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The Shanghai Diaries: The Long Flight There

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The Great Wall, a billon people, inventors of paper and writing and god knows what else, rice fields, communism, atheism, Tibet, Tiananmen Square: China conjures up so many pictures in my mind and yet here I am, living in it.

My wife and I moved to Shanghai, China about two weeks ago. The reasons for this move are multi-faceted but basically come down both of us being unemployed and my sister landing jobs for us in Shanghai.

I plan for this to be a weekly posting whereupon I will describe my adventures in the Far East. I’m a little behind as we’ve been here two weeks and I haven’t written a word, but we just now got Internet, so I’ll play catch-up for a bit.

The day before we left we attended church services with my wife’s parents and mine. My mother-in-law was already a wreck with nerves and tears, but she held her composure throughout the service. She has a deep faith in God and she was putting all of it in Him to keep us safe.

My parents have been attending this congregation since I was a baby and it is full of the types of old ladies who like to approach me now and tell me how cute and little I once was. Towards the end of the service the preacher asked me and the wife to come forward so he could pray for us. It was an odd experience made even odder by the fact that he called us missionaries going forth unto a very dangerous country.

We are not missionaries and Shanghai is not all that dangerous, but none of this kept my mother-in-law from crying, weeping, and sighing.

Our flight pattern was Tulsa to Chicago to Shanghai. We had to be at the airport at 5 in the A.M. We had a two-hour layover in Chicago and it was a 14-hour trip straight through from there, making it about 20 hours total travel.

As we were flying west and crossed the International Date Line, we never once saw the sun set, even though we spent nearly an entire day in the air.

Fourteen hours is a long time to be in a plane no matter how you cut it. The movies were of the sort that the only time I would consider watching them is when I am trapped on a large jet tube flying thirty some thousand feet above Alaska and strapped into a small seat. There was something about Nicolas Cage being a waiter to Keri Russell and being able to see two minutes into the future. So he always got her order right, even before she ordered it. Or something.

I had planned for bad in-flight movies and had pre-loaded a few flicks on my iPod. Whipping out that little miracle device I plugged in This Film Is Not Yet Rated and began to actually enjoy myself.

Unfortunately a couple of kids on the plane befriended each other and began enjoying their own selves – this by playing in the aisle, mainly right beside me. Beside the loudness of their giggles, I quickly realized that my little documentary, while maybe not rated, was full of all kinds of inappropriateness. It is a documentary on the movie ratings system in the United States and shows plenty of things that had to be cut to avoid a NC-17 rating, mainly undulating naked bodies. The last thing I wanted on this very long flight was to get a lecture from a new mommy over me watching pornography around children. For a bit I cradled the pod in my hands to keep little eyes away, but then I gave up and went back to Nicolas Cage.

About this time the child behind me decided to start kicking my chair repeatedly and for the rest of the flight. Periodically I tried to sleep, but the child one row over and by the window decided to be the only person on the plan to raise his blinds. Then lower them. Then raise them again. Each rise giving my tired eyes a gigantic burst of heavenly light.

After what seemed like a lifetime the plane finally landed and we were in China! Our overhead bags unloaded and we lazily wandered off the plane and into the inert mess they call customs. We declared nothing but still there was a long line to get through. Or I should say many long lines.

The lines were divided into Chinese nationals and foreigners. Of course the foreigner lines were longer and we chose one at random. We chose poorly as the family in front had apparently forgotten to fill out any of their forms and were now attempting to do so, while we stood and waited.

It must have been shift change time as new officers formed new lines as older ones packed up their things and left. This caused great amounts of confusion and chaos and we all shuffled to get closer to the front. We quickly jumped into a new line that looked like it would move quickly.

Again, we chose poorly for there was some other problem. More shuffling and waiting and finally we got our passports stamped and all was well. My sister and her husband met us at the baggage claim, where we easily found our luggage as I had plastered long pieces of brightly covered tape upon their backs.

We crawled into the company van and plowed through this strange giant city. Though it was two in the morning our time, it was but three in the afternoon China time. Knowing we’d do better if we stayed up until evening we hung out with the sister and husband a bit. They took us to a little American diner where we feasted on hamburgers and Coca Colas .

Finally evening came and we checked ourselves into the company hotel. We were exhausted, ragged, dirty and bewildered, but we were finally there. Or here. Or home. For now.

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About Mat Brewster

  • Henry

    Good luck in Shanghai. I left Shanghai when I was 2 years old, but go back frequently to visit. It can be somewhat intimidating, but it takes time and patience. People will seem aloof, but it’s only shyness to strangers. Hope you do well and enjoy!

  • http://www.onlinemediacultist.com Eric Berlin

    Great stuff Mat – can’t wait to hear more of your adventures!

  • http://dracutweblog.blogspot.com Mary K. Williams

    Me too Mat – looking forward to hearing all kinds of stuff.

    Especially stuff on a stick!

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    On the flight back, take advantage of the free alcohol. Can wait to read about The Brewsters on the Bund. Feel free to use that if you like.

  • http://www.thechinatattler.com The China Tattler

    Welcome to China…fasten your seatbelt.

  • http://www.genericmugwump.com Aaron Fleming

    American in China, first stop?

    An American diner for hamburgers and cola, haha!

    Nah I kid, who needs rice noodles anyway? But yes, very exciting, incredibly inspirational all this world travelling is to a young mind like my own. And a great idea for a feature, can’t wait for some sparkling anthropological observations!

  • http://www.chinatattler.com The Dog

    You gotta learn the art of queue jumping!

  • http://shanghaicafe.blogspot.com Mat Brewster

    Thanks everybody. We’re settling in nicely. Got an apartment, furniture etc all of which will be included in future diaries.

    Sir Fleming, I know burgers is kind of a dull choice but I think my sister and her husband didn’t want to freak us or our stomachs out too much with the first meal. We have since eaten plenty of noodles and rice and a variety of sweet and sour things. Strangely I have yet to see an egg roll.

    The Dog, I am quickly learning the art of queue jumping. You simply don’t get anywhere here unless you are prepared to fight for your place in line.

  • http://www.associatedcontent.com/johnmelendez John

    Wow, Mat! Good luck. I lived in Shanghai for 3 years, from ’94-97, and it was among the happiest and most challenging times of my life.

    Read this for some guidance on your work registration & documentation.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    hey, does the toilet water swirl in the other direction? oh shoot, that’s australia…never mind!!

    ;-)

  • http://shanghaicafe.blogspot.com Mat Brewster

    Thanks John. The company my wife works for is pretty good and helping us out with all the paperwork, but that looks like some great info too.

    Saleski the water turns the same, but they say you aren’t supposed to drink it ;)

  • http://www.shanghaiexpat.com Michael in Shanghai

    Welcome to Shanghai! It will be an adventure. Somedays will fascinating.. some days frustrating.. always an adventure if you can take it that way. It sure will give you enough to write about.

  • STM

    “Fourteen hours is a long time to be in a plane no matter how you cut it.”

    You poor bugger … try travelling from Australia, where even the closest Asian neighbours are in the region of eight hours flying time. My trip to Europe next week is 30 hours – about 23 of those inside planes. If I could cut it down to 14, non-stop, I’d be stoked.

    The only good thing about it is that is discourages too many people from coming here and realising why we don’t want too many coming here – cause we want to keep it all to ourselves :)

    Good luck in Shanghai, Mat, because it’s a good place according to a few mates who’ve moved there, but watch out for the food. Make sure you either cook for yourself or eat in places that other westerners eat in, or you’ll end up with a nice little dose of Shanghai Surprise.

  • http://shanghaicafe.blogspot.com Mat Brewster

    Thanks Michael. What part of the city are you in. We’re in Pudong so we don’t get the full brunt of the sheer massiveness of real Shanghai, but it is still fascinating and frustrating.

    23 hours in a a plane! I think I’d start killing people after about 18. There were lots of longer trips to Shanghai, but Chicago does a daily non-stop and everyone says thats the way to go, so we did.

    I’ve been thinking of going to Australia for our winter break. But I’m not sure I’ll be up for another long flight.

  • STM

    It’s only about 8 hours to Sydney from Shanghai. If you’re an American, that’s about as close as your gonna get in terms of flying time. Like I say, most of the big Asian cities are 8-10 hours flying from Sydney.

    If you were travelling from the West Coast of the US, you’d be looking at 16 with a stop in Honolulu. Don’t let the flying time stop you … it’ll be just like going home for a short holiday in the sun, except without the bizarre American accents and people driving on the wrong side of the road :)

  • http://shanghaicafe.blogspot.com Mat Brewster

    In order to get to Shanghai we had to buy round trip tickets. Something about not being able to get long term visas at first, and fearing that the customs people would see our 90 day tourist visa with no return flight home.

    Anyways, the return tickets are for our February break, and I keep thinking we might be able to change the tickets to take us to Sydney or New Zealand somewhere.

    It is all speculation at this point, but it sounds fun.

  • Michael Bailey

    Great posts, my girlfriend arived in shanghai on August the 15th. She is teaching at Dulwich college and staying at pudong.

    Good to read your posts. She is also experiencing culture shock, she also has nots in her stomach.

    She hasnt got the internet hooked up so I enjoyed reading your posts as you must be in a similar situation.

    Will keep reading your blog.

    Mike, Birmingham, UK.

  • http://shanghaicafe.blogspot.com Mat Brewster

    Thanks again Mike. Tell your girlfriend it gets easier as the days go by. I find the best way to get through the culture shock is to just bite my tongue and do whatever needs to be done. It is never as bad as it seems and once you do something once or twice it becomes much easier.