Friday, November 25, 2005

Wrap Up

The last 72 hours has been a blur...

The last day of the event- Sunday.
During the evening Catherine the Transportation Girl had made arrangements for Polly to be picked up for the airport at 6:15. If it had been me, I would have said a dirty word or two about that news. We were ready for a long day- I had come in early (about 9:30) because we had the rehearsal for the closing ceremony. We worked out the plan for some of the technical details needed for the end of the match... Knowing how apprehensive I have been about everything, you know I freaked out I when they told me they wanted to break apart the video wall for part of the presentation... You can rest assured that I didn't kill anyone, and only threw a small tantrum about how dangerous this plan was, etc...

Federed lost in 5 set tie break match- an epic battle with David Nalbandian...
If you want details you need to look here. Far better people than I have written excellent descriptions of the match.

Moments afterward the match point, Liu and the boys from SMG yanked 4 cubes from the wall in one minute and twenty seconds to let the 1st prize convertible Mercedes on to the court, then put the cubes back up and on-line even faster. They did an awesome job.... Me, I'd have been a wreck, trying to micromanage it.

Liu and the Boys- Liu is in the middle next to me.

We broke everything down and a little over an hour we took two heavily-loaded taxis back to the Hotel... Liu and the boys helped us drag our stuff out to the street and negotiate for the trip back to the hotel. They were tbe best.
Polly had to pack to leave in the AM, which left me with the task of carrying the IDS flag into the dark innards of Shanghai to mark our territory as having been challenged and conquered.
Instead of sallying forth and taking the battle down into Tong Ren or Maoming and mixing up among the locals and leaving a stain shaped like an IDS logo on the landscape, I instead decided to start small and hit the bar in the hotel and observe the local wild life...

The token hooker had taken up her customary position at the bar and was wheedling a shady-looking German businessman... From across the bar it looked like it was going pretty good...
I sat and nursed a Bacardi and Coke and watched the TPL & ESPN crowd from across the bar. A lady showed up and sat near me and we bagan talking.
He name was Susan. She was very outgoing and friendly. She had appearently struck up a friendship with the girls in the band that played at the bar, as they came over to see her as she sipped her chardonnay.
After they had left, we started talking. She runs the unofficial Rafael Nadal Website- and she was in town to cover the match for the 'site. Unfortunately, Nadal had to bail on the competition, but understandably so...
(See prevoius post)
In any case- She was with another girl, Neva, who was leaving at 5 in the morning, and as we all sat chatting, Cynthia Lum arrived-
Cynthia is an old acquaintence from many tennis tournaments in the past. She's a world-class photographer, and has a long association with IDS, supplying us with pictures for our records and for our graphics department. I've met her several times during my tenure with the company, and she is always a delight.
Cynthia was moving out of the Mayfair and over to a guesthouse off Ruijin Lu, named, oddly enough Ruijin Hotel. Go figure.
Susan and Neva decided to help Cynthia move to new place, and somehow I got roped into helping.
(How? you ask. And excellent question. That would be because my man Kevin Dominique, the bartender at the Mayfair, mixes a mean Cuba Libre.) Somehow it didn't seem right to send 3 ladies off into the dark streets of Shanghai at 3:30 in the morning with a cab driver of unknown pedigree.
We all (4 of us) jammed into the cab, including all Cynthia's equipment and luggage and trundled off toward Ruijin.
At least we thought we were... Instead we wound up on the expressway toward Hongqiao Airport, then on the A20 South.
I gave the driver the benefit of the doubt, but unfortunately, this guy didn't deserve it.
He was running up the fare on the meter... Since I didn't know the actual location of Ruijin Lu, I couldn't do much, but after the third U-turn and being in an area of the city I didn't recognize, the meter hit 50 RMB and the girls revolted and made him stop the car. We all got out and unloaded the luggage, and hailed a new cab. The driver protested, for all the good it did. We didn't understand him and he didn't understand us, but we all knew he'd been screwing us, and we weren't taking it. Cynthia tried to give him 20 RMB, but he didn't take it. Instead he took off...
The new cab took us to Ruijin... Where the first cabbie was waiting for us...
He was trying to get the security guards to get us to pay the full fare, telling them we had cheated him out of his money.
He finally got the idea when we started to ask the front desk clerk to call the police to get things sorted out... He made an obscene gesture at me and then departed. (I hate to tell him, I've gotten the bird from much better people; He didn't impress.)
We got Cynthia settled into her new digs then decided to go make more trouble.

Petty Theft.

(Keep in mind it was now about 4 in the morning...)

Neva had a car coming to take her to the airport at five AM... We all headed up Ruijin to Huaihai Lu and found her a taxi pretty quickly. We decided to try to get a street poster for Susan. The street posters that lined some of the major roads were mounted so that the bottoms were about 7' up, and the tops were at about 12 feet. The were only secured to the mounting poles with bent wire, so getting one off would be easy. So I thought...

The real trick lay in finding the right poster... There were tons of Federer, Safin, Agassi, and Roddick... Even several Corias and Davydenkos... But the Nadals were few and far between. We got the first one very close to the Xiangyang market on Huaihai Lu, and we walked nearly 2 kilometers down Huaihui and up Chengde Lu before we found another that I could reach... Susan and Cynthia stood lookout for the fuzz while I got the bottom loose. I couldn't quite reach the top hanger, so I wound up climbing a sycamore tree to reach the top of the mounting brackets. I finally got the poster loose and returned to Earth... Nothing like climbing trees at 4:30 in the morning, attempting to pilfer signage while trying to avoid going to jail. Reminded me of the Goodwill Games in Brisbane...
What was the old saying?..."There is a fine line between 'Teamwork' and 'Accessory'."
We had two posters and were about to give up and retire on our laurels when I saw one more Rafael hanging nearby... I stood atop the pedestrian fence and in 45 seconds we had a third trophy... Definitely time to retire while still unfettered by handcuffs or cell bars.
We flagged down a taxi and ran Cynthia back home then we headed for the Mayfair... It was about 5:30 in the morning.
I toyed briefly with going down to see Polly off, but the matress was whispering to me...
I slept until 11.


I had some shopping to do.
I had a list of stuff I needed to pick up in the gift market... Interestingly, I got there about 12:30 or so and was not assailed by the hard-sell pitchmen... It was all very low-key this afternoon...
A man would walk up and whisper "rolex? DVD?" while furtivley glancing around. I soon found out why... There were roving police patrols moving through the market looking for counterfeit goods and the DVD pirates.
I finally found the guys I was looking for and they had some of when I needed... We bargained long and hard. We both were mostly happy with the deals, so in the end it was a wash. He didn't get his full price, but I had to settle for what he had in stock.
I also had to "go to the warehouse" offsite from Xiangyang twice to get things... Once was a success, after a 10 minute walk to a tenament-looking building and up a set of doubious-looking stairs we were in a apartment-turned-warehouse... It was full of... uh...Products. Suffice to say, there was a reasonable selection of items and I was able to fill my shopping list.
(Getting it home would be a more interesting task... I only have so much room in my bags... And I'm already 2 bags over the max, and 35 kg over the weight limit. Woe is me.)
Anyway... The second warehouse trip was a little more scary... The man took me out the back of the market and down an alley, then into the ground floor of an apartment building... The ground floor is a communal kitchen for the entire building. and let me tell you, it was a frightening experience.
We then went back outside, then in another door and up a flight of wooden stairs that was so rickety and narrow, it made the previous ones look like the Spanish Steps in Rome. Two floors up we were in this guys apartment... One room, a bed and a closet. That was it. It made the worst guest house I was in back in Crete look like a palace. Hell- the place in the Tortugas is bigger than this 8x8 coffin.
Well... He looked for his stash of goodies and lo & behold it was gone. He freaked out- Jumped on his cell phone and started screaming...
Seems like his brother came over and took the stash of items and was back in the back of the market.
I was never happier in my life than when we emerged from that building...
We headed back to Xiangyang...
If you've ever visited the market that I'm talking about, I'll bet you didn't know it is also a farmers market and a buchery, too... There is a complete fresh produce market in the back, along with a meat market where you can get anything that walks on 4 legs, and maybe some things that walk on two...
But in the very far back of all this hullabaloo, there are some 5x5 storage rooms that I was dragged to, and as we walked through this warren, I saw some of the roll-up steel doors open a foot or so, and many people standing inside them...
Appearently it was still business as usual, but only it's done behind closed doors...
Well... I got the rest of what I was looking for... and I was fairly happy with what I got. We'll see when I get home what the quality is...

Hunan Cuisine...or "Ribbed... for your Pleasure"

I wanted to get one last good meal in Shanghai, so I persuaded Jocelyn and Amy and her husband Mike to pick a place for dinner- they settled on a Hunan restaurant... Some very spicy fare.
We had a sizzling pot of frog with tofu noodles, A spicy beef with thai chilis, garlic pork belly, spring onions with sliced pork, a tofu dish that was smooth and firm almost the consistency of flan, broiled fish head with red peppers, a firey-hot fried rice dish, and the best dish- ribs...
I have to say this about going to dinner with Jocelyn, I wind up eating some interesting things that I never would have considered ordering... Tonite was just example.

The frog was interesting... a subtle flavor, and spicy, but not bad.

The fish head was OK, lots of bones, and the thing was slathered with red peppers, but again- pretty tasty.

The pork and beef were good, and the rice was good, but painfully hot. If you mixed in a little of the tofu it was quite good and brought the heat down considerably.

But the ribs- Oh. My. God. They were great... Spicy with a coating of garlic and cumin and other spices.

Heaven on a curved bone. For me, I could have ordered 4 or 5 plates of the ribs and died a happy man...
Oh well... Dessert was great too... Fried Bananas... Tempura-like batter fried, then coated with a sugar glaze that is hardened at the table with a quick dunk in cold water. The resulting crunchy coating and very sweet banana filling was awesome.
Oh yeah- Dinner for 4- including 3 or 4 big bottles of beer- about $40.

On the road again...

My travel home was a painful affair- 1:00PM flight form Hongqiao to Beijing, a 5:00pm Flight to Newark, and 7:30 flight to Jacksonville... The worst part was been the baggage- I have 5 cases of crap- tools, equipment, laptops, addition to the body bag I use for my luggage...
It was only fitting that Zhou was my driver the last morning in Shanghai... Once again, we were off on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, arriving at Hongqiao in record time. I counted the horn honks- 73 in 9km. That has to be some kind of record.
We said our goodbyes and Zhou hit the road... I could hear him honking as he drove out of sight.

I grabbed a cart and went inside Terminal B with my Mountain o' Bags- Looking for the ATA/Customs desk to get my Carnet stamped, I asked the information desk where they were. She picked up a phone a made a quick call.
"Go other terminal- Desk 121."
So... I push the cart across the airport to Terminal A.
Inside I hunted up Desk 121. "Hongqiao - Pudong Transportation."
Hmmmm. Doesn't look like a customs office, but I've been fooled before.
The girl at the desk motioned me over.
"You want ATA?"
"Uh... Yeah." I told her, getting my carnet out.
"Ok, ok. We take you to Pudong."
What?! To Pudong?... A good hour away. One way. Screw that...
"Uh... No customs office here?"
"No- only in Pudong."
Holy crap. I pushed my crap back to Terminal B and went to the China Eastern desk.
"Um... I need to check in...But only for the Shanghai to Beijing portion of the ticket."
I got a good 2 second DMS as she looked at my ticket.
"Uh...Ok...yes. To Beijing. You claim bags there?"
"Yes, then I will recheck. I need to go to customs."

When I said that she figured it all out.
She got me checked in, another 500RMB fee for my extra/overweight bags... and I was off to Beijing.
I got my bags and hit customs where the remembered me from the China Open back in September. It was old home week, and the stamped me through in record time...
I rechecked at Continental, 2100RMB more for my bags, got my bulkhead/aisle seat and walked to the gate.
The only moment of apprehension was going through security in Beijing- As he checked my passport and ticket, the guard looked at my passport and then at the computer screen and made a phone call, watching me carefully...
I remembered the problems I had leaving Beijing last time, where they found my Gerber multitool in my bag...
I prepared for the worst...
He eventually waved me through, but said something to the X-ray operator.... I held my breath as they scanned my bag, but they didn't stop me as I picked up my stuff to go...
I got to the gate as they started boarding the flight...
If I had had any problems or issues at customs, I would probably would have missed the flight... I got settled in, had an empty seat next to me- avoided the meals on the plane and took my Ambien at about the 4th hour. I didn't really sleep, but I wasn't on-edge the whole flight, so it was a moral victory.
I got my bags in Newark, breezed through customs and got the carnet stamped and re-checked again, and hit my flight to Jax, stopping only once to have a double Bacardi and Coke at one of the airport lounges.
The flight back to Jax was the worst part- that damned little Embraer ERJ-145...a piece of crap jet made in South America. I almost have to crawl on my hands and knees to get to my seat... I hate that plane.

I got home and slept for two days...

To quote Jerry Garcia and the 'Dead, "What a long, strange trip it's been."

TBG out-

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