Friday, August 29, 2008

How to get the full story...

Anyone looking at the blog anew, well after our return to the US, should click previous posts to get the whole story!

PS: The ankle is getting better, though my doctor here ordered me back into a boot I had previously used post-foot surgery and said I had better be careful.  No swimming even for a while. Oops!  

In Jonathan's words: "One small step for Mom, one giant pain for Momkind."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Check out Jonathan's Olympics Posts

Being home, I can link freely (at least I'm not blog-blocked in the US).  His posts, both sports-related and non, provide an on-the-ground perspective from a seasoned China hand.  We found the account of a newspaper meeting to which he was the only foreign journalist invited to be especially intriguing.  

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Homecoming: a "housekeeping note" and message of summary

Now that I have had a chance to study the blog and its layout, I realize that photos on the side (those with captions) are laid out from bottom up chronologically.  I hope this has been clear and trust that my readers "get it."

A little tired, probably a little wired--hoping that the No Jet Lag pills work, so that we'll get to sleep and stay asleep at 2 a.m. and beyond. A lot to ask after 17 nights and a 15 hour time difference.

Very weird to walk into the house, turn on TV and see live coverage of Olympic marathon on streets we walked (and limped) just a few days ago.

In a way the long flight back to North America, as well as the two day stop in Shanghai, provided needed transition from the reality of life--our kids' life--in China and ours.  Beyond the excitement of being present at a really historic world event, I felt, flying back, an overwhelming emotional effect related to the Jonathan (and Amy) part of it all (hardly a surprise to those who know me, I am sure).  Rest assured, all who know Jonathan, that he is still the same cute, funny, loving Jonathan--and, despite the physical distance, he remains concerned about and engaged in news of family, friends, politics, Judaism, culture, non-Olympic US sports (especially the Packers) and other things related to his US home and roots. Experiencing him in Beijing at this time gave us a renewed sense of the nice life he has built, both as an individual and as part of a couple with Amy, there. It is an adult life replete with nice and interesting friends (and seemingly endless acquaintances/contacts) who care about him and respect him for his character and personality, for his professional acumen and achievements and for his facility for living in China that encompasses his Chinese language skills and his intense knowledge of the country and its people.  

As far away as we are most of the time, we do feel that we are part of their life and that they are part of ours.  It is not the conventional or logistically more convenient family life our friends and their adult children in the US maintain.  However, at least right now, it feels closer than I usually admit.

That said, would I trade it for less distance and the ability to visit them without visa applications, killer flights and eastern-style bathrooms?  Of course.  Will it happen?  Maybe.

But, again, please don't ask me if or when!

Another Olympic Scandal

You've heard about the stabbing, the lip synching cute little girl who replaced the unacceptable looking good singer at the Opening Ceremony, the doping of athletes and horses, the possibly underage gymnast and, most dreadful, the two old women detained for "re-education" (I thought that term went out with the Gang of Five) after applying through so-called legal channels to protest.  However, there is one previously (that I know of) unreported scandal of the Olympics: the taxi situation!

In both Beijing and Shanghai, where in the past cab drivers would pull over in droves at the sight of a fare, they became as scarce as late night in the rain after a Broadway show.  This was especially true after Olympic events.  Not only were there no designated cab queue areas just outside the Green and other venue sites, but often passing cabs simply drove by, even if their "available" lights were lit.  Sometimes drivers had someone sitting next to them in the front seat--brothers or girlfriends?--who looked to us like shills.  It was really frustrating, especially late at night, and everyone dependent on such transport complained about it.

You may remember that, during the multi-year lead-up to the Olympics, PR emanating from China advertised the English classes cab drivers were taking in preparation for the Games. The ones who took those classes must have moved on to doing who-knows-what.  As Jonathan remarked, taxi driving is a high turnover occupation in China, with new cabbies arriving daily from outlying provinces.  Also just like New York City!

Cabs that would pick us up were scarce even in central areas of town, and the word was that, with all the foreigners around who didn't know where they were going and/or couldn't communicate with the drivers, the drivers preferred to pass on the fares, rather than lose face by revealing that they couldn't understand the foreigners and also probably didn't know where to go either!  Once a driver mandated a RMB 50 up-front fare, rather than rely on the meter, for a downtown trip we knew to be less, but it was take it or try to convince another to pick us up.  Jonathan said we should have taken the registry number and motioned that we would phone in a report on this unethical action.  Even he had a hard time hailing a cab just by virtue of his Caucasian countenance; if there was a chance for him to speak Chinese to a driver, he got one.  

However, the cabs themselves were physically updated and spruced up from the past: fleets of late-model two-toned vehicles (lots of Hyundais), mainly gold on the bottom (purple-gold, maroon-gold, Packer-like green-gold) roamed the streets proudly unoccupied.

I asked him Jonathan morning (or whenever it was) before we flew out of China whether he wanted the scoop on this story, or whether I could break it!  He deferred to me.  After all, he's still at risk of being blocked in Beijing.  

Again, the dearth of cabs and the attitudes of the drivers pale compared to the human rights implications of detention and re-education.  But the situation presented visitors with great difficulties and cast aspersions on China's goal of a truly welcoming Olympics, not just a public relations smoke-and-mirrors facade.

Now that I am back on the eastern side of the Pacific, I can at last access the whole blog. Thanks for your comments to those of you who have posted same!

Shanghai Update--added in free-WIFI zone in Vancouver airport

We're in transit between Shanghai and home.  Before we flew out this afternoon (China time), we had a quick farewell visit with Amy (photo above), who came to the hotel to see us off.  She had just flown into Shanghai en route to a meeting in Hangzhou tomorrow (tonight staying with Francine, Mika and Mina and testing a Shanghai Thai restaurant for Tuk Tuk research purposes). Jonathan, obviously, had to stay in Beijing, but he called from a taxi taking him to a ping pong semi-final that he figured he might miss due to traffic and the fact that he was covering another final later.  Busy, busy....

Friday, August 22, 2008

China's Open Door Policy: the benefits of wheelchair travel

Although the sprained ankle forced me to drop out of competition in several medal-potential events and it's too late to register for the Paralympic Games that start in Beijing on Monday, we have found that a wheelchair opens doors!

The hotel staff has been wonderful--from the concierges, to maids, to breakfast dining room staff, swimming pool attendants.  We pretty much stayed put all day Friday--slept late, ate breakfast, swam, read on the outdoor terrace--and it was very restorative.  The ankle seemed to improve (a little Vicodin hasn't hurt, either).  About 5 pm we hopped (OK--Eli hopped, I slithered) into a cab, wheelchair in trunk, and went to dinner at a nearby Shanghainese restaurant; this cuisine is generally a tad greasier than other regional food, but great, if done well, nevertheless.  This place is obviously popular with locals (and Zagat- and, now, Frank-rated).  From there to Shanghai Stadium for the bronze medal football game between Belgium and Brazil.  Brazil beat Belgium 3-0.

Upon our initial approach to a gate, we were directed and escorted by one of the blue-uniformed volunteers to the Barrier Free Access area, where we were whisked through security after the plain-clothes guard (whose badge I.D. photo showed him in the green uniform of the high-level state security force) did a tushy-pushing  (try saying that fast three times!) wheelchair search.  Then up an elevator (well hidden, believe me) to a special first level viewing area mostly inhabited by guards and volunteers.  It was a great view of the field (photos soon; we didn't pay for two computers to use Internet service in the hotel, and the pics are on Eli's).

I have watched a lot of soccer in my time: Jonathan played from the age of five through his high school varsity team (and intra-murals in college and grad school; when he was buying new soccer shoes in grad school, it was time for him to pay for them himself!).  In Milwaukee either fall or spring weather conditions can range from freezing temperatures to steamy heat to rain or even early or late snow, and the non-school fields usually relegated fans to the grass.  No offense to Jonathan, but, of course, the game itself was at an entirely different level.  The opportunity to see an Olympic football game in Shanghai was exciting enough; watching from a wheelchair made it just a little more unique.

Weather: hot during the day, evening cooler with nice breeze in the stadium.

Facilities report: There was an "accessible" one adjacent to where we sat, but had used a public one (for pay) on the way in, per Eli's urgent need at the time.  Eastern, but at least I didn't slip (trying not to be graphic) and I have seen worse! 

Shanghai redux--Thursday, 21 August: Full Circle at the Hilton

In the morning we flew from rainy Beijing to sunny and steamy Shanghai and checked into the Hilton, which has been around a long time but is much refurbished and looks pretty good to us as we get close to going home (a little different from our Beijing digs).  This is the hotel where I stayed for my very first nights on my very first trip to China in 1995. That's when Jonathan spent a junior year semester studying in Beijing, and I met him here in Shanghai during his spring break.  After Shanghai, we traveled by train south to Hangzhou, a lovely city with a nice lake area, and then back north to Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, a less than lovely place.  That stop led to the famous overnight bus trip back to Beijing on which I was later published in a special Asian Wall Street Journal travel section.  (It's not web accessible--maybe I can scan when we get home.) Let's just say that was a trip to remember, but Jonathan gave me major trooper credit.  I spent five days in Beijing then.  Who knew how many trips would follow?

My little accident has some advantages, as we checked in for the Beijing-Shanghai flight at the China Eastern special services desk, which delivered a good seat assignment and a wheelchair, which, in turn, afforded whizzing through security and onto the plane and another wheelchair waiting in Shanghai.  The Hilton "loaned" us a wheelchair, too.  In general, this part of the trip is about relaxing and transitioning back to real life; the sprained ankle just means even more of that, which is OK.  The pool is nice, the room is gorgeous, breakfast is included, and the hotel aiyis do clean!  We have seen the major tourist sites in Shanghai, including "the Jewish tour," numerous times.  What I really love to do here is walk the streets of the French Concession, where we're staying, but walking is not an option for me right now, and, between the heat and the sidewalk conditions, having Eli push me around to any degree is not worthwhile.  We went out for lunch a few blocks away, then came back and put in pool time.

Per the photos above, we had dinner with Amy/Jonathan friends (also ours for several years), Francine and Mika Johannsen (she's from Amy's home town, he's from Finland), at a fantastic Japanese place gave us the opportunity to meet four year Mina for the first time. She is a real live wire who loves "Aunt Amy and Uncle Jonathan."  Francine and Mika have enrolled Mina in a bi-lingual Chinese-English kindergarten, and she attends Saturday morning classes in Finnish and speaks all three pretty well already.  Mika is a shipping executive who has been in Asia for many years but mused out loud about a move to Australia.  Francine, like Amy, has done a number of marketing related business activities over the years; she now sells properties in Australia to Chinese investors, and she and Mika have bought one in Melbourne, though not originally with any intention to move.  Interestingly, he said his desire has to do with going back to living in a democratic country.  Mina is a Finnish citizen for that reason (and China does not allow dual citizenship) and also, if the need arises, for the educational and health benefits provided by Finland for its citizens.

It was a fun evening that also featured course after course of delicious food and a goodly amount of drink (a Mika hallmark)--beer and sake.  Definite medicinal value for the ankle!