Despite having been to and having spent much time in China, I still get that dull excitement before heading off. It’s not the jump-on-your-bed, can’t-get-to-sleep until 4 AM adrenaline rush, just a constant hollowing out in the back of your school, the annexation of other thoughts until the only thing going on in your brain is the word CHINA in big, cartoon lettering and you become a drooling idiot.
I was lucky to get a flight so cheap with as little prep time as I had done – 1300 for round trip? How can I afford NOT to go? And so, off I went to the airport. One of the funny things about flying to China on a multi-stop flight is that chinese culture makes its denizens very recognizable even as they’ve just begun to funnel back to the country. As I was checking in, the language and the confusion with regards to exactly the line began and ended gave me my first taste of what I was going back to spend time with.
The flight from Detroit was, though swift, altogether uncomfortable. It’s been almost a decade since I’ve been on a plane that had one giant projector screen rather than individual screens on each seat; the flipside to this is that I could fall asleep on the seat in front of mine and drool on my pants instead of my shirt. I sat between a chinese pair, I assume mother-son, who both smelled kind of bad but were otherwise very nice. The mother spoke barely a word of english (despite being on lesson 120 in her english-chinese study book) and relied on her son to translate whenever she was asked something by the stewardesses, who eventually learned that “owaj” meant “orange juice.”
The movies were pretty bad, but that’s no surprise.
When we started our descent into Shanghai, I pulled up the window shade to reveal the familiar, impenetrable gray haze and nothing else. It wasn’t until we had almost touched down that the ground or airport even became visible, at which point we sat in a ground-based holding pattern for a good fifteen minutes. When we finally got off the plane, it took relatively little time to pass through the unattended artifacts of the swine flu scare and customs to get to the bags.
Rather than take the maglev, metro, or myriad other methods of escaping pudong, I decided to go with my old favorite – the airport bus. As I waited at the stop for the #2, which confusingly refers to Jing An Temple as the Airport Center, taxis showed up on the other side of the barrier to try and convince people to make the leap over and get a ride straight to where they were going. The slow agglomoration of cabs, and the people interested in them, was rudely broken up by a slow moving police car who knew his job was more to get them to stop blocking traffic rather than actually keep them from picking people up.
One of the reasons I like riding into Shanghai on the bus is the impression I get from the elevated highway. There’s a sense of separation that makes everything seem unreal – all the giant buildings look like glittering models, waiting for a man in a monster suit to come stomping through them. I guess the chinese don’t have those same cultural fears about radiation that the Japanese do; they just make movies about women not getting married by the time they’re 35. But I like the way the buildings float past. It seems better in a bus, too; the cabs don’t have the same effect, and the metro lacks, well, any view at all. Either way, though, it’s nice to see the color-changing neon crosses on tops of churches.
When I got out, I walked the now-familiar mile and a half route to the domicile, getting ever sweatier in the humidity. At one point, an older woman was pestering people for work. When one man, who was taking advantage of the chinese form of air conditioning that is lifting one’s shirt up to one’s chest, demurred, she responded by saying he had a very nice belly. Nearby, a guy was shilling his pirated CDs by blasting Katy Perry’s teenage dream. There really is no escape from America.