Stories from a Tour of Asia: China Wrap Up

The day after tomorrow, I leave China for Bangkok. The trip thus far has been marvelous beyond expectation. I write from my friend Phil’s computer in his hometown of Hangzhou, two and a half hours outside of Shanghai but I’ll cover what I’ve done in China after I wrap up my last week in Japan.

Certainly after my adventures at the hot spa (read previous post), I was on a high but no more so than I usually am during my travels. The highlight of the week was that one of my classmates, Kevin got engaged to his girlfriend Tamara, proposing at volcanic colored lakes in the West of Japan by Nigata.

After a week of corporate visits, we closed out our time in Japan with a baseball game, and on our last evening, a cocktail get together and three hours of Karaoke. I didn’t partake of the singing as there was a scarcity of talent as it was but it was a ton of fun and a great way to end the trip and say our goodbyes. At midnight, half of us were not ready to call it a night and so we decided to go clubbing. Most of us had to wake at 5 in the morning so there was no point in sleeping anyway. We’ve got quite a diverse group including Roberto from Rome who is quite the stereotypical Italian. He has frequented the clubs four or five nights a week during our stay in Tokyo, always has the discount coupons that let you go for $10 and two drinks instead of the normal $30, and knows the bouncers by name. His style with women is quite a sight to behold, he walks up to them, says hi, I’m Italian. After dancing for several hours, I left Tokyo for Shanghai at 6 am having had two hours of sleep.

I guess I should mention a few last things before describing China. One is that our dorm in Tokyo wasn’t quite the hotel that it appeared. Half the residents were models from various countries. For most of my stay, I thought that they were all from Eastern Europe and Russian. I was disappointed that it took me until the day before my last to learn that several were from Colombia and Brazil. Roberto knew every model by name even though the rest of us couldn’t even get a hello. All I can say is that they provided nice eye candy.

This week in Shanghai has been quite amazing. It’s reportedly the most westernized part of China and I shall have to visit other parts some day. The city has its fair share of carbon monoxide but is nowhere near as chaotic, poverty stricken or decrepit as many sections of Bombay. That said, I have not seen the slums on the outskirts. The twelve of us who came stayed at the Howard Johnson which in China is a five star hotel. We had a gym and spa and breakfast was served every morning.

I don’t really have any great adventures to share since we spent the week on corporate visits. Thursday, we came to Hangzhou and went to visit my classmate Phil’s old employer, his dad’s factory. The region around Shanghai is a boom town and Phil’s father’s factory makes metal Patio furniture for the US under the HomeCasual label although Target, K-mart and Walmart all put their own labels on it. Looking at the furniture, I felt like my grandmother has plenty of similar stuff at her shore house. The company has grown from 10 to 50 million dollars in revenue with profits remaining level for the past five years. Margins are squeezed every year but I think the place is quite an accomplishment. The factory was begun ten years ago by Phil’s dad and now employs close to 3,000 people, many seasonal, at $5 a day. Phil’s dad gave us a hero’s welcome at the factory and then took us out for a fine Chinese meal. I cannot imagine what the meal would cost in the States or here but it included rounds of crab, lobster, Kobe beef and lots more. After the meal, we went to the West Lake on the city’s outskirts. The more than 500 year old man-made lake is surrounded by parks with beautiful landscaping and mountains in the background. I’d say it’s the most beautiful part of China that I will see.

Saturday evening, I caught up with Rob DeLach, a former volunteer friend from Ecuador and Elizabeth To, a friend from Philly as well as some new Shanghai friends. Rob’s Mandarin is quite impressive after less than a year. I came back to Phil’s house yesterday with my classmates Adam and Laura and spent two days here. I told Phil’s family that the visit to his home was the highlight of my stay in China, and indeed it has been. Their hospitality has been exceptional. Phil’s mom made the best Peking Duck for me one evening. I also got to meet Phil’s girlfriend and she is a sweetie.

I will go back and hang out with Rob and Elizabeth in Shanghai tomorrow. Hopefully, I’ll hit the black market from which my classmates could not peel themselves away earlier this week. Wednesday morning, I’m off to Bangkok. I’ll probably hit the beach with my classmate Jim in Thailand for a couple of days before exploring Cambodia and Vietnam. I hope to visit a friend of the family in Saigon. I gave my computer to Adam to write his final paper, although given its recent behavior, I’m not sure it’s much of a gift. At any rate, I’m not sure when my next update will be. Being an ugly American sure is way too easy so I’m vowing to be less of one for the next couple of weeks. Thanks for reading.

Be in touch,
Mike

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~ by Admin on August 2, 2004.

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