Thursday, December 03, 2009

Shanghai: Part 1

Shortly before we left the Netherlands during the summer, Roxi submitted papers to several conferences in China figuring she had nothing to lose. Over the next couple of months, she received word that two were accepted as papers and the third was accepted as a poster. In the midst of our move to Memphis in September, we suddenly had the added task of planning a trip to China!

The conferences were each about a month apart and each in different cities in China: Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu. Roxi made the decision to attend the conference in Shanghai as it was a high honor for her non-engineering paper to be accepted at an IEEE conference. In the beginning, it seemed to it might be too expensive for both of us to go, so Roxi's mother volunteered to accompany Roxi so she would not have to make such a long trip alone. During the planning, her mother backed out due to Roxi's grandmother's condition and we realized that we could both afford to make the trip. So we set about to apply for Chinese visas and made our travel arrangements.

Eleven days before Thanksgiving, Roxi and I left our apartment at 4:30 AM to begin our long trip to Shanghai. After a short flight from Memphis to Chicago, we set about on the long portion of travel: the fifteen hour flight to China. The flight was not nearly as bad as we expected it to be especially thanks to the last minute upgrade to Economy Plus seating. The extra few inches of leg room really makes for a much more enjoyable travel experience.

We arrived in Shanghai right on schedule and proceeded to clear customs and change some money for cab fair to our hotel. Immediately we could tell that China would be very different than the months that we spent in Europe. The most striking difference was the language barrier. Neither of us could speak much Dutch during our time in the Netherlands, but at least they use the same alphabet and we slowly picked up meanings of words over time. Chinese is completely and utterly foreign and unlike Europe, there are not a lot of English speakers. Thankfully we were able to find a free map in the airport that listed our hotel in English and Chinese that we showed the taxi driver. Over the course of our time in Shanghai, we found that pointing at pictures or bilingual maps was the best method for communication.

During the forty minute cab ride to our hotel, we were amazed at two things: the unbelievable amount of smog and the aggressiveness of Chinese drivers. At several points of our ride, I was astonished at how close our taxi got to other cars without hitting them! When we arrived at our hotel, I did the quick conversion in my head and realized how cheap cab fare was for such a long trip. Again over the course of our time in Shanghai, we really got a sense for the difference in the cost of living, even in such a large metropolitan city.

We settled into our spacious room and decided to each get cleaned up for the first time since we left Memphis early Monday morning. Although it was early in the evening, we were both very exhausted from our travels. We decided to order some room service and go to sleep. The only problem with the plan was that after several hours sleep, we were both up and fully awake by 2:00 AM on Wednesday morning. In the course of our week in China, our sleep schedule rarely deviated from what we did the first day there, but it was probably for the best for our reacclimation when we returned to the States.

The very smoggy view of Shanghai from our hotel room.

We spent a lot of time during our first few days in Shanghai simply relaxing from our hectic schedule leading up to the trip and our long travel to get to China. Our hotel offered three restaurants which we sampled during our first few days. Of course we had to try some uniquely Shanghainese dishes including black fungus and donkey!

Tofu and black fungus in sauce.

Sliced donkey...surprisingly delicious!

Coming soon in Part 2: Roxi and I leave the hotel to see the Old City and many of Shanghai's museums!

What a Month!

It's been thirty days since my last post and forty since I vowed to blog more often. Unfortunately life got in the way since the beginning of November. In the middle of October, Roxi's grandmother Nina was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer which prompted us to take a spur-of-the-moment flight to Lafayette to visit her over Halloween weekend. It was a good trip and although she was tired and in some pain, she seemed to be in good spirits.

Upon returning to Memphis, I continued doing odd jobs while looking for a full-time position and Roxi stayed very busy with her work at the university. By the end of the week, we received the sad news that Nina had passed away. We spent the next week mourning and preparing for another trip to Lafayette for Nina's memorial service. To complicate things, two days after the memorial, we had plans for a trip to Shanghai where Roxi was scheduled to present a paper at an academic conference. Needless to say we had an emotionally and physically exhausting weekend in Lafayette and a mere twelve hours back in Memphis before a twenty-hour trip to Asia.

After spending a week in Shanghai (more on that later), we took the grueling time-zone discombobulating trip home to Memphis in time for Thanksgiving. We spent a day trying to get re-acclimated to Central Time but that didn't work out so well. We managed to wake up early enough to go to a Thanksgiving buffet with our friends Amelia and Susana, international students in Roxi's lab who have been visiting from Spain and Chile respectively. That night I watched the Aggies play a very inspired game against arch-rival Texas only to fall short in the end. Roxi and I spent the rest of the week trying to get back to normal, but we're honestly still a little out of whack from all of the traveling.

Now I'm simply amazed that it is already December and 2010 is just around the corner! Where, oh where does the time go?!?