May 20-21:  Los Angeles to Beijing


Starting weight = 164 lb.

I used a new method of getting to the airport:  Red Line subway from Universal City to Union Station ($1.25), then the FlyAway bus from there to LAX ($3).  Each leg is about a half hour, but because I detoured to buy an LA Times (that pinko commie rag) on the way to the subway, I just missed the 11am FlyAway and had to wait another half hour, so the whole trip took 1:45.  Otherwise it would have been 1:15.  It compares very favorably with the convoluted Red Line-Blue Line-Green Line-shuttle route ($3, up to 2:00), Super Shuttle ($40 with tip, 1:00) and driving ($8/day for parking, ~1:00 but varies widely).  The FlyAway "motorcoach" is air-conditioned, and you don't have to ride with poor people like on the Blue and Green Lines.  Eric Cartman:  "Poor people piss me off."

I was on China Eastern flight 586.  There was a change of planes in Shanghai but the flight number was maintained through to Beijing.  The Shanghai-Beijing leg of flight 586 crashed on takeoff in 1998 (no fatalities) and evidently they elected not to retire the flight number.

Once again there were only a few white guys on the flight, so I was likely accurate when I thought contentedly:  I Have The Biggest Wang On The Plane.

I enjoyed this coincidence:  Scott "Poodawg" Nelson (friend and coworker) had his last day at j2 on the 20th, and then on the 21st I arrived at Pudong Airport in Shanghai.  Creepy!

There was a huge line and I wasn't among the first to check in, so I got stuck with seat 41E in an ABC-DEFG-HJK configuration.  But I was in the last row in front of the toilets, which is the next best thing to a window seat for sleeping because no one can kick or otherwise jar your seat.  But the headrest didn't have those side things that fold out to cradle your head, and the constant flushing of the toilet was a bit disturbing, so I don't think I slept at all.  What's up with all the flushing?  How much fricking beer do these people drink before they get on a plane?  I still haven't used an airplane toilet since the '80s, even for 14-hour flights.  Anyway, there was no bedtime because we flew with the sun, so I didn't miss anything.

The safety video was anime-style.  Unprecedented.

We had two meals on the plane.  I had fish with noodles, then beef with noodles.  The fish was Panda Express quality.  There were rice-based alternatives, specifically ham and rice for the second meal, but that seemed a little off.  Back home the night before I had spaghetti for dinner, so that made three consecutive noodle-based meals for me.  In a little more than a day, I had consumed literally oodles of noodles.

Whenever the flight attendants handed me food or drink they said "please".  Normally the person requesting food or drink would say please, but not in the Bizarro World we call Asia where everything is backwards.  That whole nam = man thing in Viet Nam still blows my mind.

I was listening to the classical station on the airplane radio in the hope that Figaro would eventually come on.  It did!  It cycled through and I enjoyed it four times on the flight.  It was an appropriate selection because I was going to China, and Magical Maestro has that controversial "Chinaman" scene that is usually censored nowadays.  To this day, the most sinister moment in cartoon history is when Poochini puts on Mysto's wig and there's that wide shot of him "conducting" Mysto onto the stage with both hands under his full control, even though Mysto deserved it.

On the arrival card for China, a bunch of diseases are listed and you have to check to box if you have any.  One of the ailments listed was "snivel".  But look it up...it means sniffle.

In the bathroom at Pudong Airport the hand dryer had a shelf underneath, such that the hot air that missed your hands bounces back and dries the undercarriage.  It gives you five...on the flip side!  Efficient and ingenious.

At the Beijing airport, The Book strongly advises that you go straight to the legitimate taxi queue and ignore the touts who try to take you to a more distant car.  Good thing I read that advice because the touts are vicious.  Whenever I insisted on going to the real taxis they would invariably say "no no...cheapah!" in a very breathy, earnest and creepy voice.  One jerk showed me an official-looking rate card that had Y300 as the standard fare to downtown.  I pointed out that The Book says it's supposed to be around Y100 and told him repeatedly that I was getting a real taxi.  I went to the bathroom and he followed me in, and followed me out.  As I exited I turned around and yelled "I'm not interested...fuck off!" and flipped him the bird.  I think I heard him repeat "fuck off" as I walked away.  Well done, you've learned an English phrase, you fucking scam artist Chinaman.  I realized afterward that onlookers might have misinterpreted the context of our altercation, considering I was coming out of the bathroom.

Ultimately I got a real taxi.  The fuzzy map I printed from the Intrepid site was insufficient but I had the phone number for the hotel, so the driver figured out how to get there.  Total cost was Y98:  78 for the ride, 10 for the toll and 10 for the tip, which I gave him because I forgot if tipping is common in China, which it isn't.

I checked into the hotel, which took forever because they couldn't figure out that I was checking in a day early and had a single room for the first night.  The hotel was relatively lavish.  A phone in the can is always classy.  I got in at 1am and crashed.

(A note on currency:  The base unit in China is known as the yuan or the renminbi.  In writing, prices are usually denoted with the symbol Y, Ұ, or 元, but in conversation "RMB" is used.  In this travelogue I will use Y.  At the time of the trip US$1 = Y8.)


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