Shanghai, Beijing, the F1 race, and Hongkong, September 2006

Around March of 2006, I was planning a trip and wanted it to revolve around an F1 race. I've heard a lot about Japan's Suzuka Raceway so looked into getting race tickets for there, meeting up with my friend Steve Shaw and Hiromi from Nagoya, and maybe spending a week or so chillin out in Japan. Tickets for the race turned out to be too expensive and the shitty seats were the only ones left, so... how about Shanghai? My sister lives there, Steve and Hiromi can take a trip, the tickets are cheaper and we'd have better seats. I brought this up with Michelle and Amy, my sister Candice, then Mark Trumpbour and Mel, and enthusiasm built quickly, on both ends of the Pacific Ocean. Before long, F1 tickets were purchased, plane tickets were booked, visas were mailed in and mailed back, plans were made, and on September 14th, me and Patrick climbed onto a plane that was bound for Shanghai's Pudong airport. This time, Patrick brought a very nice digital camera that also makes movies, so you'll be seeing some HQ pictures and not just lameass shit from my pager

The trip started at about 6:30am, enroute to the Pittsburgh International Airport. After sorting out the boarding pass dumbassery (flight got canceled, we had to take an earlier one), we went to O'Brien's for a morning whiskey and beer. A little while later, we were on a plane headed to Chicago's Ohare Airport, where we proceeded to drink the only civilized drink one can drink in the afternoon. After a few rounds of bloody mary's, I left the terminal and grabbed the last intake of nicotine I'll get for the next 16+ hours. A quick check on the 777 we'll be flying on and it was off to get seat assignments and make sure our visas were in order. Patrick got a seat in "Economy Plus", whatever that means, and I ended up getting a seat way in the back. So I'm off to get my seat but someone else has it, we both look at our ticket stubs and sure enough, we're both in seat 35E. This flight was overbooked as it is, so every seat on the plane was taken. I grabbed the nearest flight attendant and she went to see what went wrong. Right as she left, I hear over the cabin PA that I'm being paged. Apparently, the boarding pass I got was the one of the old lady sitting in seat 35E, and her boarding pass was issued twice; once for her and once for me, mine never got issued thus the confusion. Soon, I was directed to my REAL seat, next to Patrick, in the "Economy Plus" section. A quick glance at the display in front of me verifies the start of a long journey. (Why I got issued a boarding pass because we had the same last name, Lin? on a flight to SHANGHAI? I bet a large percentage of passengers had Lin for a last name...)

Soon, we're off and the flight attendants are in the isles with drinks. Not surprisingly, I hook myself up with the booze. Surprisingly (at least for me), ALL the alcohol was free of charge, so I grabbed another screwdriver each time the lady came around. I had stayed up all night the night before in order to leave for the airport by 6:30am, and I intended to pass out. Which I did. I woke up a few times to watch movies, anime, or read, when I noticed that we were flying over the North Pole, or at least close to it. Meals included a nice noodle (or pasta) dinner, a box of instant noodles, and another dinner consisting of steak (or chicken). It was around this time that Patrick tells me the guy sitting next to him always says "whatever he's having", when asked for which dinner he wanted (the "he's" meaning Patrick). More uneventful flying, laptop running out of juice (lame, no power outlets) and we're near Shanghai.

Note: you'll need vlc, mplayer, or some media player that will do mpeg4 (DivX 4/5) video and pcm audio.


When we get off the plane, we're greeted with a very long line through customs. This line took about an hour and a half or so to progress through, I made it out without a problem, Patrick got a little hassled but it wasn't bad. I couldn't take any pictures here because there were signs all over the place that seem to indicate taking pictures is bad (would have been funny if I took a picture of the sign, but there were armed guards all over the place). My sister was waiting for me at the exit of the gates and we decided to take the Maglev. It was rather expensive, 80 rmb = 10 US dollars, but it was a pretty nice ride, plus it went super fast, and then... even faster.... After a quick ride, we ended up at the subway station, picked up a ticket for line 2 to line 1 (at People's Square) then to Hangseng station. It was rush hour and the train was insanely packed (picture is a little fuzzy, but you might be able to make out the reflection of people heads from the ceiling), and after each station all the way up to People's Square, MORE people got on. I'm surprised that people didn't get trampled, but according to Candice, it's like this everyday. Eventually, we make it out of the Hangseng subway station and to the Anting Villa Hotel, then off to my sister's apartment. We hang out a bit inside where we make some introductions, then make our way out towards the restuarant. 5 Highland Parks, then off to the Cotton Club for more scotch, then my memory gets hazy. Apparently, we went back to my sister's apartment, drank this stuff called baijo (white alcohol, literal translation), drop my laptop down a flight of stairs, then end up back in my hotel room. (BTW, the laptop is fine, go Thinkpad)

The next day, I slept in (not surprisingly) while patrick went for some exploring around the local neighborhood. He bought some soymilk, crossed some footbridge over a park (more, more, more), explored some streetfood (more), and found a funny KFC ripoff. After getting back, we found good ole Bob Casey on the TV in the hotel. Soon, my godfather, Alexander, picked us up along with my sister, Candice, to go eat brunch at an outdoor restuarant in the French Consession, called "Colours". The food consisted of Tea, fruit and cake; pretty non-traditional. Here's a picture of me, my sister, Alexander, and his girlfriend. The restuarant was in a park with streams that ran throughout. We were there until dinner time, where we met at another restuarant with my sister's boyfriend, Jarrett, and my uncle, Nai, and his friend, Michael. At this point, my pager had run out of juice (so no pictures) and we all got drunk after dinner finishing the night at Cotton's, the bar down the street from my hotel. (note: this is not the Cotton Club)

Day 3 in Shanghai consisted of running into a store that sold crickets (movie), then a taxi ride to this hotel in one of the high rises which served dimsum. This was not shanghainese dimsum, but still pretty much rooted in chinese cuisine, including chicken's feet, and shanghainese-esque dumplings. The coolest thing about this restaurant was its view. You can see the Shanghai skyline in all directions. In every direction are highrises and skyscrapers as far as the eye can see, although the smog doesn't help any. Here are some HQ shots of a fraction of what you can see from the restuarant:
  random skyline
  random skyline
  random skyline, including some residential houses and the Four Seasons
  random residential houses below
  more random residential houses
  Candice and Jarrett showing us the People's Square
  The People's Square
  Some random park
  the "pineapple" building with the Jinmao Tower in the background
  another, but zoomed
  the subway station at the People's Square
  random skyline
  random skyline plus the river
  CapitaLand plus the river and the Pearl Tower in the background
  A church plus the river in the background
  random building under construction (one of many dozens)
  random park
As you can see, this place makes Manhattan look like Pittsburgh. Next up, we hopped into a taxi and went to the fabric market near the Bund (across the river from Pudong). I got some white fabric with black stripes for a shirt and about 4 meters of heavy cashmere to have a replica of my winter coat/cape made. This was a time consuming venture, since there were TONS of fabric to pick and choose from. Then we got back into a taxi (random shot of the Pearl Tower, god what an ugly building) and headed back to my sister's apartment to get into some nice clothing and to drop off all the fabric. Our evening started with a trip to some fancy place for the Arts of Motor show, some promotional media thing for BMW, Audi, and Mercedes (we had free tickets and there was free booze). Before I show you any more pictures, let me warn you how fucking bizarre this was. There were models and some cars, but it was mostly just models standing in front of cars. Here's another look: thumbnail | movie, thumbnail | movie, thumbnail | movie. Here's a picture of Candice, Jarrett, and his 2 friends. And then the weirdness got turned up a notch when what appeared to be models came out to dance and play (really really bad) music. Here's a sample: thumbnail | movie, thumbnail | movie. The lights finally came on and this was the first time we actually got a good look at the cars. The MC lady (movie) came back out and some raffling occurred. more (movie), more (movie). This went on for a while and we decided to leave for dinner, Jarrett's friend, Brad, had made reservations at a reknown japanese restuarant that specializes in toro (fatty tuna). While waiting for a cab, we saw some pictures of an odd looking building outside of its construction area, (another). After getting to the toro place and ordering the 5 course meal, food started coming out. second course, third, fourth, and fifth (kinda hard to tell because we'd already eaten most of it). The whole gang then went to the House of Jazz and Blues, where some Carlton somebody (forgotten the name) was playing neither Jazz nor Blues, but the crowd was enjoying it nevertheless. Here's a clip of his performance. After much alcohol consumption, Candice and Jarrett needed to get back and get some sleep for work tomorrow, and since neither me nor Patrick had to go to work early in the morning, we went back to Cotton's where we ran into that German fellow that was sitting next to Patrick on the plane. Apparently, his english sucks (and his chinese non-existent) and that was why he was getting whatever patrick ordered on the plane. He was visiting his german friend who worked in Shanghai. We closed the place (1 am) and headed back to the hotel, where my drunk ass tried to take a picture of a very drunk Patrick, but ended up with a movie of it instead; I didn't know how to use his camera very well.

Monday afternoon, Patrick awoke with an evil hangover, so he slept and I watched anime all day. Around dinner time, it was time to hang out with the Changs, the considerable amount of family I have here in Shanghai that extends from my grandfather's (on my mother's side) brother's family. My uncle picked us up in a cab and along the way to the restuarant, we saw some random person cooking out on the street. At the restuarant (which was something like 8 floors large), I got reaquainted with everyone and soon sat down to eat. We had a private room with a large round table that had the biggest fucking lazy susan I've ever seen. Dinner was served with 8 cold dishes first then 8 hot dishes (it was some kind of tradition or something). These were pretty tasty: dates stuffed with pounded rice, walnut cakes. Here's a picture of my only english speaking relative there, making a funny face. And a picture of grandfather and grandmother Chang, and a picture of Patrick staring down the chicken head that came on the plate of chicken (a close up of the head). Patrick wasn't up for drinking tonight so we went back to my sister's apartment and got some internet action before falling asleep.

I recently learned that the Anting Villa and surrouding buildings used to be buildings for some Chinese version of the FBI, where they trained people for surveylence and stuffs. Now, it's a hotel of course, but it's still owned by them. By now, I've run out of smokes, so I had to purchase chinese cigarettes, these were the most expensive and they're not bad. I am told that a lot of people buy these to offer at meetings because they're nice and expensive (for brownie points I suppose). We also tried some lotus root tea that the Changs gave me at last night's dinner.

So off we went to the HangSeng subway station for People's Square. The ride was uneventful and not nearly as packed as our previous experience on the subway. The square is pretty close to the center of downtown Shanghai so you can see a lot of landmarks like the flying saucer Radisson, among other nicer looking skyscrapers (more). Then we strolled our way toward the Bund and (hopefully) to Pudong. To give you an example of how nuts this place is, we took a few pictures of the streets while we walked (this was 10AM mind you), and also made a movie (thumbnail) of one of the intersections. Most of the intersections were like this, and many of them even worse, because people, bikes, and scooters pay no heed to the traffic laws and move about whenever and whereever they please, including the sidewalks. People getting hit with bicycles is pretty common, both my sister and godfather were hit, the latter emerged with broken ribs. When we finally get to the Bund, we found our way up to the upper deck, right next to the Yellow River's banks. The view of Pudong was pretty nice from here, as well as that of the Pearl TV Tower, which we wanted to eventually end up at. There was a crazy amount of traffic on the river (movie, more | movie), of the likes that I've never seen before. We spent the next 10 or 20 minutes trying to figure out how to get across the river to Pudong. While we wandered, there was a nice statue of someone I assume is famous and a view of the pineapple building. We found something called the "Bund Sightseeing Tunnel" which looks to take us across (underneath, actually) the Yellow River. Our first thought was that it was a tube or something that was clear and we could see under the river, which didn't quite make sense because the water was so dirty there would be little to see. It turned out to be exactly the opposite of that (movie). After that rather bizarre experience, we showed up right underneath the Pearl Tower and across a few very large streets was the Jinmao Tower, which we decided to visit. The Pudong area didn't seem as packed and insanely crowded as downtown Shanghai. The streets were wide, there were no crossing signals, and there didn't seem to be as many old buildings. Crossing streets here proved harder than it seemed, because crosswalks were only at a few places and it was clear that it was unsafe to cross a 10 lane road where there wasn't a crosswalk. We ended up going to long way around but it afforded us a close-up look at the soon to be tallest building in the world, The World Financial Tower; here's a close-up of the floor design and firesafe floors and a picture of the finished building which was posted at the construction site. Right across the street is the Jinmao Tower, which used to be the tallest, so we crossed the street and made our way up to the Observation deck on the 88th floor (the top floor).

When we exited the elevator, the view (movie) was incredible. My only complaint was that we're so high up and the smog really obscured the amazing view. We took several pictures and I'll just list the good ones here:
  Rome is in this direction
  Pearl Tower
  The side of the Jinmao
  Patrick from another corner of the Jinmao
  Me from another corner of the Jinmao, part 2, part 3, part 4
  Yellow River
  top of the under construction World Financial Tower, close-up
  A model of the Jinmao, another
  The Atrium inside the Jinmao, more, more
  colorful apartment complexes
  some buildings that looked tall from the ground, more
  a bridge, more
  interesting buildings
  some workers having lunch, part 2, part 3, part 4
  cruise ships
After we've had enough we had to wait in line to get back downstairs. While we waited, Patrick noticed some panda cigarettes and some double lucky's being sold as cartons. We then headed toward the Pearl Tower to meet my sister for lunch. This time we took the short way, now knowing which crosswalks we should employ. We went to an Italian restuarant on the river with some pretty wait staff. After lunch, me and Patrick hopped into a taxi with a funny advertisement and passed by err... Times Square?. The taxi took us to Yu Yuang, which used to be a temple long long ago, and people gathered there often, thus vendors happened to gather there often. These days, the temple is gone so only the vendors are left (and the people that gather not for the temple but for the vendors). There were a lot of people (movie) there with more shops than can be explored. Patrick managed to haggle some tea pots and the owner of the store directed us to a store that sold tea. We were able to taste a lot of teas that they sold as well as a 2600 rmb ($300 something U.S.)a cake puerh. The tea lady was very nice and didn't seem to mind letting us try even her most expensive teas. Patrick left the place with a $50 something U.S. cake of puerh (more, recover from intoxication!). Getting a cab ride back to the hotel was a little more difficult than anticipated. The taxi drivers don't speak english, and my mandarin is not all that great, so it was kinda hard telling the drivers where we wanted to go. Anting is the road the hotel is on, but, the road is really short so many of the taxi drivers don't recognize it (as a side note, Shanghai roads are not straight, don't have city blocks in the traditional sense, and the roads all have proper names, there are no numbered streets; worse than London I'd say.), so I'd try to say that it's close to Hangseng station, or something. But, I didn't know my way there so I couldn't even tell the driver which general direction to go. The first driver we got didn't even know the area, so we got out, got another cab, this driver mentioned something about going the wrong direction. The third cab we managed to hail didn't know where it was exactly, but knew the general area. After dropping off the tea and pots, Patrick brewed a few cups of tea then we prepared for a dinner party. This dinner party sported the tiniest wine glasses (more) I've ever seen. They were filled with baijo. We feasted, then headed out to a wine bar. The outside of the place (more) was pretty nice. I ordered a bottle of Faustino and then realized they had absinthe. So we finished their only bottle of it. People had to work the next day so we had to call it an early night. When we got back to the hotel room, we found our laundry had been done and nicely pressed (they did a great job).

The next day was to be spent with my godfather, Alexander. As we got out of bed, Patricked noticed this little note stuck to our door; I think it says to be quiet. After a cup of tea, we met Alexander downstairs around 9am and went for a car ride toward Tong Li. The ride was about an hour and a half and we got to see some interesting things along the way, like a big bunch of flowers and some weird rock formations. Eventually, we made it to Tong Li. The streets of Tong Li was quite different from Shanghai, but that didn't mean it wasn't bustling (movie). This town has a web of natural waterways (more) and a lot of houses along the water sport boats. We headed towards (movie) a local restuarant for some lunch. During lunch, a lady came by and sung us a song (movie), I'm told the name of the song is something like "the 4 seasons of Tong Li". Outside of the restuarant was a birdcage. Our next stop was the house from the Chin dynasty that belonged to some politician and housed his family and extended family. The pictures I have don't do the place justice so I'll just link a few: main entrance, main courtyard, intricate rooftops, reflection pool garden (more, more, more, movie, more, more). You can see the rest of the pictures here, the files that start with tongli_house. We then walked over to the oldest tea house in Tong Li (est 1891, I think) where Alexander hooked us up with tea. The teahouse provided a nice view of some of the waterways (more, more). A car ride back and we're back in Shanghai enroute to Yu Yuang once again for some dimsum, Shanghai style. This was served in 3 courses, the last being sweeter dishes and fruit.

On Thursday, Patrick did some early morning exploring through the streets (movie) of Shanghai while I stayed in the hotel room all morning resizing gigs worth of pictures. He passed by a church along the way to buy tea and teapots. The markets and streets (movie) were pretty interesting, as well as some of the random sights: a bunch of vases, highway system (more), statue of a bunch of running horses, armies of highrise apartments, and a long walk through the street markets (movie). At one of the tea shops, there was a little kid that kept playing with the puerh tea (animated gif!). By the time Patrick got back, we had to get ready for a wine tasting. We had about an hour to spare so we took a taxi to Maoming road to visit WW Chan's and sons tailor to make sure our appointments for bespoke suits in Hong Kong were in order. We also talked to a "Peter" who worked there about available fabrics in the Hong Kong store and the schedules for measurements, fittings, and a final fitting. From there, we walked toward the 239 Restuarant where a friend of our's, Brad, was the chef. This place had some absinthe with an interesting water dispenser for the absinthe. After having a "chef's choice" meal, which was very good, btw, we made our way to the Bar Constellation for a sampling of the finest scotch whiskeys in all of Shanghai. The place was dark and cozy and there were about 20 or so single malts. After spending about $1200 rmb on scotch, we headed back to Cotton's to finish off the night.

Amy and Michelle is due to arrive at around 4pm, so my uncle and I drive out to the Pudong International Airport to pick them up while Patrick was riding taxi's (movie) all over the place (more | movie, more | movie), and encountering a few laughs along the way. Meanwhile, I waited at the exit gate for international flights at the Pudong airport for over an hour, behind the 2 Maglev Girls, who in unison would say "take the maglev train" in both english and chinese, depending on who was walking past. Finally, Amy and Michelle show up, we get into the Audi A6 and head to Anting to check those guys in. The evening was pretty uneventful. We all went to my mother's cousin, Reina's apartment, which had an amazing view of the Shanghai skyline (more). After a freshwater crab dinner there, we headed to 3 on the Bund and a bar/restuarant called "New Heights" on the roof of one of the buildings. All the lights on the bund were turned off so the view wasn't that great, so we only have 1 drink then leave once again to finish the night off at Cotton's down the street from the hotel.


The next morning we take a cab to the Hongqiao airport for a commuter flight to Beijing. Flight was uneventful, I fell asleep. In a little over 2 hours, we landed in Beijing, and not long afterwards, debarked the plane. We then went downstairs to the baggage claim; unlike me, my traveling companions all had checked luggage. From there, it was another taxi before the hotel. The cab we were in sported a Mao medallion on its rear view. During the ride, we got our first glimpse of Beijing. First up was a toll booth (more). Then some building, and then some randomness, more buildings, then more and more. Before long, we were in a sea of buildings. There were also some interesting ones near the center of Beijing that we will be seeing quite often throughout our stay. We also saw a lot of signs for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, whose mascot looks pretty gay. After settling into the Holiday Inn, Downtown, we find an Uighur resturant (those are a Muslim Chinese people from somewhere in western China) and have dinner. My mandarin isn't all that good and they only spoke mandarin at the restuarant, so we ended up getting some pretty strange food. Then it was back to the hotel to meet up with Mark and Mel. We take 2 cabs to a place called "Bar Street" (San li tun Road) and stop into a place called Poacher's where we were supposed to meet a friend of a friend's who was DJing. We were early, so we had a few drinks, and a few more, learned some chinese, then drank some more. Eventually, we figured we were either in the wrong place or this guy wasn't going to show up, so we headed back to San Li Tun and ended up at another bar with lasers (movie). I can't remember the name of this bar but we ran into an irish folk band (The Battlefield Band) that Patrick saw in concert in Pittsburgh and they sat with us and had a few drinks. There was also this other guy that was with us who lived in Beijing and knew a lot about local prostitutes (more | more).

The next day we took a cab toward the center of the city to visit Tianmen Square and The Forbidden City. The air was incredibly smoggy, it was as if you were looking through foggy glasses. The Square itself was immense and was filled with thousands of people. The edges of the square sported things like miniature versions of other landmarks, government buildings, random 2008 Olympics stuff and the Zheng Yang Men Gate. The gate itself is massive, and looking at it really messes up your sense of scale (sign). Elizabeth bought a kite and Mark got to play around with it. The center of the square had a large tower with some interesting depictions at its base. There was also a large statue near the center. Amy noticed that a lot of the children had pants that opened up in the back (and some that opened in the front as well). Later, we see one of these in action. Not unexpectedly, there were soldiers hanging around, but they later marched away (movie). Next up is the Forbidden City. This required a crossing of the street. Before going in, we take a break from all the walking we did in the Square. First we had to buy tickets to get into the outer portion of the city which had the Imperial Ancentral Temple and some food stands with a megaphone doing some advertising (movie). As we headed toward (movie) the front gate, there was a nice map of the entire city (Glazed Gate on the map is where we are). This area required a 60 rmb ticket. The doors to the gate were huge and it opened up to the first large area (more) that had a stream going through it with additional gates on the east and west. From there, you can see how immensely huge everything is when you're looking back at the Glazed Gate, in that picture, there's a guy doing some weeding. A lot of the buildings were covered, presumably to do renovation and restoration. Along the way, the small rooms were used as museums, no picture taking inside. The next area had a large network of stairs and platforms. The center building in this area was also covered, but there was a picture on it to show you what it looks like. Throughout the entire city, there were these huge cauldrons that used to store water, but now people just take pictures of them. Here's a picture of Mark making fun of one of the many signs. The stairs leading up to the next section had some ornate concrete on it. At this time, Mark, Mel, and Michelle (M^3) decided to pull a stunt, because Michelle's feet were sore from walking: Step 1, cross arms; Step 2, person gets on; Step 3: ????; Step 4: PROFIT!. As we walk into the next section (movie), which extends the same system of stairs and platforms from the previous section, we see a few new signs (another). There were a few side areas that were also pretty big but nothing that interesting. The only way to progress is through the northern gate which lead to a labyrinth of hallways that lead to smaller houses for concubines and other staff. Most of these houses had some very intricate roofing. The next section lead to an area with trees and another stream, and another small prayer temple as well as a few large mounds of rocks that included a sign. This was at the other end of the city and we wanted to head to a tea house before heading back to the hotel. Since there were only a few ways to get out of the forbidden city, we needed to head back. We also noticed that the restrooms here had a star rating (that was a 4 star toilet). Thus, we left the same way that we entered. The tea shop was about a 20 minute walk from the front gates of the forbidden city. It was a nice place to sit, rest and drink some tea. The place was too dark to take any good pictures. It was also strictly mandarin speaking so I had to do all the talking. We continuously drank tea until we'd had enough, and the rest of the tea was packed for us to take home, plus there was a 20 rmb charge for the water per person. Getting a taxi back to the hotel was a little annoying. It was rush hour, and the locals were clearly more adept at getting a cab than us. Some cabs would outright refuse to drive us to where we wanted to go. Others didn't know where it was. And none of them spoke english. We needed 2 cabs for the 8 of us and Michael and Elizabeth stayed in a different hotel. After an hour or so, we're back at the hotel, Amy falls asleep, I order room service, and I spend the rest of the night downstairs at the bar. The others went to a restuarant somewhere. (for all the pictures of the Forbidden City and Tianmen Square, go here, all the images are prefixed with "beijing_forbidden_city" and "beijing_tianmen_square")

We hire a van and driver to take us out to Simatai, where we'll stay the night in a hostel and check out the Great Wall. The ride took about 3 hours total, it's the farthest (and oldest) of the 3 sections of the wall visitable from Beijing. There was a few interesting things along the way, like this truck stuffed with people and as we got closer to Simatai, a mini version of the Great Wall. By the time we arrived just outside of the Simatai area, you can notice the air is clear and the terrain is drastically different as well as the scenery. Not too long after, we could actually see the Great Wall, albiet still really far away. When we got to the hostel, the driver drops us off and I make some arrangements (driver is mandarin speaking only) for a pickup tomorrow and swap cellphone numbers (another). From the drop off point, we could see the wall that we'll be tackling later. The entrance to the hostel is actually a restuarant (there was a bit of confusion with our 8 person reservations, but it got worked out). There were also a lot of other random buildings, some being completely empty, that may or may not belong to the hostel. The hostel has this porch area where you can see the cable cars and a great view of the wall. Here's a sequence of pictures of each of the towers: tower 1 (hard to see, is at the bottom of the valley), up and to the right from there is tower 2, tower 3, tower 4, tower 5, tower 6, towers 7 and 8, tower 9, tower 10, towers 11 and 12, and the rest. As you can see, this wall is crazy. If I was an attacking army and I saw that shit, I'd say fuck that. The sheer cliffs on either side of the wall make scaling it suicidal, I can't even imagine how they built it. The rest of the daylight hours were spent chilling out on the porch, drinking beers (another) and something we've dubbed old 56, which was the locally available baijo, at 56% alcohol by volume. As the sun began to set you can see a different tone of the wall. We ate dinner at the restuarant down the street, a typical chinese meal. Half the crew went back to the single room with 8 beds and passed out, Michelle wasn't feeling well and Mark must have drank too much (unlikely) and both were out like a rock. The others spent the rest of the evening in the Sima restuarant (the one with our hostel) and played cards and drank beer/baijo.

The early morning was an interesting one. Apparently, me and Patrick (and an unnamed 3rd person) was snoring and the girls were unable to stay asleep, especially considering when we got back into the room after drinking, a sloshed mel couldn't stop laughing after Patrick would merely say, "Mel...", it was pretty funny, but not so much so for the people actually trying to get some sleep. Finally, the girls and Mark wake me up and I put in a DVD for them to watch on my laptop, the Wickerman (original). Unlike some of my other temporary roomates, I have no problem sleeping through any kind of noise, but I'd constantly wake up without thinking, reach over and hit my control button, then fall back asleep, so that the screensaver wouldn't come on. I guess it was so ingrained that I can do it even in my sleep. Before the movie finishes, Patrick wakes up, puts on his sandals, and decides to attack the Great Wall, at 5 in the morning. The rest get up/wake up and make their way outside, me included. It was still completely dark at the time so no pictures...

When we left the room it was pitch black, you couldn't even see where you were walking. By the time we got to the footpath that lead to the lowest tower, things started getting a little brighter and you could actually start to see the wall (movie). Patrick, who had an hour and a half headstart, was already pretty high up on the wall; here's another from his vantage point where you can see the footpath. He also found a place where you can ride down the wall on a line over the lake. Much of the wall was in disrepair (another), Simatai is the least reconstructed of the 3 walls near Beijing. When I got to the entrance of tower 1, I was greeted with a very high grade set of steps that took me to the second tower. By the second tower, the sun was finally starting to peek over the horizon, affording us a brightened view of our surroundings. I stopped near the second tower because I was still very tired and a little hung over, but Amy and Patrick took a LOT of pictures, here's some of them:
Amy and Michael taking some pictures
Mark and Mel at a broken entrance to a tower
A strange looking brick
a picture of me in a futile attempt to sniff bluetooth and APs
More high grade climbing on trecherous steps
another of Mark and Mel
out one of the tower windows and a view of the cable cars
top of one of the towers
Mark chillin
This tower has a chunk of its steps missing
lots more left to go
inside another tower
One World, One Great Wall!!
At this point, they're almost 2km to the hostel
Walked all this already
Finally, Patrick gets to the end, I think tower 7 was the farthest you are allowed to go. (note that 200 Yuan is about $25 U.S.)
View from the top, another, another
Amy and them catching up
Mark takes a look over the edge
Patrick's triumph over the wall
a look at the rest of the wall which is closed off
Amy's view of the surroundings, another
Mel at the top
The toilet at the top of the Great Wall
A jacket they found, but was covered with beetles
Group picture at the top, Michelle, Elizabeth, and I didn't make it, another
Some people doing work at one of the towers
A couple who lives at the top of the wall, they sell stuff, another, another
Some of the etchings they sell, another
They etch 2 medals for Mark and Michael (movie)
No Naked Flame
When they got back down to the bottom of the footpath (the way down is just as trecherous as the way up, even more so for me because I was wearing dress shoes), they ran into this guy with a big red flag (movie). This dude was running the whole way up (crazy...) waving this flag. He was followed by a crowd of people (movie) running after him (also crazy...). Not long afterwards, we can see the flag guy way up on the wall (I assume he RAN the whole way... crazy...), (more, more, more, more, more. To me, this is totally nuts. I admit that I am completely out of shape, a regular smoker, and was hung over, but getting to the first tower on the footpath was pretty grueling. By the time I got to the second tower I had to rest, legs burning in pain and chest heaving for the high altitude air. It took the rest of them maybe 4 hours to get to the top and back at a leisurely pace. Michelle and Elizabeth walked up a few more towers than I did, took the zigzag path down to the cable cars and took a cable car back down to the hostel. They had lunch at the restuarant we ate at last night. Then Amy came to wake me up and I had some of Patrick's lunch, noodles in braised pork, good stuff. We enjoyed a bit of relax time on the patio before our driver was supposed to show up to take us back to Beijing. At noon, we waited for the driver. He showed up a few minutes late and drove us back. The traffic was almost non-existent this time of day. When we got back to the hotel, Amy passed out so I stuck around to process pictures. The rest, sans Michelle, went to some restuarant on the water (more, more, more, more, funny sign, acupuncture sign that shows a pressure point at your taint). Later that night while they were at dinner, me, Amy, and Michelle hang out at the bar downstairs for a few drinks. We chatted with a doctor visiting from the states who started a conversation with us because we spoke english (and he spoke no chinese). He told us a funny story about him wanted to get a massage, called down to get one, the girl shows up to the room, strips and pulls out a condom. All he wanted was a massage... The other guys eventually come back from dinner and we have a few more drinks before bed, tomorrow we eat Peking Duck! (there were MANY pictures from the great wall, you can find them all here with the prefix "simatai_wall")

I had a lot of work to do today, so I stayed in the room and took advantage of the 80 rmb per 24 hours internet access. Meanwhile everyone else went to check out some other sights in Beijing. They went to the temple of heaven and the center of the universe, and a lot of people were there (sign) (Michelle got to stand in the center). Here's a huge firewood pot and an accompanying sign and some smaller pots with a sign. There were also some more 2008 Olympics stuff. Michelle and Amy also went to the pearl market to buy some gifts (another, outside). While strolling the streets and markets, they found someone flying one of those really long kites (more). And here's yet another 2008 Olympics frockery, and, what trip to Asia would be complete without, school girls? Some taxi action (movie) and an accident (movie) (don't drink and drive). Even though the automobile traffic was so heavy in Beijing, all the larger roads come equiped with bike lanes (movie) but the bikes and scooters don't always stay in their lane. Later that evening we take 2 cabs to the Peking Duck restuarant. Hailing a cab here at certain hours is nearly impossible; half the time they either don't know how to get there or don't want to go there. It took over an hour to get there, and by that time, we were over an hour and a half late for our reservations; so I had to do the mandarin talk with the maitre'd to get new reservations and ask how long it would take: 15 minutes to an hour. The other taxi didn't show up yet (and was about 30 minutes away still) so I figure it was ok. Here's a picture of Mel while we waited outside. They were gracious enough to give us complimentary wine while we waited. The foyer of this place has a lot of its specialties displayed: braised sea cucumber, lobster noodles and of course, duck. They eventually moved us upstairs to a different waiting area (with gold fish) while our private room was being prepared. The private room had its own thermostat and a big table with a lazy susan, very typical for chinese restuarants. Since I'm the only mandarin speaker in the group, I get to choose what to eat and do the ordering. The menu was thick and includes pictures of every dish. When I started suggesting dishes like stirfried duck hearts, Patrick took interest in joining the perusal of the menu while some others wanted me to give it up to someone who'd order more "American" friendly food. We didn't get any duck heart but we did agree on some duck liver, which was made of AWESOME. After digging into the first set of dishes, it was duck time. Each duck was brought in by a cutter (?) wearing a face mask and plastic gloves, then proceeded to carefully slice it (movie). Each duck filled about 2 plates and after he's done, he showed us the carcass so that we'd see there was no meat left. Then our waitress rolled (movie another) the first duck for each of us, her chopstick kung fu was unstoppable. The duck was amazing, probably the best that I've ever had. When we finished off the meal, they brought out some fruit plates. It was around this time that we discovered that we had a private bathroom. After taking care of the check (it ended up around $120 U.S., for 8 people), we grab 2 cabs and headed back to the Holiday Inn and had a few night caps at the hotel bar; we have to get up super early to make it to the Beijing International Airport to catch a flight back to Shanghai.

We met in the lobby of the hotel early in the morning (6:30am) and grabbed 3 taxis so that all of our luggage would fit. I rode with Amy and Mel. The taxi ride was uneventful, it was pretty much the same road we were on when we left the airport a few days ago. Patrick saw a truck with some workers, and even though we took separate cabs, Patrick saw the cab Mark was in. After 45 minutes, we arrived at the Beijing International Airport. We flew China Eastern, but the China Southern mascot was much cooler and the Air China section of the terminal had a funny sign. Soon we were on the plane and in the air. Mark and Mel took some zinc pills (I think) because they weren't feeling well, the sickness that Patrick got spread to just about everyone else. I felt like I was coming down with something a few times, but I just stayed up really late and drank myself silly and I felt fine the next morning. The airplane served us a snack which consisted of a cake, a cupcake, some chocolate, and a bag of pickled fungus. The pickled fungus was especially interesting. The China Eastern flights (from and to Shanghai) were quite nice. We had a snack both times even though the flight only lasted an hour and some change. There was plenty of leg room and the planes were all newer jets (Airbus 330).

Shanghai, again

When we got back to Shanghai, my second cousin Nai You was waiting for us, he had come in a van (more) big enough for 8 people and all their luggage. The inside was surprisingly roomy considering. I think this was also the beginning of Mike's ailments. Since the Hongqiao airport is pretty close to the city, it wasn't long before we saw some familiar sights. When we got back to the Anting Villa, I had to facillitate the checking in of every room. They needed one (1) passport for each room (I made sure to re-iterate that many times), but both Michelle and Patrick gave them their passports which caused this really annoying problem that got my room registered under Patrick. With my limited mandarin skills, it took me 15 minutes to explain that Patrick and Michelle are in one room and they scanned in both of their passports and put Patrick's passport under my room number, then it took some more time to redo my room. After getting settled in, we contacted our friend Paul Connely and decided to meet up at the Peace Hotel near the bund. We walked down to Hangseng road to try to catch 2 cabs. We passed an interesting looking pillar with dragons on it under an underpass. Once we saw the Pearl Tower we knew we were close. We met up with Paul and decided to have a small late lunch and I made reservations for dinner at the "New Heights" restuarant/bar that we were at a week before, but arrived too late for the light show. Looking through the Frommer's book at Mel had, we had to pick something that would serve us food at 3:00 in the afternoon. We settled on some cafe that also served food, including "skewred lamp" [sic] and "skewred pope" [sic]. We had a few beers and coffee. After the food was devoured, the girls and Paul left to go shopping on Nanjing road while we stuck around the cafe. Eventually, we got tired of waiting and decided to just meet at New Heights for our 8pm reservation, but Mel wanted to come with us and walk along the bund so we waited for her outside, and Patrick took some more pictures along Nanjing road. Meanwhile, Amy, Michelle, Elizabeth and Paul were roaming around Nanjing looking at shops (more, more, more, more, more, more, more, more | movie). They eventually made they're way back and also visited the bund. Me, Mel, Mark and Patrick made our way to the bund and walked along the banks. Here's a picture from the bund of where we'll be eating dinner later tonight. Here's a brilliant picture of Mark and Mel, featuring the Jinmao Tower, Aurora building, and the under construction World Financial Tower. There were many street salesmen, this one was selling weaved animals, and this one was selling random electronics (movie). Patrick took some video of some kids playing in a flowerpot (movie). When we got near the end, it was starting to get dark so we stopped at a bar and had some drinks. When the lights on the bund came on we noticed that the Aurora building was actually a huge TV screen (more, more, more, more | movie), I bet it costs a pretty penny to advertise on that thing. When we made it to New Heights, the road had rows of Ferraris on either side, probably had something to do with the F1 race on the next 3 days. The view of the bund/Pudong from this restuarant was amazing (more, more, more). A lot of these pictures turned out blurry because the cameras needed long exposure. The menu at New Heights was mostly a mix of different western cuisines including some chinese noodle dishes. After the food came, we were treated to a fireworks show (more, more, more) (this happens every night). The fireworks lasted for about 20 minutes, enough for me to get 2 or 3 martinis. Movies: thumb | movie, thumb | movie. thumb | movie, thumb | movie, thumb | movie, thumb | movie. After the show, we get one more round of drinks then headed back to the hotel.

Three things happened today: Hiromi and Steve arrive from Nagoya, the F1 practice sessions happen on the Shanghai Speedway, and I have to spend the day with my family. The day with my family wasn't much to write home about, I've met all these people at my first big family dinner, everyone except my grandmother's (on my mother's side) sister. She was a jolly old woman (doesn't look 70-80 years old) who speaks only shanghainese and cantonese, so we were unable to communicate at all. My second cousin lives in northern Shanghai in a sea of 50 story highrise condos. There were about 50 or so of these huge buildings, all identical, together in a "park". I wouldn't be surprised if you could fit the entire population of Pittsburgh in one of these parks. Nai-You also had some pet turtles. Meanwhile, Amy, Patrick, and Michelle went to look at fabrics in a fabric store on Maoming road. Michelle wanted to get a chinese dress made. Michelle is always complaining about how terrible the coffee is in China (they're a bunch of TEA DRINKERS!), so Michelle was especially relieved when they found a Starbucks nearby. Amy also found a caligraphy shop that also sold fans, so she bought a fan for Audrey with some chinese words that sound like Audrey when spoken in mandarin. After they got back, Michelle had some acupuncture done over at my sister's apartment (more, more, more). While Michelle was getting poked, Mark, Mel and Patrick went to meet up with Steve and Hiromi for some tea. Here's a picture of them toasting their hotwater (part 2). That night, they ate at a local Uighur restuarant with my sister, and Hiromi got some sktching done (movie).They ended the night at Cotton's and I met up with them there after getting back from Nai-You's, tomorrow is F1 qualifying.

Me, Mel, Mark, and Patrick walk down to the Hangseng subway station, take it 2 stops to the Shanghai underground stadium. From there we get on one of many buses that takes us to the racetrack. Outside, you can see plenty of Ferrari paraphernalia, China seems to be mainly Schumacher fans. The bus ride took about 45 minutes and when we got there, we were greeted by a gang of motorcyclists that you can pay to give you a ride to your stands (you can easily walk a mile to get to your stands). Fortunately, we sat in section E4.2 which was within sight of the bus drop off. After getting past the ticket people, we made our way to our seats and immediately run into Steve and Hiromi walking in the opposite direction. Apparently, there wasn't anything going on at the moment so I grab a ham sandwich and a coke at the concession stands. When we finally get to the stands, this was our view of the track (be prepared to see a LOT of pictures of this part of the track). Our seats are marked with a red X on the map of the track to the left. The Formula Porsche series was currently qualifying. They were pretty fast, and they were pretty loud, but about 30 minutes later, the real cars came out (movie). These went around this part of the course about 1/3 faster and they seemed 10 times lounder (2x louder logrithmically). Something you don't hear when you're watching F1 on TV is the misfiring. On TV (and the movies that we got of the race) you hear the high rev engines tear through RPMs like a motorcycle engine. What you don't hear, is the traction control purposely misfiring the engine, at 15,000 RPM. So what you end up hearing is like a rocket taking off or a low flying fighter jet zipping by with a fleet of racing bikes on full throttle. The ground literally shakes. The qualifying was pretty cool, there was some light rain, which gave the Michelin teams the advantage. Schumacher barely made it into the 3rd round of qualifying getting himself on the board on his last lap before the 2nd round ended. The Renaults qualified 1 and 2, and Schumacher made it to 6th. There wasn't anything else for the afternoon so we got back on the bus and headed back, we had dinner reservations with my godfather, Alexander. Michelle and Amy didn't go to qualifying. I'm not sure what they did (dealing with Michelle's tailored dress maybe, a fitting?) but I did get this video of them in the taxi (movie), which goes on all the way to Anting Villa (Michelle's camera takes video at 10fps). We all met up then took 2 cabs to a place on Huai Hai road called "Tasty". This place serves an 8 course meal of mostly western cuisine (Alexander mentioned that he picked this place because Amy didn't eat much meat) and I agree with the name, the food was very tasty. We didn't get many pictures of the big courses, but here's a few of what we did get: asparagus, fruit platter, some kind of dessert, some more dessert, flan?. Everyone made sure to thank Alexander and his girlfriend for the wonderful meal. Once again, we finish off the night at Cotton's. Here's a picture of Patrick with one of the complementary silk hankerchefs from Tasty. Tomorrow, F1 race day.

Formula 1

Today's the big day. The 10 of us left the hotel at 9am, packed in a van, and managed to make great time (movie) getting to the race. But when we got there, we had to wait for a parking pass, and some of the people in our group decided to take advantage of this downtime to relieve themselves behind some bushes. Once the parking pass fiasco was settled, we were on our way to the races. All along the way, there were people selling and buying tickets (strange isn't it) as well as binoculars of the shittiest quality. We had to probably walk over a mile around the outside of the track, just to get to our seats; here's a picture of one of the main grandstands. Another quick bathroom break before we make it to our seats amongst a sea of umbrellas. Steve and Hiromi sat a few seats to our left, which is amazing considering we bought our tickets separately. It looked like they were running behind schedule because the GP2 or F2000 was supposed to be racing at the time, instead Formula Porsche (movie) was having their race. It was drizzling up until now, but then it started to rain HARD. Porsches were flying off the track left and right (no pictures, unfortunately) so they red flagged the race. A half hour later, it was F1 time. First, came the parade of the drivers (movie), which was pretty bazarre (another). Here's a picture of Schumi on the float talking to what looks like Kimi. After that went around the track once, we were treated with what we dubbed the parade of randomness (more, more, more, more). By this time, the rain had completely let up, affording us a view of the people around us (another, in this picture you can make out, at the very end of the stands, a lone group of Alonso/Renault fans amongst a sea of Ferrari fans). This was good for the fans, since Ferrari, running Bridgestones, won't run as fast as Renault, running Michelins, if the track is wet; Michelin just has the better full wet tires. Here's another view around us (movie) right before the drivers did their reconnaissance lap. It didn't take long for them to reach us (movie). On the big screen, we can see one of the Toyota cars swap tires (movie), looks to be a swap from full wet to intermediates, as the track was drying off pretty quickly, another good sign for Ferrari. The Parc Ferme rule states that the teams cannot modify cars, except for brakes bled and tire changes, from the end of qualifying to the beginning of the formation lap. The only exception is if climatic changes between the qualifying and the race. The Ferraris left the pits really late for their reconnaissance lap (movie, Felipe Massa), so I suspect they may have allowed minor modifications to the cars. Schumacher took his time on his lap (movie). The Ferraris were the last to do their laps, so 10 minutes after they went by, the formation lap (movie) came, this will be the last chance for the drivers to get a feel for the conditions of the track before the race. The 2 Renaults lead the pack (you can hear people booing them in the movie clip), then the 2 Hondas (Honda has always done well in the wet, with Button claiming his first win in Hungary), then Kimi in his McLaren-Mercedes, then Schumacher. The big screen gives us a run down of the track, an aerial view of the main grand stand

On the big screen, you can see the cars line up on the grid in preparation for the start of the 2006 season Shanghai F1, the first race after Schumacher declared that he was going to retire. The red lights go out (movie) and the race begins, about a minute later the cars fly by (movie) on their first of 56 laps of the race. Kimi manages to pass Button at turn 1 and Button and Barichello swap places before they reached our turn. By the second lap (movie), Alonso widens the gap between him and his teammate, Fisichella, while Kimi passed Barichello and edges right up to Fisichella. Lap 3 keeps the same positions but Alonso is even farther ahead, Fisichella doing a good job holding off Kimi and the rest of the pack, allowing Alonso to build his lead. A few laps later, Schumacher still unable to get past Barichello and Massa got by a few Red Bulls (movie). One annoying thing about our seats was the position of the big screen, which blocked our view of turn 11 (movie), it really is mind boggling how quickly these cars can slow down. Schumacher finally gets by Barichello on lap 9 (movie), while Kimi continues to fight with Fisichella for 2nd position. In midpack, you can see Massa (movie) among the Williams team and the RBRs. The crowd cheers and roars when Kimi gets by a slow Fisichella and Schumacher passes Button on lap 13 (movie), but Massa still struggling (movie) in midpack along with the poor Toyotas. Kimi later pits and retires with a throttle problem, putting Schumacher in 3rd behind Fisichella (2nd) (movie) and Alonso by lap 17. Schumacher makes his first pit stop on lap 21, but he's so far ahead of Barichello that he comes out retaining 3rd position. Then it's Alonso's turn, tire changes in front only, and he comes out behind his teammate. By lap 23, Fisichella leads (car 2), Alonso is behind him (car 1), followed by Schumacher (car 5). At the end of lap 23, Fisichella pits, giving up the lead back to Alonso. Fisichella quickly catches back up to Alonso while Schumacher quickly catches up to him (movie). Soon, you can see Alonso, Fisichella, and Schumacher (movie) together, Alonso running slow whlie the other two running fast, and this continues (movie), and continues (movie), a very exciting race and the crowd is really getting into it. By lap 29 (movie), Alonso gets passed by Fisichella on the straight following turn 13 (you can see it in the movie). You can see the standings by lap 30, Fisichella then a slow Alonso then a fast Schumacher. Unsurprisingly, Schumacher soon gets past Alonso (movie) for second position and by lap 31, the top 3 are Fisichella, Schumacher and Alonso. Now the big fight is between Fisichella and Schumacher (movie) (more | movie). The track was mostly dry now and Alonso finally pitted on lap 35 (I think) to change his tires to the dry compound and get a little fuel, but the right rear tire changer makes an unplanned career change by dropping the wheel nut and costing Alonso almost 10 extra seconds, dropping him down to 6th. Meanwhile, Mark has been keeping his own timing statistics. Michael pitted on lap 40, swapped on some dry compound Bridgestones, then Fisichella pitted and swapped on some dry compound Michelins on lap 41. Renault was frantically trying to get Fisichella out of the pits before Schumacher. The crowd was filled with disappointed "awww"s when Fisichella made it out just in front of Schumacher, then seconds later, the crowd went apeshit when Schumacher overtook Fisichella around turns 1 and 2. The crowd continued to cheer (movie) as he went by. Now the standings are Schumacher, Fisichella, and Alonso. From here on, Schumacher (movie) continue to pull ahead of Fisichella. Alonso is only 2 points ahead of Schumacher in championship points, if Schumacher can take this race, they'd be tied or Schumacher can take the lead for the first time this season. According to Mark's watch, we're an hour and 8 minutes into the race. As the race went on, 2 important things happened: Alonso was posting the fastest times, he's catching up to his teammate Fisichella and more importantly, Schumacher; and the sky was starting to get dark, it could rain soon. The first meant that Alonso would tie Schumacher in the points, but the second meant big trouble for everyone. If it started to rain again, all the cars will need to make an unscheduled pitstop (you must add fuel if you pit, thus throwing everyone's fuel strategies out the window) and change tires, something the Bridgestone teams especially don't want, since their wets and intermediates are inferior to the Michelins. A tire change could slow Ferrari down and speed up Renault, Schumacher could end up in 3rd. By lap 45, it still wasn't raining, and the crowd (well most of them) eagerly counted down the last remaining laps. On lap lap 48, Fisichella let Alonso by to pursue Schumacher, with only 8 laps left, he was still over a minute ahead. As the laps count down, and down, and down, it was beginning to look like a tie championship on the points. Alonso was still catching up quickly, but there just wasn't enough race left. On the final lap, Alonso hadn't caught up yet (movie), and the crowd rejoiced (movie). When the race ended, it was Schumacher, Alonso, Fisichella, then came the cool down lap (movie), then another (movie) where the track crew came out to congradulate the drivers. We stuck around for a little while to watch Schumacher congradulate his crew (another).

We made our way out and waited (movie) for the rest of the group. Michelle and Hiromi showed that their asses were still wet from sitting in the stands, even Patrick's ass was wet. Here's a picture of the 4 germans that sat in front of me. All the germans were Schumacher fans (no surprise there). I remember commenting after the race that Schumacher and Alonso are now tied with 2 more races left to go and one of the germans in front of me said that Schumacher was going to win. (By the time of this writing, the F1 world was shocked when Michael Schumacher's engine blew up on the 36th lap while leading the Japanese Grand Prix, allowing Alonso to win, creating a 10 point gap in the championship. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Schumacher will retire with his 8th championship title). Mel got the great idea of putting her ear plugs under her sweater so that they looked like perked nipples, good fun. When amy got back from the restroom, they posed for a picture. Earlier in the day, my uncle Nai called me to invite all of us to dinner. I really didn't want to be late, but Patrick and Mark was sauced from drinking Fosters at the race and ended up haggling with every street salesman along the way. When we finally got back to the van, all packed in, and headed back to town, it was 2 hours until the dinner reservations. Fortunately, the driver we had drove like god. He drove for people the last 2 Shanghai Gran Prix so he knew where to go to avoid the massive traffic. As a side note, I have to include this photo.

Our last evening in Shanghai started with dinner at a restuarant in the French consession with all of my family. We had a private room with 2 tables and my Uncle Nai ordered the same food for both tables. The food was pretty similar to the first family dinner. Here's a picture of my table, and my hair reflects the light just like the hair of characters in anime. Here's a picture of the other table (another, another). The second course included lobster and some funky kind of fish. Everyone, including family from the states, always says me and Uncle Nai are spitting images of each other, not just by looks, but the way we talk and mannerisms. What do you think? After heading back to the Anting Villa, we found Michelle's new dress had been delivered, finished the night off at Cotton's, said goodbye to the wait staff and owner, and spent the rest of our rmb on drinks. Then I headed to my sister's where me, Amy, Steve, and Hiromi stayed for the night. I stayed up a little later to hang out and say goodbye to Steve and Hiromi, since we're leaving for Hong Kong tomorrow and they're not.

Hong Kong

Early in the morning, a bunch of the Chang family came to meet us at the hotel to take us to the Pudong International Airport. When we get there, I say my goodbyes to Shanghai, mainland China, and my family. It was also the first time I notice the airport's crazy ceiling and other crazy shit. The flight was uneventful, we got served lunch, I dropped my chopsticks and debated whether I should eat the rest of my food with my hands, watched some anime, then we started descending. I had a window seat, and gradually saw more and more of the ground and water until we got to the airport built on a manmade island. While taxiing to the gate, I notice something amusing. Getting through customs and getting our baggage was a breeze. After exchanging some money for Hong Kong dollars, we then hire a car to take the 4 of us (Mark, Mel, Elizabeth and Michael were on a different airline, they've already arrived) to the hotel. The ride to the hotel was my first look at Hong Kong. Unlike the mainland, Hong Kong has a very western feel to it, no doubt thanks to the British (movie, more | movie). Our hotel was at the northern section, across from the harbour (another). There were also several restuarants, bars, and coffee shops in the hotel. My room sported a view of the harbour (more) as well as the hotel's pool. The 4 of us stayed in the same hotel, The Metropolis, while Mark and Mel splurged on a 5 star Landmark Mandarin. I'm not sure where Elizabeth and Michael stayed, but both them and the Trumpbours were on the southern island. I had a shit ton of work I needed to catch up on so I spent the rest of the morning and afternoon taking advantage of the $12.50 (U.S.) a day internet access to get the backlog of work I needed to get done. Patrick and Michelle went to the southern island to meet up with the other 4 at the Landmark Mandarin. I had a late lunch/early dinner via room service then in the evening, I took a taxi to meet up with the rest. The taxi ride (movie) costs about $12 (U.S.) to get to the southern island and we crossed the harbour via a long tunnel (movie). After meeting up at the Landmark, they wanted to check out the harbour, so we started walking on the hot and humid streets of Hong Kong. Later on, we came to realize that we didn't need to suffer out in the heat at all, as all of the buildings were connected via overhead enclosed (most of them) walkways, reducing the actual sidewalk time to a minimum. But we didn't know better, and the walk actually afforded us a nice introduction to the city's architecture (that is the HSBC, Hong Kong's bank. Here in Hong Kong, the banks print the money). We also walked by an old courthouse with some skyscrapers in the background (another). When we finally got to the harbour (movie), it was a let down, nothing like Shanghai's Bund at night. Someone in our group had read something about fireworks, but we were clearly at the wrong place, as this entire section of the harbour not only lacked storefronts but it lacked people. Elizabeth and Michael needed to eat dinner, and I needed to raise my blood alcohol level, so Patrick picked a bar that was nearby listed on his tourist map. Here's a building (movie) with an interesting colored light scheme. The map wasn't so good at pointing out where this bar was, and after going into a few buildings without any luck, we wandered up to the elevated mall. This mall is actually a network of buildings connected together by enclosed walkways over the busy Hong Kong streets, and it even connects to Mark and Mel's hotel. Inside this mall, we stopped at a grocery store for some food for Michael and Elizabeth and some ice cream, a nice refreshment from the hot and humid outside. After the grocery store, someone had the brilliant idea of asking the info desk where this bar was, and it ended up that it was inside the mall, up a few floors. This place was pretty posh, the front being a restuarant, with a corridor that led to the back where the bar was. There was a stage here as well as a view of the harbour (but it wasn't anything worth looking at). The place had very nice ambience. I had a few martinis and some of the others dabbled in some desserts (more). After the bar, we part ways and take a cab ride back to the hotel, where me and Patrick visited the bar for a few nightcaps. Need to get up early for a W.W. Chan's appointment to get measured for suits.

We took the free shuttle from our hotel to Tsim Sha Tsui, where W. W. Chan's and sons is. The group split up to look around, while me, Patrick and Mark went to a tea shop and drank some 30 year old puerh tea. At 1pm, we had an appointment to get measured so we made our way to Chan's. First thing we needed to do was to pick out suiting material. I knew pretty much what I wanted, so it didn't take long for me to settle on Canonico's Revenge II, super 130's, and I settled on a light blue lining. While Mark and Patrick were picking out their fabrics, I went ahead and got measured (another) and then worked out some details of the suit; peaked lapels, double breasted, 4/6 button style, 4 button cuffs, pocket style, shoulder style, etc. Then Patrick got measured, here's a shot of him working out some details (movie). Strangely, we didn't get any pictures of Mark getting his measurements. After that, we walked down the street and found this quaint little Irish pub called Murphy's, where we had some traditional irish food. This place also sported an Irish Sobriety Test. We also wanted to get some shirts made over at the Jantzen's Tailors, but that was back at Central, the southern island. So we took a short walk to the ferry station and got on a ferry for about $0.40 (U.S.). Being a harbour, the water was pretty choppy but the trip afforded us a nice view of Central. The station at central took us right into the network of indoor shops and enclosed walkways, so the walk to the Jantzen's store was a pleasant one. When we finally got there, the store itself was tiny and the number of fabrics absurd. It could take you days to go through all the fabrics they had. I already knew what 2 fabrics I wanted and the styles, so I picked them up and got measured, asked for specific details, removable collar stays, front button style, no pocket, double cuffs. Then I was outta there and went downstairs for a cup of coffee. While the rest of the group went back to their hotels, we waited around for Paul Connely, since he was living/working in Hong Kong. By now, it was rush hour and getting a taxi across the harbour was impossible. So we took the subway, wasn't very crowded, compared to Shanghai which was insane. I was the first to get fitted. Since this was the first of 3 fittings, the pants and suit were held together with removable white thread so that adjustments can be marked with chalk and easily modified. I made sure to wear a tailored shirt so that my fitting would be as accurate as possible. My first suit fitting had a lot of issues. It was too long, there wasn't enough waist suppression, and the shoulders were uneven and had way too much padding. This will all be fixed by my second fitting. Here's Mark getting his fitting and Patrick getting his suit and shirt fitted. He went ahead and got Chan to make him a shirt as well. Here's a picture of Patrick (the Tailor) making minor adjustments to Patrick's suit. Afterwards, we went back to Murphy's for dinner and drinks. Mel had planned out and already made dinner reservations for the next 2 nights. Me, Patrick and Amy ended the night at the hotel bar (movie).

The girls wanted to do a little bit of shopping today, so we decided to all meet up together at Chan's for our 7pm second fitting then head to the restaurant we had reservations at. Patrick and Michelle went to a Tea House with a pretty good view of the Hong Kong skyline (more, more). Meanwhile, I went to Jantzen's to pick up my 2 shirts, which turned out much to my approval. Then I met up with Amy, Mark and Mel at their hotel bar, for a few drinks. I needed to cut myself off early because I didn't want to be sloshed when I went in for my fitting. Amy wanted to stop at the hotel to drop off all the fabric she had bought and Mark and Mel wanted to stop in their room before making the trek across the harbour to Chan's, so I was solo, hopped on a subway and headed to TST. I was the first one there, but I didn't have a camera. So I waited 15 minutes for someone else to show up, but alas, Patrick (the tailor) wanted to get things moving so I went ahead with my second fitting. I wanted to have pictures to document the process as well as the critical eye of others. As far as the fitting went, the suit looked fabulous and neither me nor the tailor found any major faults. The bonus of being the only one there was that I had about 10 minutes with the tailor and my suit. I was able to sit and move around naturally to make sure things were fit enough yet loose enough to move around freely, while the tailor made small chalk marks when necessary. Eventually, Patrick, Paul Connely, then Mark and Mel showed up. Patrick was next up for his second fitting and brought a Brook's Brothers suit for the tailor to check out to give him a better idea of the shape Patrick wanted. Patrick's trousers uses braces instead of a belt or straps. Then, the fitting. There were a few things the tailor wanted to adjust, waist suppression being one of them. While they took apart Patrick's suit (notice that the lining was also patched in for this fitting), Mark was getting ready for his second fitting. We all had worn our tailored shirts so that the fitting at Chan's would reflect more closely to how we intended to wear the suits. As you can see, he was pretty psyched. His fitting went well, and he looked fantastic. I was psyched too. We were still too early for dinner reservations so we took a stroll down to Murphy's for a quick round of drinks. Then it was another stroll (movie) through TST to the restuarant. This indian restuarant had live music (movie), and a lazy suzan (movie). Amy ordered all the food. I had a bloody mary. Then we ate all the food, it was pretty good. We had passed an irish pub on the way to the restuarant called Ned Kelly's, so me, Patrick, Mark, and Mel decided to stop there for a drink before turning in for the night. The first thing we notice is the stage. After getting our drinks, a band (forgot their name) comes on stage and starts to play (movie). They had a lot of little gags (movie), like singing ala Louis Armstrong. The music went on for about an hour or so, then they took another break. We were so full from dinner still that we couldn't drink very fast, so I took to some bar noodling, in all honesty, Hong Kong coins were thick so they were pretty easy to balance. It was getting late, so we had to call it a night.

I needed to buy some shoes today, so Amy went with me to Tsim Sha Tsui to look for some fancy shoes that I can wear for Alexi's wedding as well as an everyday pair of dress shoes to replace my current pair. On the bus to TST, I noticed that they're REALLY tough on smoking in Hong Kong compared to the mainland. After the shoe shopping, we went back to Ned Kelly's for lunch and a little nip (movie). The place was a lot brighter than last night so I actually got a change to look around (movie). Meanwhile, Patrick, Paul Connely, and Michelle went on a little adventure. I'm not sure where they went but it looks like they took a boat ride somewhere. I'll just give you a list of their photos, since I don't know where or what's going on:
Some gold thing
boats and stuff
boats and buildings
more boats
a bridge
more fancy
Eventually, we meet up at Chan's for our final fit and delivery of suits. I was up first. First check was the trousers, which were perfect. Then he got me the jacket and checked the fit. Everything was solid so he packed up the suit into a carrying bag. Next was Patrick, in has trousers and the Chan tailored shirt. A quick check on the jacket and Patrick looking over the work. For some reason, we didn't have any pictures of Mark's final fitting. We headed back to the hotel (movie), it was going to be our last night here. We still had some time before our dinner atop Victoria's Peak, so we passed some time at the hotel bar (movie). This is a clip of the stadium (movie) behind the hotel and its little lightshow. You can also see in the horizon all the buildings with lights going off. We meet up at central to take a bus (movie) to the top of Victoria's Peak. On my incorrect judgement, we got off at the wrong stop but realized our folly quick enough to get back on (movie). Soon enough, we're all at our table ordering food, talking about our new suits, talking about Hong Kong, talking about leaving tomorrow, the usual stuff. Michelle took a few pictures of our food, Michael's, Mark's, and Patrick and I's pheasant. After dinner, we took the tram (movie) down the mountain, it was similar to one of Pittsburgh's inclines. There was also an amusing sign on the tram. The evening's festivities ends at Mark and Mel's hotel bar (movie). It was pretty hoppin', but it was way too dark for pictures.

Fortunately, we had a late afternoon flight around 4pm unlike our friends who live in New York whose flight left early in the morning. This gave us plenty of time to check out, eat lunch, and spend some time at the bar. There was a bus that ran from our hotel to the airport and it got us there with plenty of time to spare. Here's a picture of the man-made island that the airport is on. The Hong Kong airport had this interesting peice of art. Our carry-ons went through a thorough search at the gate then it was waiting for boarding, Amy took this oppurtunity for a nap. When we finally get on the airplane, we were greeted with a mostly empty cabin. The plane was so empty that everyone in coach had an entire row of seats to themselves. The flight was uneventful but very comfortable. The flight attendant was amazing. On the flight to Shanghai, they would only bring me a drink everytime the refreshment cart went by, and although that was fairly often, it wasn't often enough. So this attendant brought me 2 screwdrivers, and she brings me another 2 as soon as I was done. After about 10 or so of these, I was out like a light and didn't wake up until breakfast the next day with only a few hours left in the flight. When we finally get to Pittsburgh, I discover that my friend from Tampa, June Pak, was there and he needed to rent a car. So we caught a ride with him back to Shadyside. The next day we had to get up early for the wedding and a chance to suit up in our new $1300 threads. Amy took a few pictures of my suit (another) before we left for the wedding. This is with the white Jantzen shirt.


Overall, I think the trip was a great experience. My family in Shanghai were all wonderful and it was great to see my sister. There were definitely a few weird things about China. The first being my hair. Before I left for China, I had a brief concern about this, being that since the cultural revolution destroyed everything that is old and foriegn, and guys with super long hair is part of the old. It turned out not to be such a problem, except that in both Shanghai and Beijing, people constantly stared at me in public, some going as far as taking cellphone pictures as I walk by. Understandable, since nobody had hair as long as mine since the 50's. Other things such as the laws, how banks work, and government are kinda of weird when you notice them. I suppose there are courts, but you never hear about them. Banks lend money but over half of their loans default and the government covers them. The roads, traffic lights, and utilities were all so new, it makes me wonder how the infrastructure of cities like Shanghai and Beijing, with populations of over 20 million, are organized. There were also some corruption among officials while we were there that showed up on the news. My sister's boyfriend told us a story about a previous employer. He was one of the first people who started a periodical in China in english, and it did quite well. There were a lot of little details and backstabbing within the company, but the conclusion was essentially the government coming in and saying "OK, we own your company now, goodbye". This man now lives a poor and bitter life. Even though stuff like this happens, outsiders still dump billions of dollars in investment into the country, and by the looks of places like Shanghai, business seems good. Speaking Mandarin was also a little weird at first. Having not spoke it in more years than I can remember, there wasn't much that I could say, although I understood it just fine. After a week, a lot of it came back to me and I was at least adept enough to order food, give directions, haggle at stores, etc, there were even a few moments when I accidentally started speaking Mandarin to my friends. In both Shanghai and Beijing, being able to speak the language made things infinitely easier. So, the trip was good, I had a ton of fun, and I'd visit Shanghai again.

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