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Day 120 – Flying Through Time (And Shanghai)

July 1, 2010

Dateline: Shanghai, China – Thursday, July 1, 2010

It’s officially been 4 months since I hit the road. It really doesn’t feel that long. It sort of feels like I started yesterday. In part, that’s because when you’re traveling, having a good time, time flies. It’s like hitting the snooze button in the morning. You know the alarm last went off six minutes ago, but when it buzzes again, it usually feels like you just blinked instead of fell asleep. 

Time also feels like it’s going faster because I’m older. I remember when I was a little kid, we’d have to drive 30 minutes to Riverside for my violin lessons. Those half hour drives were excruciating. I’d complain and fidget and annoy the living hell out of my mother. Nowadays, that same drive feels like a trip around the block so long as the traffic’s not bad.

That makes sense. When I was six years old, 30 minutes was a larger portion of my life lived than it is now, 26 years later. I’ve often wondered what it’d be like to be an ant. They live for what, a few days maybe? Thirty minutes for them must feel like a month to me.

It’s not just that I’m having fun or that I’m getting older. I think it’s also because I’ve been in Shanghai. Crashing Bri’s place has pretty much been like living back in the U.S. It’s clean, comfortable, I have a proper bathroom all my own, I don’t have to lock up my bag if I don’t want to, and I can walk around barefoot without fear. Really, I could be anywhere, so long as I don’t step out the door.

Here, I’m not being constantly bombarded with reminders that I’m away from home. That makes it feel like time’s slipping through my fingers, sort of like I’m at my parents’ place on summer vacation. Days have blurred together because it’s comfortable.

All this is important because today was my last day in Shanghai. It sort of marks the end of the “new“ parts of my trip in Southeast Asia. From here on out I’m sort of backtracking my way down the continent on my way to an awaiting flight from Bangkok to Los Angeles. I’ll see new things, but none will feel truly foreign. I’ve been in these countries before. I mostly know what to expect.

With only a month left, I know the time is going to fly. I’ve actually had to look at the calendar and wonder, “Can I fit this thing or that thing in the four weeks I have left?” It sounds silly, especially since the typical American vacation is less than two weeks, but I feel like I’m leaving tomorrow. Time’s a weird one like that.

For my last day here, I opted to explore Qibao (pronounced – Chi-bow, ignoring the requisite tones), an older part of Shanghai. Like yesterday, it was hot and muggy. I’ll do you a favor and spare you my wanderings to find Qibao. Instead I will give you directions from the Qibao subway station. Take Exit 2 and, once at the top of the stairs, turn around and walk along the street. Make a right at the first intersection and walk south until you come upon all the little shops that mark the start of Qibao.

I wish I could say the place was charming, but it was so hot that I barely could stand it. It’s been raining for too long. I’ve grown heat weak. This was good practice for my return to Vietnam. There were all kinds of interesting food, but I opted for some fried bread thing stuffed with spinach and tofu or something. I’m not sure if this was Chinese or not. It was cheap and good.

The small streets were more reminiscent of the Beijing hutongs, but more along the lines of the preserved, touristy ones rather than the gritty neighborhoods. I sweated my way through a few of the alleys, but finally opted back to the cool of the subway.

I headed back to the Shanghai Propaganda Post Art Center to buy some gifts. One was an authentic Little Red Mao book from the 50’s (most originals were collected by the government and sent to recycling plants) complete with handwritten notations by a Chinese reader. I even found a little something for myself, keeping up the tradition of buying original works of art from countries I’ve visited.

I was going to drop off the souvenirs at Bri’s but the maids were cleaning his serviced apartment. I guess, then, that it’s fitting that I spent the rest of the afternoon writing in a Starbucks across the street. Shanghai is the most Western city in China.

That night, after dinner with Bri, I headed out to Pudong Airport on the subway. I opted for a trip on the maglev train instead of hailing a cab from the subway station or taking the regular subway the long way in. The thing was smooth and quick, reaching 300 km/h. Apparently they don’t get up to the 400+ km/h speed at night. Still, it was quick.

Word of warning if you’re leaving from Pudong. Give yourself plenty of time to walk to the ticket counter, your gate, and to get through security. The place is huge and doesn’t do much to help you expedite the long walks. Security also seems to insist on wanding every traveler. Luckily, I got there early and there were few people at the airport because of the late hour.

My flight left 30 minutes behind schedule and arrived in Nanning at 2 a.m. By the time I grabbed my bags, rode the bus into town, found a hotel after 3 tries, and settled in, it was 3:30 a.m. I ended up paying $25 USD (insane) for a few hours sleep.

Flipped on the TV while prepping for bed and discovered that advertisers believe Chinese women are insecure about their small boobs. Two channels advertised two magical ways to increase bust size. One was a dietary supplement, the other a topical cream that looked like it was made of whipped cream. If I’d seen this on U.S. TV, I’d have thought it was a joke. TIC.

Tomorrow, I’ll be up at 6:30 to try and catch the early bus to Hanoi. If not, it’ll be (hopefully) the night train for me.

GALLERY : Click through to see more pics of Qibao and Shanghai from an airplane.

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