Shanghai or Bust

Friday, May 19, 2006

Letter to my travel agent

The following document is a letter I wrote to my travel agent about an experience I had in Xi'an home of the Terra Cotta Warriors. Look forward to "Letter to my travel agent" the novella soon to be released on a website near you.


To Whom it may concern,

I came into your office in late January to ask you to book me a flight to China and get me a three month visa for a trip that I was planning in March. You obtained both the Visa and the Round trip airline ticket leaving on March 6th and returning on May 30th with the condition on the ticket that I could change the date for a two hundred dollar fee. Everything was set. Or so we thought. As i found out, much later, the Visa was good for only a thirty day entry, not for three months.

This was just as much, my fault than yours. I should have examined the Visa more carefully. How ever you are professionals. That is why I came to you and being a licensed travel agent I would expect that you would be more able to spot problems and know what to look for than I. The fact that the problem was only discovered two days ago, May 16th, more than two months into my visit by a hotel receptionist is a fact worth considering.

The following is an account of the problems I encountered and the financial losses I suffered due to this oversight. It should interest you as a professional especially since China is opening up as a tourist destination.

On may 15th, I took an overnight train to Xi'an to go see the terra Cotta Warriors. The train left around six PM and took 16 hours to reach XI'an. The cost of the first class ticket was 490 RNB

While booking my Hotel room the hotel manager noticed that my Visa had expired over a month ago and told me to I needed to meet some one at the front desk at 2:00 and they would address the problem. I payed for a room after looking at it for 600 RNB which included a deposit.

At 2:00 I walked escorted to the office for visas and immigration building across the street from my hotel.

Until then I was thinking, 'innocent enough mistake; people will understand and I will get off easy'. Truth reared its ugly head. In the Law book, that they waved in my face every time I said that I really didn't have the money that the fines would amount to, stated that there were three options.

1. Pay 500 RNB per day for everyday after ten days of the visa expiration with a maximum fine of 5,000 RNB which means, in this situation, pay 5,000 RNB.

2. Go to jail for three to ten days. Chinese prison; hmmm, that could be interesting.

3. They could give me a warning. It was dumb hope that made me think that they would let the American go without retribution. It became clear very early on that that option was off the table.

After a series of "I don't have the money" s and book wavings in my face added to that the fact that no one present spoke english well enough to under stand clearly enough what I was trying to say to satisfy me, it became clear to all of us that we had reached a standstill. They told me I was to show up the next morning between 6:00 and 8:00 AM and we would have another hearing with a court appointed translator.

Flags went off in my head here! 6:00-8:00 AM. Municipal buildings don't open that early anywhere on the planet. I was a little suspicious. After conferring with my friends in Shanghai it became clear to us that what i should do is, quietly, get out of town ASAP and deal with this in Shanghai where I had resources and where people were more used to dealing with foreigners . Also, at this point I just didn't trust the people I was dealing with in Xi'an. Disappearing meant letting go of my 600 RNB at the hotel but it was better than maybe ending out in detention or who knows what?

I got to the train station with about 40 minutes until the last train left. The lady at the ticket counter was telling me that there were no tickets available until the 20th of May! There are scalpers who nab all the tickets and sell them on the black market for tidy profits which was what was going on here. Fortunately, an honest (thank god) chinese man named Michael, heard my ranting at the ticket booth where he was also in line. Luckily he was going to Shanghai too and spoke English quite well. He also had to go ASAP and almost assured me that if I stayed with him that I would be on the next train. To make a long story short he got us on the next train after passing through hoops that few foreigners, (not a one who could not speak Mandarin well), could pass through. I gladly paid for his ticket and he will be welcome at my home for a bed if ever he ends up in my home town. Price of the two tickets: 366 RNB.

These tickets are out of the class classification of tickets all together. They do not evan buy you a seat on the train; only passage. If I wanted to sit , or sleep it would be on the floor. The more tired one gets the less dignity one has about sleeping. By three thirty in the morning I was sleeping on the dirty linoleum floor in the 20 foot X three and a half foot hallway bypassing the kitchen on the dinning car, a place I like to call home, with twelve, sometime more, other people numbers depending on how many were trying to sleep sitting up which made more room so the numbers increased to fill in the extra space. Time to time I would walk around the train in a daze looking for a better place to sleep but couldn't find any floor space that wasn't already inhabited by other peasant class travelers.

Finally, when I got to Shanghai, after spending thirty two hours of the last thirty eight on trains I showered and slept through that day.

The next day I went to the big Immigration building in Pudong for a hearing. I tried the pathetic dumb tourist routine, I tried let's be ambassadors of goodwill here! You don't really have to charge me the full amount routine. The official didn't feel much like he needed to be an ambassador of goodwill to some american. (China is winning you know.) I wasn't about to try the crying girl routine. I wouldn't have been very convincing and it would have been just too darn embarrassing. Size of the fine 5,000 RNB.

Today I spent two or three hours trudging around the neighborhood trying to get to the right police stations in the right order to get my residency permit so that I could renew my passport. Price of renewing my pass port 190 RNB.

Total cost of my Visa debacle; 6646 RNB or $830 U.S. . Total value of a thorough travel agent; priceless!

I do not evan wish to imply that you are totally responsible for my loss. It was clearly written on the visa that It was only good for a thirty day entry i will show it to you when I get back. However, I will say that you are a professional travel agency and in not being thorough I have to say that you are being irresponsible. You bought me the Round trip airline ticket, departure and return dates in a three month window, you bought me a three month visa. It would have been professional to take ten minutes to make sure my ducks were in a row. You can blame me for being a fool but I would only be a fool in as far as I trusted that you had done your job.

I am therefore requesting that you consider some financial compensation in this matter. Certainly I would never except more than half as I am surly half to blame. Of coarse that logic negates the incredible physical and emotional hardship I have endured . No response at all would be an outrage. Maybe you should talk with one another and come up with an honest appraisal. If you would be honest and tell me how much profit you made off of the transaction, maybe that figure would satisfy me and would not cause your firm any hard losses. Small claims court is always best avoided.

Be in touch. I will be back in town around June 3rd.

Sincerely,

Glenway Fripp

P.S. You might want to checkout some of my stories on my Blog 'Shanghai or bust' at glenwayfripp.com . I have been told that I could be quite the travel writer with a little practice.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Qing Dao

Most of us Americans would know this city best by it's world famous beer "Tsing Tao" brewed by the Germans who originally settled in this town. I will remember this city for it's beautiful coastline and the mountains that surround it.

I had been offered a gig there and was flown in from Shanghai the day before arriving early enough in the day to take a long walk. We were given a house to stay in by the real-estate company whose booth I was to play at at a trade show. (Yeah, I know. Another strange gig). The house and was located about a mile and a half from the city in a quiet neighborhood of tree lined streets and mostly old houses probably built by German immigrants. Our house was really old and quite charming though fairly dark inside for modern American tastes. We have the modern invention of tempered glass to thank for all the natural light in our contemporary houses and stylized renovations. I would imagine that if average American travelled back in time one Hundred years looked around and asked "how can people live this way", he would probably specifically be asking that question about how could people be living in such dark houses?

It was a beautiful, comfortably cool spring day with a fresh fog tinged on shore breeze. Nothing could please me more on such a day than a long walk before dinner. It was about an eight of a mile from the house down to the sea and when I got to the coast, what a relief! I had been trying to breath the air in Shanghai for almost two months and here I was surrounded by cool fresh air! I walked to the left toward town. At the end of the road began a foot path along the sea that would take me all the way to the center of the city. The beginning of the path was a famously beautiful little park. The rocky coast could only remind me of the coast of maine; jagged out crops. with partially sandy beaches in between them. The floor of the park was a combination of grass and rock and not tall trees. There was a stream with little foot bridges over it. The park was full of people enjoying the spring weather. There were at least four wedding parties in the park. Having wedding pictures taken by a professional photographer in scenic places on your wedding day is really big in China and here they were on the rocks on the bridges on the grass; every stated feature ornamented by a model couple, each couple strategically, no politicly, moving to one another couple's perch to have next set of pictures taken.

I navigated my way through the satin and silk district on to the more pedestrian path to the city. I was glad that the city was around quite a few bends in the path and that I was able to enjoy the illusion of open land for a while. I don't know the full length of the path. I took it to town but it continued in the other direction for as far as I could see where it disappeared around another bend.

The path was built not just for walking. The length of the path was a gallery of sculptures by different artists. I think there are over thirty different sculptures and a lot of the stuff is really cool. Occasionally there would be a map of the park, made of thick brass with lettering and details shown in relief. The maps would show where you were and the locations of sculptures. All along the paths their were places where it would open up into parks some with pavilions highlighted by one or more really large sculptures.

Near town I abandoned the lovely seacoast and headed for the modern center of town. Like Shanghai most of the buildings are ultra modern. They look like the designs were inspired by, sci-fi futuristic images from the collective unconscious or from an Italian designer's collection piezo cigarette lighters. Maybe that description suggests a negative impression but actually I kind of dig the architecture. I walk around Shanghai and look at buildings, markets and babes for hours! Never a dull moment. Where was I ? Oh right........

In the spirit of my Shanghai walks, I wanted to find a Starbucks and have a nice coffee and a sit before heading home. I walked a good distance along the road closest to the sea heading away from my house and no Starbucks in sight. I figured I would go in a block and head home . Maybe I would have twice the luck with buildings on both sides of the road. (one would Think!) To my great misfortune, this town is the home town of 'SPR coffee' which is a knock off of starbucks. Finally I succumbed to the grim reality that my precious Starbucks double americano with a spot of cream might not exist in this town. Just because there were hundreds of Starbucks in Shanghai didn't mean that Starbucks had marketing plans yet in place for the rest of china.

Now if I may be the Coffee critic this is what is wrong with SPR coffee. The coffee. Now that's important at a coffee shop. The service, people who work at Starbucks in China are all glad to have an opportunity to improve their english. I would dare to venture that that might be a primary reason that they do choose to work at Starbucks. Improving your English is a good idea, Certainly in the city of Shanghai where English is the second language. (It is considered chic to have the name of your store be in english and the road signs use the abbreviation 'rd' after the 'pin yin' spelling of the road name. This might not be true in Qing Dao which does not have the European presence of Shanghai.) By contrast, at SPR I had a hard time conveying my order. I think the sandwich I ordered and payed for and never received, well I don't know what I think. I thought she acknowledged that she understood. The size of my bill seemed to reflect a sandwich might be involved. I'm confused! My memory isn't that long. The receipt was in chinese characters and I wasn't about to try to discuss it with the one person behind the counter who was busy marveling at all the modern machinery she had been blessed to be surrounded by. So many buttons, so little training. The green that they Used for the SPR logo was a perfect match to the Starbucks Green. A lot of the feel of the place was very similar in subtle ways. Wood, Slate, Picture Windows, wooden tables, various kinds of seating all arranged to look oh so Starbucks. One look and you would know that there were some very clever americans behind this counterfeiting Scheme. Empty of stomach, I left.

As my luck would have it just a block away on my way home there was a Starbucks! Wah!

I almost made it home with out getting lost. Had a wild goose chase with a involving a taxi driver a telephone and five miles in a cab to go a hundred yards or so. Yeah, I was that close! Finally Ren and Wha (my agents on the gig) and I were ready to take a cab into town to eat. We made our way to a street with a hundred restaurants and a million candle power of naked light blaring from every sign and facade. Have you ever eaten inside an incubator! No wonder animals don't breed in captivity. The decor just is not conducive. We ended out at a fish restaurant which in china means an aquarium that also happens to serve up it's exhibitions. Try this! The next time you are at an aquarium think about what in the tanks would be the things that you would be least likely to choose to have for supper. That's what we had. Most of it was really good. I didn't try the sea slug. There were some really tasty sauces on the table that one could use in abundance just in case the taste experience was overwhelming. Beer helped.

I think the sea slug wasn't quite right because Wha, who was the one who seemed to eat most of it, was up all night, visiting the sculpture of the white elephant, and I slept just fine.

The gig was pretty much going to run all the next day. I wanted to get there early so I could tune up the piano and get comfortable. Wha and Ren were not up to getting up with me so they sent me off with a cab driver who had some instructions that I figured I need not know about. Fortunately one of the instructions must have been to make sure I actually got in the place! They hadn't given me a work pass and no way were the security guards going to let me in without one. There was all sorts of yelling in Chinese which is a great language to argue in. The language sounds so guttural that I would imagine two people proposing might sound like an argument. So when they really are arguing it is quite amusing. Ren finally had to get out of bed and come down there with his work pass and all was well.

The gig was fine. I played well I liked the piano which was Chinese and seemed not as new as a lot of the pianos over here. Ren and I talked a lot on the breaks about all sorts of things. It's funny, Music is what it is all about and yet I don't really have a lot to say about it. What can I say? You should have been there.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Zhu Jia Jiao

Zhu Jia Jiao is the name of a village in the outskirts of Shanghai but still within what is considered to be Shanghai. The literal translation is: vermilion family corner. Relative to it's current usage, Zhu is a Sir name. Jia, meaning family, designates Zhu as the sir name. Jiao, meaning corner, is a word in common usage to mean village. Ergo "Zhu family's corner" or, "Zhu Family village". O.K.!

Zhu Jia Jiao is the Venice of Shanghai. Shanghai and the surrounding area is very flat. To the west there is a large lake and some other bodies of water. The land has more and more canals as you head west out of the main city. These canals are in large usage. It was hard to get a glimpse of the one next to the highway we were traveling on without seeing a barge and usually some other small fishing boats.

Now that I have that rather exhausting explanation behind me I can tell you, "Not such a nice place but I wouldn't want to eat there", Although this seventeen hundred year old town is considered to be a tourist destination in Shanghai I would hardly consider it to be tourist friendly. I have found that most towns that depend on tourism as their only source of income have a need-hate relationship with the tourists. The Villagers probably wish that their Village could be something that it is not and they are forever trapped into opening up their streets to strangers and trying to hustle some not so honest money off of them.

The Nicest part of our Visit was the boat ride. They have boats, similar to the gondolas of Venice, that are powered by a person standing on a platform at the back of the boat. He or She has a large oar which is maneuvered back in forth in a motion that makes the part of the oar in the water mimic a snake swimming. It is always surprising to watch someone do something that they make look so easy and then to try to do it yourself only to find out that it is actually impossible. You then have to conclude that what they are doing probably involves magic. The oarsman was a really nice guy and extremely patient with me, the stupid American trying to drive the boat. He gave me a good lesson and I gave the guy a tip and thanked him. If my Chinese was better I would have threatened to return for another lesson.

It was not so pleasant to see the waste pipes going from the restaurants directly into the canals and into the water supply that their fish came from. Combine that with seeing the parts of the restaurants facing the water that maybe they would rather you didn't see, and you have a reduced appetite and will be happy to stick to beverages in sealed bottles. That was the first Budweiser I have drank in twenty years and I have to say , it wasn't that bad! Right beer at the right time.

Most of the rest of the town was little shops selling items of questionable value. On the other side of main canal, accessible by a beautiful old stone footbridge, there was a very good pottery shop selling collector grade painted pottery made by a handful of artists. There were also some wall hangings; images done in fired glazes on metal, also of high quality.

It will be nice to see this town again in ten years when the government knows the necessity of keeping such tourist attractions a bit more sanitary and the shop owners find it more profitable to interface more pleasantly with their customers.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Shaghai Impressions

The first thing on needs to know about Shanghai is that it is the fastest growing city in the world in a country that is the fastest growing economy in the world. This means things happen fast. Traffic moves fast buildings go up fast. It is said that a building of over thirty stories goes up every week. Basically this city has been built in fifteen years. Fifteen times fifty two is a lot of buildings that are over thirty stories high. I am from a town located outside of Boston massachusetts. Boston has an area where there are large office buildings. You can drive through it on the big dig, when there is no traffic, in about seven minutes. There are a lot of apartment buildings there I am sure in the thousands. I don't think many of them are near or more than thirty stories high. Shanghai has a footprint that is about a quarter the size of Rhode Island. It is not all city. While I was landing there I saw more green houses than I have ever seen anywhere. Never the less , the whole city is zoned as a special designation industrial zone. It would be anyones guess as to when this enormous growth will end but it shows no sign of stopping.

Through some of the windows in this apartment is visible a brand new high-rise construction project. It has been fascinating for me to take time off occasionally at different times in the day to watch the people and the machines at work thirty stories beneath us. So far it has been mostly excavation work. Just today some of the foundation footprints started to take shape. I see a lot of progress every day because they are working on it twenty four hours a day.

The first impression I had about Shanghai and more generally about China, was that the air supply is probably the worst in the world . When I entered Chinese air space, I moved from the pristine environment of the Arctic circle into a endless expanse of yellow clouds. Trade wind here blow west to east. Shanghai, being in the east, gets the accumulation of all the industrial pollution from the west plus all the exhaust from the local traffic. They don't have emission standards for automobiles here. The air outside on a normal day is like the air in an underground parking lot after a professional baseball game gets out.

The language is a huge barrier for me . Some of the sounds are very unfamiliar to my tongue. There are subtleties of difference in some of the sounds that make it hard to discern which sound it is they are saying. Though I have been here two weeks and study a little every day I rarely here a familiar phrase. I have managed to construct a few sentences and memorized a few others "wo bu shou zhong-wen" ; "I don't speak Chinese". Mind you, I am no linguist. I am sure a younger brain would have a much better time of it.

Myrick's command of the language is pretty amazing! He can blab on and on and sounds like a chinese guy when he does so. Evan so to Chinese people! He is a good teacher and gives me great insight into the language all of which go in one ear and out the other but manage to all get into my little notebook for further study.

Well , that's all for now. Tomorrow ; "the great firewall of china".

Thursday, February 16, 2006

coinkydink

So , Here I am at the Laundromat cleaning all my bedding so that my room will be ship shape at the time of my departure . My cell phone rings showing a California phone number . " hello " .
" Glenway , It's David "
" Who ? "
" David Donald "

David Donald ! Now I don't expect that everyone who is reading this necessarily knows who David Donald is . I met David at Lincoln Sudbury Regional High School in 1970 , We were in a play under the direction of Harriet Rogers , a fine acting teacher and a professional actor in her own right . We shared adjoining closets on the stage and would come out on occasion to perform what would best be described as a Mutt and Jeff schtick ' thing ' . First experiences can have a profound effect on relationships . To make a long story short , we have managed to keep our Mutt and Jeff schtick going on and off for some thirty five years combining with variation of the game musical chairs . I cannot count the number of musical collaborations we have had over the years and there are projects that I wouldn't necessarily want to bring up without changes a lot of names and other facts .

" David . I can't hear you very well in hear . Damn cell phones . What are you doing in California ? "

'I'm not in California I'm in th643a9ui]1[j d "

" Wait. What ? Let me go outside . What ? "

" I'm in Thailand ! "

So David Donald is in Thailand . He is Playing Bass in a mostly original Rock Band whose members are mostly From New Hampshire . The Band is opening up for everyone famous who bops through town and are working on an original album . Also , he has fallen in love with a beautiful Thai girl named Cha Cha . WOW . wouldn't believe it if I read it on a Blog !

He has a work permit in Thailand but has to go out of the country to renew it so I might end out seeing him in Shanghai .

Back to the point . Stay focused this is Shanghai or bust not the David Donald Fan-club Website. I am going to Shanghai to play music . Hopefully Myrick and I will be enormously successful . God knows we deserve it . Both of us have been playing music most of our lives . A lot is on the line here. I have invested time and resources to get there . Which leads me to this pledge . I will not go to Shanghai and fall in love with a beautiful Chinese girl . I will not go to Shanghai and fall in love with a beautiful Chinese girl . I will not move go to Shanghai and ,......... Will I ? I hope not ???????????????????????????????????

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

For Sale - American Piano player

I am the next big import to China . I come fully equipped : Hepatitis A inoculation , 230 bucks , 2 bottles of Pepto bismal
$6.37 , Air travel ticket round trip on United Airlines 1,350 bucks, American made music amplifier 1.400 bucks pickup , $100 , Strings $100 and that thing you just can't buy , me !

As well as making the purchases noted above I have had to make the usual preparations for a long trip . Time consuming tedious and not worthy of details .

Hopefully while I am over there I can find gainful employment , legal of coarse , playing music .( I have been led to believe that there is a vital Music scene in Shanghai .) In this way , I will do evan more to stem the economic tsunami we call China . Bring our money back where it belongs , in the good old U S of A .

There is a danger that I could be musically cloned .The Chinese would study every aspect of my style then unleash on America one thousand Chinese piano players that sounded exactly like I sounded at that particular time . Frozen in time by the will of the chinese collective conscience . Then , on my return to this country , I will be ridiculed and scorned for having become a chinese clone piano player . I'll try to explain , ' But they are all copying me ! I am the original ! I swear it . ' People will laugh , look at me with pity , turn away in disgust . Scarry . Maybe I will just play ragtime

I wonder about what I am going to miss from this country . Maybe I should import more of these things to China . Beyond my personal needs of coarse . Maybe an american products super store in China would go over big . AMERIMART .We can sell cheese and maple syrup and Ketchup and ....... do the Chinese know how to make a good hot dog ?

Friday, January 20, 2006

I'm Leaving on a jet Plane

Hi out there all you music freaks and who ever else might find this sort of stuff interesting . Yes it is true . I am going to go to Shanghi . Winters on Cape Cod are long and sometimes cold and if we are lucky we will get three feet of snow and everyone will feel O.K. about staying home from work , sitting in front of the wood stove and drinking hot chocolat .I have been in the habit of driving south for the winter and seeking out musical opportunities / experiences in New Orleans . The gods have conspired against me .
By some coincidence or twist of fate or some freaky quantum event who's laws are yet to be understood my stepfather Hugh with my mother in tow then my sister both visited Shanghai this fall for un related reasons . Both of them visited with my old friend Myrick who has been living over there for I don't want to think about how many years . Well , on and off all his adult life Myrick has been a student of the jazz bass .(for all you non musicians out there I wish to make you aware of the fact that all real musicians remain students of the craft for their entire life . My Karma for being a slacker in school . ) To make a long story short , he said that it was very possible that I would be able to work over there and it looks like he will have some time off from his 'Real" job to play a lot of music .
Since I have been considering going there I have been paying attention in the media and elsewhere to things China . These days you can hardly avoid it . I used to say sarchasticly , 'Why bother going to China ? Walmart is just down the street ",Be that comment scary of funny I don't know . A little of both . One thing is certain . China's influence is reshaping our the world and ourcountry allong with it . If Americans do not frame their thinking in a global perspective this country will be washed over by forces no one can control .
So it is with great exitement and a tinge of trepidation that I obtain a visa , buy a plane ticket and wonder what I am going to do with the weighty pile of loose ends strewn in front of me going out in all directions ;a waist land of half things and dirty laundry .
SHANGHAI OR BUST