Sunday, November 27, 2011

China: Arriving

The convention center & hotel
Here I am in a plane, skipping Tuesday. After dozing for more than eight hours, I tried to peek out the window. Outside it's midafternoon, and even at our starting-point it's not so very early in the morning. But the steward makes me shut the windowshade. All the way. Because the other passengers want to sleep.


Should we really pretend it's the wee hours now, when we'll be landing in just 3 hours and it'll be evening already? Shouldn't we accept our night being short and get to work on tomorrow?

Apparently not.

Eventually some brave soul on the other side of the plane, the side with the Himalayas going by, is not told to put her windowshade down, and they start creeping up all over.

There's a lot of empty territory down there in western China. Looks a lot like the US between the Rockies and the Sierras. Not a town for miles. Dry, brown ground, either flat or folded. Then we get into cloud cover, nothing to see at all. About 5 local time there are cities noted on the map and the clouds thin out to a few decorative cumulus, but I can't see much of anything. Roads? Towns? Geological features? It's all hidden by a featureless haze, like the country below is out of focus. Only the occassional riverbank assures me that the in-flight map isn't lying and we're out over the sea.

Another hour goes by, and the smog thins and towns become visible in the fading light. There's a very large fire burning on three long fronts somewhere in China. Then it's dark and we're over Guangzhou, a city of some 20 million, and it's amazingly dark down there. Perhaps we're just coming in over a thinner part of the city. The major streets are brightly lit, but the blocks they mark off are nearly dark. We get right over them before noticing whole forests of 10- to 20-story apartment blocks, the light from the windows is so dim. Every once in a while the plane banks and we get a view that's rather like Los Angeles on a smoggy night. Long straight avenues, crowded freeways, blocks and blocks and blocks of buildings.

Even the airport is a lot like LAX, both in the architecture and the crowds and the lines and the balmy temperature outside. The passport line is a lot slower, though. And like LAX, nobody cares what baggage you walk off with. Outside it's a honking traffic jam. Naturally. The people make a tight jam too, trying to get their baggage carts through the throng to the curb where drivers are allowed to pause and pick you up. No parking and waiting - they'd be mobbed for that. So we have to wait 20 minutes for our driver to go around again and get back to us. Nice of our colleagues to come pick us up! Everything is quite orderly, really. Just too crowded.

They take us to a luxurious hotel right near the University hospital, in a rather interesting neighborhood, my boss assures me. There are plenty of shops and restaurants around, and the subway is right there. But it's the wrong hotel. Our hotel has almost the same name, and it's attached to the convention center, which is half an hour away, near the site of the old airport. Yep. In the middle of nowhere fun. If you could find a way off the grounds on foot, there's nothing but freeway and industry around.

A flowering tree on the hotel grounds

The fabulous view from the front steps of the convention center.
The city can barely be seen through the smog.

A handful of birds brightens the day.
More later!

1 comment:

GingerV said...

how great that you are getting to visit China, forming your own impressions and opinions. I will follow you through the end. Yes forests of buildings - where esle could you house 20 million. for perspective Norway has 4 million over all, Paris 2.2 million, Los Angeles 3.7 million....
find some time to enjoy sight seeing too (?)

word verification - Humshpoo - how did it know we are talking about China?