Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Transchina Heartbreak

This all started a very long time ago, maybe around 1990. It was my frist trip to the PRC and it was a government invite, the only way a journalist could come to China in those days. The group was going to several cities in China but I only needed Beijing and Shanghai for my work. Besides, in those days, China restricted intra-Chinese flights to their own carriers. Enough said about them.

I decided to take the overnight train. Afterall, I had a young son who needed me. I couldnt find too much research on it at the time, but I read Paul Theroux, packed my Cup 'o' Soup and tin mug and climbed onboard. It was so succesful that I have been making this commute on a regular basis. Each trip the trains get fancier and cleaner and more Western, so it was real shock that last night's train was dirty to the point of disgusting...and I am not a clean freak.

Sarah was so disgusted with the whole thing that she refused to take off her clothes and covered her hands with Clean Wipes which she used as mitts when she climbed into her upper berth. I said a grateful prayer that Doctor Clean was not with me, changed my clothes, snuggled into the covers and read my Kindle. I did think that if I had any of my usual night time urges I would use the waste paper basket, but when the time came, at 1:32AM, I just trudged down the hall in my WalMart LOVE, SLEEP, SHOP nightshirt and held my breath while I assumed the position my mother taught me was proper for situations such as this.

We had made careful arrangments with the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai for a platform pickup, having provided our car and cabin numbers. We were nested into Cabin 10 and were dismayed when on arrival the train hostess insisted we depart through Car 11. As we exited, we saw a police ring around Car 10 and were told to move along smartly. Thankfully we were then discovered by our two bellboys and brought to the loving arms of the Ritz-Carlton. I am certain The Fugitive was in our car, smoking Galouises and parading up and down the compartment in his Speedo-like undershorts. IT was not a pretty sight and we hoped he was put away for a long time.

This hotel has changed enormously since I was here last-- a total renovation. Thank God the Starbucks is still here... although the grocery store and the Watson's (Hong Kong based drug store) are both gone. There is a California Pizza Kitchen and a Haagen Daz, which I thought had the makings of a fine dinner tonight.

We've been upgraded to an amazing suite and spent time dis-infecting ourselves after the train ride before contacting Peter Chan, Asia Regional Editor of Born to Shop. In short order we were in the Barbie Store (I do not know what all the fuss is about, really, why are Sarah and I the only reporters in the world who will admit when the Emperor has no Clothes?) and then to the fabric market and finally on a street lined with DVD shops. It doesn't get much better than this! Upstairs over one of the movie stores is the TaiPan Foot Massage salon; we took their card so we can make a return test.

While the DVD store in Beijing were hidden much like speakeasies in old movies, this street is not only out in the open but in one of the most charming streets in town, in a high rent residential district around the corner from the Four Seasons Hotel. Modern high-rise apartment buildings reach out of several storefronts while the street is clean and wide, with deep sidewalks and bicycle racks. It's much like a European neighborhood but with signs in Chinese.

There are many small restaurants-- all clean and inviting, a few hairdressers and massage treatment salons and then perhaps half a dozen stores with names like BIG MOVIE and MOVIE HOUSE. There are fixed prices-- regular DVDs cost 7 yuan (10 in Beijing) and DVD super-9 movies cost 12 yuan. Even more amazing is the selection-- international in scope (US, UK, Chinese, Hong Kongese, German, French, Italian, Korean, etc.) and then the range, from kiddie to docu to classicals. Some stores organize the wares by director or actor. I could not find any porn. I did find Mozart.

Technologically speaking, we are not 100% certain these movies and CDs will play in Peoria. I have a Chinese DVD player in both of my homes (US and France), but for readers who may not have such an item, there could be wasted time and money in this project. To say nothing of the risk of US Customs confiscations. Yet each store we visited swore their product would play in any zone in the world. If you wnat a Chinese DVD player, just head over to Lotus Centre in Pudong-- they are small, easy to pack and legal to bring into USA.

This subject is so dear to our hearts that in some cases, we have bought multiple copies of the same movie from a variety of shops because,well, we are scientists-- remember?

Tonight Sarah and I will have dinner with Peter and Louisa Chan. They have chosen Cantonese. So much for the pizza and ice cream idea.

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