Sunday, January 23, 2011

Flight to Shanghai

I left from Cedar Rapids early in the morning on January 21st so I could catch a direct flight to Shanghai from Chicago. I was understandably not looking forward to the 14+ hour flight because I like legroom and I can't sleep on planes. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I realized the plane was not fully booked and in addition to my window seat, I also had use of the seat (and legroom) of the spot right next to me.

The plane took off at 11:30 a.m. CST, headed due north. From Wisconsin on, it was snow-covered ground as far as the eye could see. Canada was a desolate, frozen tundra (as if you needed reminding, eh?). It gradually grew darker as we flew farther north into the Arctic. The North Pole was pitch black (at 4:00 p.m.); the only light coming from the full moon. I could tell there was still a lot of ice in the polar ice caps, which is good news for the polar bears (and elves). I occupied my time watching movies and TV shows on the personal seat-back screens and my iPad, so I was never too bored.

Suddenly, we were no longer flying north, but south, without ever changing direction. Finally, we were over land once again, this time over an area, popular with Soviet dissidents, known as Siberia. I could see Russia from my seat. You betcha! Unsurprisingly, it looked a lot like Canada: lots of snow, some lakes and rivers and thick forests scattered about. The ground became a bit more interesting a few hours later over the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. Contrary to popular belief, deserts can have snow cover, as the Gobi did. It also had a lot of exposed barren areas interspersed with mountains.

Over China, I kept my eye out for the Great Wall. Unfortunately, I never spotted the thing, athough purportedly visible from space. I later read that the Wall is no more visible from space than a human hair is visible from across a wide river. Leaving the countryside, we were now flying over large expanses of developed areas and had traded snow cover for smog cover.

After flying 7050 miles, we finally arrived in Shanghai at 1:21 a.m. CST (3:21 p.m. local China time). As with most travelers to China, I was impressed by the shiny and new Shanghai Pudong International Airport (even though by this point I had just seen the arrivals gate and baggage claim). After going through customs, I was greeted at the airport by Bill Shen, the driver for the USDA office, who drove me to my boss' home so I could stay with him and his family for a few days before heading to Beijing.


So it's about time I start my blog, as I've been in China for a while now. Incidently, Blogspot, the site you're viewing right now, is blocked by the Chinese government, lest I post things to stir unrest in the country. I'm accessing it and other blocked sites, like Facebook and YouTube, through a VPN. I wasn't able to post things my first few weeks when I was traveling around China. I first arrived in Shanghai on Jan. 21, and after I had adjusted to the 14 hour time difference, made my way to Beijing, then Shenyang, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong before returning to Shanghai for work.

Through this blog, I hope to share what I'm doing and experiencing here, as well as offer my own insights into Chinese government and everyday life. I'm in China for an internship in the Shanghai Agricultural Trade Office (ATO) of the Foreign Agricultural Service of the United States Department of Agriculture. The mission of the ATOs around the world is to increase U.S. agricultural exports by offering help and market information for American companies looking to export products around the world. Though I'm working for the government, the views expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of the U.S. government or its agencies.

Naturally, I'll be drawing on other life experiences for comparisons to China. Forunately, I'm blessed to have many points of comparison: I've lived in both rural and urban parts of the U.S. (Iowa and Washington, DC), western and eastern Europe (Germany and the Czech Republic), and Japan. Still, going from Traer, Iowa, (pop. 1,600) to Shanghai (pop. 23,000,000) is a big change. Having already lived in the world's largest city, Tokyo (metro pop. 33,000,000), I'm not phased by large Asian metropolises.

As a political scientist with an interest in economics, I'm going to be including a lot of information about the Chinese government and economy. Obviously, China is very interesting and contradictory in those aspects; it has the world's second highest GDP but is still very much a developing country run by a communist government with an economy that is more cut-throat capitalist than most others. For those of you who have no interest in politics or economics, fear not, you can easily skip over these parts and just look at my pretty pictures.

By the way, the title of this section of my blog, "Shanghaied," refers of course to the city in which I'm living. The term originally meant to be put aboard a ship by force, often with the help of liquor or a drug, and has since come to mean to kidnap or put into an undesirable position by trickery, force, or threat. The practice was popular in the U.S. northwest in the mid-19th century due to a combination of factors, including: 1) Once a sailor signed onboard a vessel, it was illegal for him to leave before the voyage's end and 2) There was a shortage of labor as crews abandoned ship because of the California Gold Rush. Some were sailors who joined a crew on their own terms, only to realize later they were stuck. Often, men were the victims of "crimps," or kidnappers. The most straightforward way for a crimp to shanghai a sailor was to render him unconscious, forge his signature on the ship's articles, and pick up his "blood money." Finding crewmen was the job of boarding masters, who were paid blood money "by the body." The boarding masters would pay the crimps and by the time the sailor regained consciousness, he was on the ocean somewhere, commonly Shanghai.

I'll try to keep these posts coming. If there are aspects of China that you're curious about, feel free to email me or comment. I'm always looking for topic ideas.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

China Blog

My new blog posts will be about my experiences working at the American Trade Office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Shanghai, China. I leave for China on Jan. 20 and will be first heading to Shanghai for a few days, then on to Beijing for a week. I'll finally spend several days in Hong Kong and Macau before returning to Shanghai for my internship, which runs from February 7 through May 28.

Monday, December 29, 2008


I appreciate comments that you put up on my blog, but I've heard some people are having problems. To post a comment, just click the comments thing at the end of each post. Type in your comment and put your name at the end, unless you have a blogger account. Then, type in the security word they give and just click "anonymous" where it asks who the comment is from. It's easy as that!

Home for Christmas!

I made it home safely! My plane touched down at the Waterloo airport at about 11:50 pm CST on Sunday, Dec. 21, right on time. Since my body was used to European time, it felt like almost 7 am to me. I had left my hostel in Prague at about 9:30 am Europe time (2:30 am CST) that morning and took a shuttle bus to the airport. I tried to get to the airport about 2 hours before my flight, since it was an international flight (to Amsterdam). However, with the European Union and the Schengen Area, it is now different. The Schengen Area includes most of the members of the EU and a few other countries. The purpose of Schengen is to eliminate borders in Europe and allow for unrestricted travel between countries (removing border checks for passport free travel). Essentially what this has done in terms of air travel is to make international travel to other Schengen states basically domestic travel, which means me getting there early was unneeded. Oh, well, so I puttered around the Prague airport until I found a friend of mine whose flight was changed and so I talked with her for awhile while I waited.

I was still afraid of getting home on time. I had heard that airports had been closed the day before and there were many delays. I had planned for this (assuming I could get to the Minneapolis airport at least). I had arranged to be picked up by a friend from the Twin Cities if my flights were canceled/delayed and the friend I had talked to in the airport had a hotel room her parents had gotten near the airport (assuming they could drive to MSP to pick her up). After going through security in the Prague airport, I had bought a Fanta for about $2.50 (using up some Czech money). I didn't open it because I figured I would save it for the flight to the US. My plane took off from Prague at 12:25 and landed in Amsterdam at 1:50 p.m.

I got to the airport and saw that my next flight was loading, even though it didn't leave until 3:30. So I ran to the international terminal, but I wasn't able to buy a postcard or wooden shoes (which several of the airport shops sold). I got the to the gate and then had to go through specific security for just my gate. I thought this was overkill, since this was already past the main airport security and was for a single gate. I went through and they made me throw out my unopened bottle of pop, even though I had bought it in an airport past the security counter and it wasn't open. I wasn't happy about that. Past this security, the only amenities were some bathrooms--no stores or anything to buy something else to drink or a book (which I had planned to get at this airport). There wasn't even enough seats for everyone on the flight, so I had to stand for about an hour until we actually got on the plane. My seat was toward the back. The far back section of the plane had seats in a 2-3-2 layout, and I was in the very middle seat. The flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis was 9.5 hours and pretty uneventful. I was able to choose from about 20 movies to watch or music to listen to, and I also played Solitaire on the individual seatback entertainment console. I also read a few magazines, but unfortunately, I can't sleep on planes, so I was awake the whole time.
Once I got to Minneapolis, I had to go through security yet again, this time for US customs. I had to pick up my luggage, declare anything I had in it and then put it on a conveyor belt to be sent to my next plane before going through security yet again. Back in the US, the first thing I bought was a bottle of Mountain Dew and a slice of pizza at Sbarro. I had gotten off the plane about 5:50 pm CST and my flight to Waterloo didn't take off until about 10:40 pm. So I just camped out near the gate and watched Christmas movies on my computer. My gate moved several times because of changes to other flights and airplane problems on another plane. I got on the plane and as soon as we got up in the air, we were basically starting our descent into Waterloo. When I got to Waterloo, my family was waiting for me. After getting my luggage, I went out in the cold. I had left Prague when the temperature was about 45ºF during the day with light rain and when I landed in Waterloo, there were several inches of snow on the ground and the wind chill was -27ºF, actual air temperature of about -3ºF. Quite a shock to my system, with a 72º change in the "feels like" temperature.

After leaving the airport, we went to Wal-Mart where I got a lot of food I had missed, everything from chips and salsa to M&Ms. I got home around 2 am (9 am to my body) and went to bed. I was the first one up in the morning, and was then able to get into my normal sleep routine right away and was unaffected by jet-lag.

A few days later, it was already Christmas and I was able to enjoy a white Christmas at home with my family. Overall, I had lost about 19 pounds while I was in Europe, from a combination of losing muscle mass and just eating European portions. I weighed myself the morning of Dec. 22 and again on Dec. 29, and in that week alone, I have already put 10 pounds back on.

I'll continue with blog posts for a while. I have a lot of pictures to put up still, even though I am home. I don't know how often I will update as I am back to my Amish existence at home with just dial-up Internet (and network TV). So the only time I can really load things to my blog is when I go in to the Traer Public Library or to school.