Sunday, April 26, 2015

time will run

People who know Titanic are familiar with its clock -- an important symbol in that waterlogged piece of melodrama.

Well, our ship has a clock, too.  Several of them.  But I doubt Kate Winslet will be waiting underneath it.  Any of them.

So, what's my point?  Simple.  Today was one of those transitional travel days.  That also means that not much happened.

Our hotel is about an hour's drive from the port where we would meet up with the Celebrity Millennium.  And, since we did not need to be there early in the day, we decided to take a leisurely morning at breakfast -- and an even more luxurious drive in a Mercedes.  No teeming buses for us.

It turned out to be a great deal.  We arrived rested -- without the usual frazzle of cruise bus transfers (three words that can cause a traveler's blood pressure to peak).

Shanghai has one of the best cruise terminals I have visited.  It is beautiful -- and it appears to be quite efficient.  But, efficient it isn't.

After checking in, all of the passenger were forced to wait for an additional hour and 45 minutes for the Chinese authorities to open the security equipment and the immigration desks.  We looked like refugees -- the ones who are about to be sent back to their home countries.

Having recovered from that setback, the Chinese authorities kicked into high gear and turned us over to the good folks at Celebrity, who did a passable job of getting us into our cabins.

That gave Roy and me an opportunity to watch the boat traffic on the Yangtze.  If you wanted to make a film about the thousand boats launched by Helen's beauty.  You could not do better than shoot this water ballet.

One of the least favorite events of most passengers is the muster drill, where we learn what to do if our cruise ship starts going down.  Today's was no better or worse than the others I have witnessed.  However, I have noted that the cruise ship sinkings in Italy and Antarctica have ratcheted up the attention level.

Freshly reminded of how we should react in an emergency, we were off to what I could classify a rather mediocre dinner of French onion soup and roast pork.  Like the cruise port facilities, Celebrity's food seems to be mainly form without much substance.

But that was just one night.  No performance should be finally judged on one evening's offering.

The central staircase of the ship is a fitting symbol of how I view cruises.  Don't draw conclusions on the first step.  You can get the full view only after you have experienced it all.

We are now on our way to South Korea.  That will be my first tourist visit to this part of Korea.

I usually perform a lot of research before I come on these trips.  Not this one.  I thought a bit of spontaneity would spice up the series of essays coming your way.

We will find out together.

26 april -- on board

So long to Shanghai.  We should now be on the Celebrity Millennium on our way to our first port.

The only reason I bothered to post this -- and the following posts -- is to let you know where we are, in the very unlikely event that I cannot get online on the ship.  I started to say "get a speedy online connection," but I have been on enough ships to know that speed will not be the highest characteristic of available connections.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

not what it seems

He appeared to be nothing but a beggar.

Sitting in the shade with his requisite begging bowl and a walking stick to support his aging bones.  But Roy and I were convinced it was just a disguise.

He was undoubtedly really a wizard or a kung fu master -- just waiting for evil to cross his path before he threw aside his disguise and grabbed his wizard staff to battle those who do not deserve happy endings.

I could have used his services several times today.  After crowing that I had successfully stymied the forces of communist censorship, the empire struck back. 

My VPN simply refused to connect.  And without it, I was a naked liberty warrior just waiting to be picked off.

Then, a miracle occurred.  This evening, everything fell in place once again.  Then out of place.  And back in place.

So, here is a quick rundown of our day -- before everything shuts down again.

If yesterday was a day on the bus, today was a day on the water.  On a river cruise.

The Huangpu runs through the center of Shanghai creating the same relationship that New York City has with the Hudson, or New Orleans has with the Mississippi.  It defines the very heart of the city.

The river divides two quite distinct parts of the city: its colonial heritage represented by the European buildings of the Bund -- and its thriving financial center with its fantastical architecture on the other.

Roy and I took a cruise on the river this afternoon.  From that vantage, it is easy to see what Shanghai was, and what it is and what it is becoming.

China's odd economic system is out in the open in Shanghai.  The city hosts one of the Orient's largest stock exchanges.  The very essence of a capitalist system.  A fact that noticeably irritates some of my friends who would like to see China as the model of pure communism.

Of course, communism (or the Chinese Communist Party) now exists solely to monopolize political power -- broadly defined.  Economically the country is a bizarre mix of state control and the appearance of free market mechanisms.

When I was in college, we would refer to a system with those elements as being fascist.  But, as some of you recurringly remind me, I am prone to name-calling.  So, we will skip this one.  However, if a bird steps like a goose --.

As lovely as the city is during the day, it comes alive at night.  Roy and I went up to the roof of our hotel to witness one last night of how amazing this city is in the dark.

Admittedly, it is rather tacky -- in a Times Square sort of way.  It makes me wonder how Mao would react to such brashness.  I suspect his reconstructed body is spinning in that glass coffin in Beijing.

I will gladly return to Shanghai soon.  But not on this trip.

Tomorrow, we are boarding our ship where I can stop worry about wizards coming to my internet rescue.

We will talk to you next from there.

25 april -- shanghai

This will be our last full day in Shanghai.

Tomorrow morning, we will check out early in the morning to make our way to the dock to board the Celebrity Millennium.  And the second part of this trip will be under way.

Friday, April 24, 2015

the wheels on the bus

They are not the only things that go round and round.  So does my cursor icon when I try to breach the Great Chinese Firewall.

I am reading a new biography of George Washington by Robert Middlekauff.  It reminded me of how the American Revolution was a close run thing.  In fact, at the start, it looked like a lost cause.

My little venture in the cause of liberty here in China is turning out to be a mixed bag.  At times, I can pierce the wall -- as you can see from my recent comments.  But, just as often, the government forces win the battle, and I cannot get through to either to my email or these pages.

If this gets posted, rack up one point for Bunker Hill.

Today was a bus day.  It turns out that Shanghai has a hop-on, hop-off bus -- as do a bushel of other cities.  They are a great innovation. 

The driver chauffeurs you all over the city while an English commentary fills in the knowledge gaps.  And you can get off where you like, and resume the trip whenever you choose.

It is a great way to get a broad overview of a city.

That is what Roy and I did today -- for the full day.  We were both here two years ago.  It was great to get re-acquainted with what is turning out to be one of my favorite cities in the world.

My friend Lou Moodie has connections with China.  When he drove me to the airport, he asked me what my impression was of China based on my last visit. 

The answer was easy.  I was surprised how modern and wealthy the place was.  I didn't really expect to run into the Inn of the Sixth Happiness, but I was completely unprepared for how sleek both Beijing and Shanghai were.

Shanghai, of course, is the largest city in the world.  It has been a big place since the 1800s.  But its development into a world financial center in the 1990s created the city we see today.

Its wealth gives it a way to deal with its growing population.  Like a number of large cities, it has decided to grow upwards.  Its office towers are some of the tallest in the world -- and there are more to come.  Within a decade, Shanghai intends to double its office space.

And because people need places to live, the city is building an almost numbing number of apartment buildings.  Some of them quite luxurious for what the local commentators, in perfect Marxist-tongue-in-cheek style, refer to as "workers in the financial sector."

For the rest of the people, the digs are not quite as stunning.  But there are lots of them.

The down side of all this growth, as you would expect, is world class air pollution.  Shanghai's skyline is already exotic, but when the translucent air is added for effect, the place could easily be a set for Blade Runner.  (That is why today's batch of photographs look as if they had been processed through a bowl of split pea soup.  It is air that you sensually experience, not just see.)

We are staying in the old town section of Shanghai.  But there is not much old town left.  The area around the hotel has been leveled.  Looking as if World War Two had taken another pass through the city.

But some of the old feel is still there.  For instance, there are plenty of street vendors selling breakfast and lunch.

Old men still bring their caged birds to the park each morning -- a Huamei (a spectacled thrush), in this case.  And the birds can sing -- and do.  Their owners look on in pride as their birds perform.

And there are parks.  Lots of them.  The largest was created from Shanghai's infamous racetrack.  A smaller park near the hotel appears to be a hangout for Andrew Lloyd Webber hopefuls.

The hotel is near a tourist market -- Yu Park.  Most of it looks like a strip mall tarted up for an Indiana Jones film.  (The second in the series was partially shot in Shanghai.)  But there are also a handful of traditional merchants selling their wares.  And those wares are not too different from the snazzier shops.

And, of course, there are beautiful women. 

It seems as if all Chinese women in Shanghai take great pride in their appearance.  But this young women went even further.  You cannot see it, but she is wearing a white dress with hand-stiched embroidery.  Everything about her was a class act.

So, there you have it.  Steve and Roy's excellent adventure.  Day one.

If possible, more will follow.

24 april -- shanghai

Still in Shanghai.

Have you heard from me?  If not, I guess my little ruse did not work.

I'll bet I am having a good time, though.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

23 april -- shanghai

Even though, I have crossed the international dateline (a device that makes sense, as opposed to the not-so-useful daylight saving time), you will have already caught up with my day by the time you read this.  I will have made my way from the Shanghai International Airport (having joined up there with Roy) and have been comfortably ensconced in our digs at the Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden.

I have no idea if my scheme to break through the Chinese anti-blog wall will work.  If it doesn't, this is all you will hear from me for three days.

Because China is still a totalitarian dictatorship, its people are not allowed access to blogs -- or other social media.  And neither am I.

If I break through the wall, we'll chat.  If not.  Well, this will be it.