You may recall in Part 8 that I requested an early arrival to the Paro, Bhutan airport. The reason for this is the same as my request for an early arrival at the Kathmandu, Nepal airport. Seats on the airplane were distributed on the day of check-in on a first come – first served basis. I wanted to be first in line and get my choice of seats. This time the plane would be traveling in the opposite direction and my wish/intent was to get a seat on the right side on the plane in the back. My plan worked and I got my desired seat. The weather was bright and clear and I hoped to get more great shots of Mt. Everest.
That was the good news. The bad news was that the stomach ailment that I acquired the previous day from a meal of bad chicken, had continued through the night and remained with me as I planned to return to Kathmandu for an overnight stay. Except for a Quest protein bar and plenty of water, I had not eaten anything since the tainted meal. This was because I lost my appetite and bits of food that I did try to eat did not remain with me very long. I drank a lot of water for fear of being dehydrated due to the diarrhea and the high altitude of Paro, Bhutan. I was fully aware that these were not ideal travel conditions. However, there was little I could do except hope and pray that this, too, would soon pass (excuse the pun). I was grateful that I didn’t experience an episode while at the airport in Paro nor while on the plane. I believe this was due to having very little left in me except water.
I was happy that we boarded the plane and departed on time. Soon, we were winging our way over the cloud-covered Himalayan Mountains toward Mt. Everest. Since I had been there before, I was able to recognize the snow-capped granite peak of the highest mountain in the world as it poked through the clouds. This was particularly fortunate since the pilot on this aircraft wasn’t a frustrated tour guide and made no mention of the magnificent sights located just outside the right windows of our airplane. The excitement of seeing Mt. Everest
for a second time distracted me from the symptoms related to my stomach malady. I found myself torn between staring in awe at the spectacular view outside my window and trying to take as many good photos as possible of this majestic mountain. All too soon this view of a lifetime faded into the distance. Almost immediately, we began our decent into Kathmandu and the “real” world. Along with the return of reality came the return of the stomach problems. I was not feeling my best.
Katmandu hadn’t changed in the past 72 hours. God hadn’t come down from the heavens with a massive cleaning crew of angels and made this airport and city as clean as Bhutan. I was surprised how much I missed Bhutan and I wasn’t even out of the airport. The immigration and customs kabuki dances were much shorter this time because I had already purchased my visa on my first visit and I didn’t have as much luggage. Thank God for pre-planning. Exiting the airport, I was truly disappointed when I didn’t see a driver holding that wonderful sign saying “Mr. James Thomas.” Of all the times for my driver not to show. I prayed that the symptoms of my malady held off until I made it to the safety, comfort, and relative cleanliness of the hotel. I won’t describe the public restroom facilities of the Kathmandu Airport. Simply avoid them at all costs.
Where was my driver? I wandered around the airport waiting area, to no avail, looking for the sign carried by my designated driver. Once it became apparent that I did not have a ride readily available, I became a target of every taxi driver in the area. They swarmed around me like sharks stalking a bleeding victim. They were insistent, almost demanding, to give me a ride to my destination. Their demeanor confirmed the fact that I didn’t want to solicit their services. Instead, I sought refuge back in the terminal and went to a rental car desk, not to rent a car, but to locate my driver. I was fortunate to find a helpful young lady who called the number I had with my documentation and confirmed that my driver was on his way. Wanting to avoid any more hassles, I remained in the terminal until the driver’s arrival.
The city of Katmandu hadn’t changed either. It was still dusty, dirty, crowded, and the traffic was still atrocious! Arriving at the hotel compound, I was recognized and welcomed by the staff. My grinning guard gave me a proper salute, which I returned in a military fashion. I was happy my room was ready and my luggage, that had been stored, was soon be sent to my room. Since I still hadn’t regained my appetite, I had one Quest bar and a bottle of water. My symptoms were still with me and confirmed that I shouldn’t eat dinner that night. Instead, I repacked my luggage for the trip to Shanghai and made car arrangements for my trip to the airport in the morning.
My mid-morning flight caused me to have an 06:30 departure, which was before the restaurant opened. The hotel staff offered to pack a box breakfast for me. Since I still was suffering from stomach problems, I graciously declined their offer. I thanked the hotel staff for their hospitality and a lovely stay. With one final salute from the grinning guard, we were off to the airport in a car that could barely handle all my luggage. Again, the drive to the Kathmandu airport was quick and easy at that time of the morning.
Checking into at the airport this time was a bit different. I was flying first-class on Air China. Their staff was very competent and check-in was hassle free. However, I was informed that I would still have to collect my luggage in Chengdu, China since it was my port of entry from Nepal and I would have to go through the hassle of rechecking my luggage and going through security before I flew on to Shanghai. The good news was that there was a first-class lounge hidden away in the Kathmandu Airport. The lounge was really nice and had a working air conditioner. It appeared to have good food. However, I still was unable to eat. The lounge chairs were comfortable and allowed me to get a quick nap. More importantly, it had a clean western style restroom! This was a Godsend!
Some Asian public restroom toilets are merely porcelain holes in the ground without seats. You simply squat over the hole. I’ve included a picture of one. This past Christmas, my son had given me a multi-pack of tissues as one of my gifts and explained that I would be grateful to have some of those in China. Many public restrooms don’t provide toilet paper! Needless to say, it was not a pleasant experience in my current condition. I was truly grateful to have access to this lounge.
The flight to Chengdu was uneventful. I did not eat, but drank plenty of bottled water. I was happy that the seat next to me was empty. Arriving in Chengdu, I had to gather my luggage and go through customs and immigration. That is when they x-rayed all of my luggage and discovered a Gurkha military knife that was stored in my checked baggage. I had bought it in Nepal as a souvenir of my visit to the country of the Gurkhas, one of the fiercest fighting regiments in the British Army. Each Gurkha carries a distinctive curved knife and I bought one as a memento. However, under Chinese law, I am not allowed to have any weapons in China, not even a souvenir. Thus, it was confiscated and I am sure it is currently on display in the home of some Chinese security captain.
Having processed through immigration and customs, I discovered that I needed to get to my next gate in a completely different terminal. I asked an airport staff member how to check in and get to where I was supposed to be. The man was a true gift.! He took my cart and we went to a place that I would have never found. There, he cut ahead of the line, got me checked-in and obtained my boarding pass. However, I needed to check my luggage at the airline counter which was in a different terminal that could only be reached by riding a shuttle bus. He took me to the bus stop and made sure that I understood where I was to get off. I believe God took pity on me and felt that I endured enough and sent an angel. I gave the angel $20 and my sincere thanks. Thanks to him, I got to my gate in plenty of time only to discover that my flight to Shanghai was delayed nearly three hours.
While waiting the extra hours for my flight to Shanghai, I decided to attempt to eat something light from an airport Subway. I felt that would be safe. Unfortunately, shortly after I ate, I had another episode and needed to find a restroom. The thought of using the hole in the airport floor was really revolting. As I made my way to the restroom, I noticed a restroom facility designated for the handicap. Opening the door, I found a completely westernized facility that included toilet paper! My thought was who would challenge a white-haired senior citizen for using this facility. Here’s the tip. If you ever have such an emergency, find a restroom for the handicap. Chances are the facility will be more to your liking.
My three-hour flight to Shanghai took off at 21:45 and was uneventful. It arrived after midnight. I was grateful that my driver was there with his wonderful greeting sign. It was 02:45 when I checked into the Intercontinental Hotel Shanghai Pudong. This was a lovely property! Because of my status, I was given a fantastic suite on the Club Level. Even in my poor state of health, I could appreciate their accommodations. I was still suffering from my stomach disorder and asked the concierge to cancel my City Tour of Shanghai, which was scheduled to start at 08:00. I was too tired and in no medical condition to endure an all-day tour on a bus. It wouldn’t be pleasant for me nor the other passengers.
Archaeological findings indicate that Shanghai was first settled around 4,000 BC. Its location as a seaport in the Yangtze River Delta made Shanghai an international trade center. This became evident in the 19th century as a result of the British victory in the First Opium War. British forces occupied the city and opened Shanghai to settlements from other foreign countries. Soon, French and American communities were established in Shanghai. White Russians and Russian Jews, escaping the problems in the newly created Soviet Union, also established their own communities, thus making Shanghai a true international city. After the first Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese established a large community in Shanghai and built factories. By this time, Shanghai had become the most important financial center in the Far East. Such international and financial prominence gave Shanghai the nick-name, “Athens of the Far East.” World War II and the Japanese occupation of Shanghai had a dramatic impact and the British lost control of the city forever. In 1949, The Peoples Liberation Army took control of Shanghai for the Peoples Republic of China.
Today, Shanghai’s business activities, huge seaport, and two airports make it the economic and financial showcase of China. With nearly 24 million people, it is the most populated and wealthiest city in China. While
Beijing is slightly larger in size, Shanghai occupies an area of 1,500 sq. miles. This creates a population density of 2,300 people per sq. mile. No doubt the place is crowded
I slept until 09:30. I awoke, took a shower, and went to a late breakfast that was being served on the Club Level. I tried some fruit, scrambled eggs, toast, and juice. Unfortunately, I soon found out that I still had a problem. Realizing I was in bad shape, I called the concierge, explained the situation, and asked him to have a staff member come to my room to get some money and go to a Chinese pharmacy. Jimmy arrived in less than 10 minutes and I gave him the equivalent of $20. He took the money and returned with the medicine in less than 15 minutes and with change for the $20. I told Jimmy to keep the change and I gave him another $20 for saving my life! He gave me several packets of powder and I put one in hot water to make a medicinal tea. He also provided pills. Both began to work in very short time. I continued this regimen for several days.
The weather in Shanghai was rainy all day. I think cancelling the city tour and calling the concierge were two of the wisest decisions I made on this entire trip. The rest, at a sea level altitude, did me good and I began to feel much better. By the next morning, I was able to have a reasonable breakfast and take an afternoon – evening tour of the Shanghai Water Town and a night river cruise. The tour took me to Zhujiajiao, which meant “Zhu Family Corner.” This was a small town of about 60,000 people located about 45 km from the center of Shanghai. There are indications that the town is over 1,700 years old, although, there have been archaeological
findings dating back over 5,000 years. Today, the town is mainly a tourist attraction with shops, markets, and restaurants that line the sidewalks on both sides of the river. The centerpiece of this unique historical site is the Fangsheng Bridge. Built in 1571, its 5 arched openings made it the longest, the tallest, and the largest stone bridge in the Shanghai Region.
After a brief guided tour of the market areas, we were allowed to explore on our own. I immediately climbed and crossed the stone bridge to try and take some good photos from and of the bridge from the opposite river bank. Once I got the shots that I wanted, I began exploring the various markets and shops. Of such places, it is said one can buy almost anything. I believed this. The food markets had all kinds of unique delicacies that were not normally found in the local Kroger’s. I saw the hearts from some animals on a tray for sale. I wasn’t sure what kind of animal it was, but judging by the size, it could have been a cow or a pig. Let’s just say that a walk through this market was not recommended for a person with a weak stomach. Even I didn’t last too long.
In another part, I found an area where lovely crafts were hand made and sold. There, I purchased two hand painted fans, one pink and one blue, that would complement a framed banner that I and my friend Alexa had commissioned during the China Lights Festival in Las Vegas, earlier this year. I also discovered a shop where a woman was doing the most beautiful embroidery. After telling her what colors I wanted in the embroidery, we eagerly looked through the stacks of art works until we found the perfect one. Then, of course, the haggling began. The Chinese enjoyed this sport as much as the Tibetans and Bhutanese. Appreciating the amount of work that went into this lovely piece, I didn’t press too hard. In the end, she seemed happy and so was I. However, I soon realized that this and the other shops did not take credit cards! This purchased curtailed the shopping for the rest of the day. Besides, it was starting to rain, again. I returned to our planned rendezvous location in an ice cream parlor across the bridge. I was the first to arrive and enjoyed sitting in the shop and people watching. My stomach wasn’t ready to attempt ice cream, yet.
At the appointed time, everyone in our group returned and we made our way to the bus for our return trip to the center of Shanghai. Our next activity for the afternoon and evening was dinner followed by a boat cruise. Arriving in downtown Shanghai, our guide was informed that the rain had created flooding conditions on the river and the cruise would be delayed 3 hours. The weather was still raining intermittently and I was still not feeling 100%. Thus, I opted out of having dinner at a spicy Chinese restaurant and the river cruise and asked to be returned to my hotel. Besides, with the delayed cruise, it would have been past midnight when I got home. Again, I think I made the right choice. I went back to the hotel and peered through the windows of the Club Level Lounge at the pouring down rain, while I had a light, and not spicy, dinner.
The next morning, I woke up early and finally, after all of these days, had an appetite! However, I was cautious as to how much and what I ate. While at breakfast, I joined an Australian gentleman, whom I had met the day before. Jason Burnett and I talked travel and a whole range of topics. I expressed a desire to purchase a jade pendant for Alexa. I also admired the Gant shirt he was wearing. He informed me that they were knock offs and could be purchased at a fraction of the price. Jason gave me the address of the store that sold the shirts as well as a recommendation on where to purchase the jade pendant. He asked me to tell a member of the club level staff to contact him when I returned from my day’s adventures. We would have dinner that evening.
I had a morning tour scheduled to last from 08:30 until 13:30. The tour was a private car that took me to the Shanghai Museum, the Xintiandi, and the former residence of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. Our first stop was the Shanghai Museum, located in the People’s Square next to the city hall. The museum has a collection of over 120,000 artifacts including jade, sculptures, ceramics, statues, and works of art from the various periods of Chinese history. It also has a very interesting collection of photos of old Shanghai. I found this exhibit truly
fascinating. However, my guide saved the best for last. On the top floor of the museum was the largest diorama in the world. It was a scale model of the entire city of Shanghai. The diorama occupied the entire top floor of the museum and had a balcony walkway that circled the entire model. With the lights turned low and the city’s 6,000 skyscrapers illuminated, the scene became magical. I, like many of the other visitors, was mesmerized by the whole scene. We spent the majority of our time in the museum at this exhibit.
Our next stop on my private tour was the Xintiandi. This was a social and night life district created from a reconstituted stone gate house from the 19th century. The district had shops, books stores, cafes, restaurants, and also a shopping mall. Surprisingly, there was even a Wolfgang Pucks restaurant. It was similar to many high-end, trendy districts found in our major cities in America. Even with the rain and at mid-day, the area was doing a good business. However, the rain prevented us from spending too much time there
Our last stop on the morning tour was the home of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. It was a main reason for my visit to Shanghai and definitely on my bucket list. Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a physician, is generally considered to be the Father of the Republic of China and one of the greatest leaders of modern China. He was the co-founder of the Kuomintang, the nationalist party of China, and helped to overthrow the warlords that were still controlling China in the early 20th century. Dr. Sun Yat-sen became the first President of the newly formed Republic of China and created a fragile alliance between the nationalist and the communist parties. Unfortunately, after Sun’s untimely death in 1925, at the age of 58, that alliance rapidly deteriorated and, as we say, the rest is history. I often wonder what path China would have taken if Dr. Sun Yat-sen had lived longer
The home of Dr. Sun Yat-sen is now a museum and contains memorabilia from Sun’s accomplishments and his personal life. It is filled with pictures of him and his wife as well as leaders of the world with whom he
met. For a man with such great vision, he led a life of simple means. I was happy for the opportunity to visit his home and touch his personal life. The book store was the end of the tour. There, I purchased a small statue of him and a book titled Sun-Yat-Sen in Shanghai.
The rain continued as we made our way back to the hotel. I thanked and tipped my tour guide and driver and got ready for my next tour. Since I missed my city tour on the first full day in Shanghai, I arranged through Frank, the hotel concierge, to have a driver take me shopping and to arrange a brief tour of the city to see the main sites. I had 3 things to buy. A Starbucks coffee mug from Shanghai, the Gant shirts, and a jade pendant for my friend, Alexa.
My guide, Tommy, and I left the hotel around 13:45 and went to our first destination, an indoor “Flea Market” type shopping area just outside the business district of Shanghai. We found the clothing shop that Jason recommended and met the owner. Jason had called the owner and told him to expect me. He had a great selection of Boss and Gant shirts in my size. I chose the ones I liked and he gave me a price. I told him what Jason had paid for his. The owner smiled and I got the shirts at the same price. While in this shopping area, we looked for the jade pendant, but I didn’t like the styles nor quality.
Our next mission was to find a Starbucks coffee mug with the cityscape of Shanghai. This was more difficult than I had imagined. We tried several shops without success. We even went to the largest Starbuck I had ever seen! It was a Starbucks Reserve Roastery, a multi-storied shopping center dedicated solely to
Starbucks! Apparently, the Chinese have gone nuts over Starbucks. Arriving there, we actually had to wait in a long line for our turn to enter the store. It was that crowded! While it had every other Starbucks related item that one could imagine, it didn’t have the mug I was seeking. The sales assistant suggested a small, “hole in the wall” Starbucks across the street. Sure enough, our persistence paid off!
With my mug in hand, we drove off and took a brief “windshield” tour of the city of Shanghai. The rain deterred us from getting out and walking around. We made our way to the Shanghai Bund, a waterfront district that provided a scenic view of Shanghai’s towering buildings along both sides of the river. Located on the Bund near a bend in the river, stood the Shanghai War Memorial and a series of cement reliefs that depicted the history of Shanghai. It was a lovely area and the rain had stopped long enough for me to try to get some photos.
Pictures taken, Tommy led me to a jewelry shop next to the memorial. This was the place Frank, the concierge, had recommended. It had several beautiful jade pendants. However, one stood out among the rest. The sales lady was the same size as Alexa and I asked her to model it for me. It was perfect! Now the ritual of haggling began. At one point, my guide didn’t want to see any more and said he would be outside of the store.
Finally, I gave my final price. However, the clerk said she needed to call her boss for approval, much like a car sales person has to “check” with his manager. With the boss’s approval, we wrapped up the gift. I had Tommy take our pictures and we returned to the hotel before the rain got any worse.
Once back at the hotel, I thanked and tipped Tommy, the tour guide, for a great and successful tour. I also thanked Frank, the concierge, for arranging for Tommy to be my guide and the shopping suggestions. I coordinated with Frank to have transportation to the airport in the morning. After dropping off my purchases in my room and freshening up, I went up to the Lounge at the Club Level and asked a staff member to inform Mr. Burnett that I had returned. Since Mr. Burnett had been staying at the hotel for more than 2 weeks, I didn’t find it strange that the staff knew who he was. Soon, Jason joined me and we had dinner and discussed my successful day of touring and shopping. Toward the end of the evening, Jason informed me that he had a confession to make. While he had been at the hotel for more than two weeks, it wasn’t until yesterday that the announcement was made that on the following Monday Jason Burnett would assume the duties of Hotel Manager of The Intercontinental Hotel Shanghai Pudong! Until then, the staff assumed that he was just another hotel guest. He used his time, incognito, to observe the hotel’s operations! I thought this was a brilliant move. No wonder I had been treated so nice. I had been having breakfast and dinner with the staff’s new boss for the past two days! Of course, I congratulated Jason on his new position and wished him great success.
I highly recommend staying at the Intercontinental Hotel Shanghai Pudong, not only because Jason will read this, but because it is one of the best hotels I’ve ever visited! I know I will return there some day and I hope Jason is still the manager unless he has been promoted to an even greater position within the IHG community.
Shanghai did have its disappointments mainly due to my ill health and the rainy weather. Other than that, it is a vibrant, exciting city filled with things to see and do. Since it was under British control for many decades, English wasn’t a problem in Shanghai. I would highly recommend visiting Shanghai and I hope that I will have the opportunity to return there soon.
The next part in the travelogue series will cover my flight from Shanghai to Dubai and my visit to that popular destination in the United Arab Emirates. I hope you enjoyed my trip from Kathmandu and my visit to Shanghai. Please let me know if you have any questions.