‘soft tyranny’ that was indistinguishable from local tastes. Why is there no foreign liquor? Because the locals won’t buy it, or because some guy in the PLA doesn’t want competition for his disgusting rice liquor products? For all the development, why are the rolling hills almost completely devoid of any kind of buildings of any sort? Because people don’t want to live there, or local government big-men are hoarding it? Etc.
|The undeveloped hills do keep the place looking good though; maybe that’s why?
Q: Anything that you think will rank as a lasting memory?
A: With a mind like mine, it’s hard to know if anything will stick. What makes Japan interesting is that it’s almost like a giant, Japanese theme park. It seems that everyone in Japan, from the architects of skyscrapers to the guys who paint lines on the street are of the same mind and are designers where they want everything that they do to match up to each other. It really is crazy how the whole place just flows. China on the other hand is much more like America in that, whatever needed to be done at that point in time, was done according to the fancies of whoever was in charge. Streets don’t look the same between areas, buildings bear no symmetry, and stores do the best for themselves without regards for what their neighbor is doing.
|This charming store could be almost anywhere.
As well, the Chinese seem to be more laid back in their definition of ‘fun’. Sure there’s movies, TV, and whatnot, but liquor seems to be an afterthought and it’s often enough just to sit around with the family spending a couple hours eating a meal.
I have to say though that the one thing that will be hard to purge from my mind was being cold. In preparation for our trip I had bought two sets (shirt and pants) of Climatesmart stuff. I dare not buy more since I couldn’t have imagined wearing them much since, heck, I live in Cleveland and haven’t needed them! I have to tell you that there was only one day when I didn’t wear them (aggressive wash schedule obviously) because there was no heat anywhere even though the temperatures typically ranged between 45 and 55 (with occasional dips below freezing). I can remember one occasion where I was sitting at my computer (inside mind you) and I had my Climatesmart attire on, a flannel shirt, a sweatshirt, and my light winter jacket and I was still cold, oh so cold!
|The air-conditioning boys are happy because they will probably never see a day of service.
But maybe it’s because I’m a wuss? China is a hard country full of hard people and perhaps I just can’t compete.
|The ‘box spring’ is, as Mrs. Sandwich said, “a skid”.
Hard beds, hard decisions, hard to read language, hard to eat food (at times, and I mean difficult, not distasteful), hard government, hard traffic, etc. It’s probably to be expected that a people that has seen (and continues to see) as much adversity as they have, that they probably don’t care about silly things like heat when it’s just as easy to dress warmly, or about any sort of kitchen gadget when a cleaver can open cans as well as fruit and meat. Why bother with drinkable water when heating it up does the job?
I suppose that it may not be a bad thing for life to be more closely stripped to the essentials so that people can stay focused on what’s really important.
|The bride and ring bearer try a duet.
Q: Believe or not, some of us are not dudes and we actually care about the wedding part of the trip!
A: It’s…different. Being a guy it’s hard to know what people would be interested in. Although the marriage was not arranged, it still operated a lot as if it were. The groom’s family had to put up a substantial investment: buying the newlyweds a new home with all the fixuns’, and other help to make sure that they get off to a good start. In return the bride is formally a member of the grooms family. Therefore, wedding ceremonies carry a bit a business air, but they’re serious and they actually mean something and have weight. The traditional ring exchange occurred at the grooms house and a few facets including paying respects to ancestors and the bride having to serve her new family. The latter ceremony (pictured above) was (I believe) put on by Sally’s family and was basically a redux of the earlier ceremony with a little bit of a western flair and a reception all rolled into one. None of the ceremonies had an ‘authoritarian’ figure of any sort (i.e., a minister, etc.) and both involved a serious amount of food (of course).
The whole situation was a little bit odd since I and Mrs. Sandwich were considered part of the wedding party (a distinction we frequently noted was not required). This allowed us to go to the ceremonies at the groom’s parent’s house (only Sally and her cousin came along since they were part of the wedding party as well, no one else from Sally’s family was permitted to attend) as well as sitting at the main table for the ceremony at night. Our hosts were crazy good to us and it really stretches the imagination to think of a way to repay their hospitality.