Monday, February 1, 2010

the cake that fell from the sky

Above: China is the proud home of the world's fastest train, which I took from Beijing to Shanghai, a 9 hour trip.

"the cake that fell from the sky and landed in my lap"

My China Pangaea colleague Thomas uses this saying when something awesome unexpectedly happens.

After working 150 hours in the last 10 days (that's about 15 hours a day for 10 days straight), sleeping 5 or less hours per night, inhaling several metric tonnes of second hand smoke and being exposed to endless gobs of public spittle, double dipping at restaurants and a society with poor hand-washing and general hygiene, I of course have gotten sick with some respiratory viral infection.

I've been hacking up some mean yellow-green-black mucus, and I reckon that some of it is pollution and cigarette smoke related. Now I know why I have a bunch of Chinese women patients who have never smoked themselves but have bad lung cancer. China is a giant lung cancer and respiratory illness factory for anyone living here.

Back to the cake. Finally I have a little break from the intense work meetings and I have a bit of freedom to work at my own pace. I find that I am far more efficient this way. I decided to take the fastest train in the world, the EMU (I think it might stand for electro-magnetic something) from Beijing to Shanghai. The train was very comfortable, and I initially slept well on my soft sleeper bunk, lulled by the hum and soft movements of the train. But at 5 am I awoke with a hacking cough that wouldn't stop, and felt terrible for my 3 bunk mates: men who were rather surly to begin with. After getting off the train in Shanghai, I carried my 45 pound suitcase and 25 pound backpack up and down several flights of stairs during morning rush hour. Passengers blocked me in on the subway train and wouldn't move so I could get off, so I yelled at everyone to give way and pushed through, throwing in a couple English cuss words along the way. By the time I reached Eton Hotel, I was sweaty in my big down coat and long underwear (good for -10 degree Beijing but not for Shanghai), tired and sick, and generally pissed at the bad manners of my root countrymen.

I expected it, but my face fell nonetheless when the man at registration told me that check in is at 2 pm. It was 8:30 am. I was dying to rest without carrying luggage around. Then the cake fell from the sky: he told me that he'd allow me to get a room anyway...and then the sprinkles came down: since the non-smoking room I wanted was not available, he gave me a free upgrade to a better room with a view of the Huangpu River ...and free breakfasts. Awesome!!!

When I arrived on the 27th (non-smoking) floor, I was greeted by a statue of the Boddhisattva Guanyin (above). I have arrived. I am home!

Hurray for cakes from the sky.

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