Friday, 16 November 2012

Shanghai Day 8 - So long and thanks for all the fish

I was intending to post my final entry while I was in Shanghai, but due to the Chinese political change over Gmail and Blogger were blocked for two days.  During my time, was completely inaccessible, though it could be accessed via my phone - I suppose the URL to the facebook API was available (obviously the Chinese tech heads aren't the sharpest tools in the box).

The government were also paranoid about foreign media reports about China being shown in their own country. Every time BBC Worldwide or CNN did a feature on the change of leadership or interviewed anyone who had anything uncomplimentary to say about the leadership, the feed went off and the screen went black for 5 or 6 minutes.  When BBC interviewed Ai Weiwei, I thought it may never come back!  Speaking to an expat currently living in Shanghai, she said that they knew more about what was going on in the country than the typical Chinese person did.  Censorship was still widespread in the media (as I witnessed).  I'm not sure how much longer this can keep up though - they have more internet users than any other country in the world (500million), how do they expect to censor them in this digital world?  Blocking of twitter and facebook is only going to last for so long...

Anyway, onto less political matters.  My second to last night in Shanghai and as the following evening will be spent trying to squeeze all my tourist tat into my suitcases, I thought I would venture out amongst the pimps and get some final nighttime photos of the water front.

I have also run out of pants, but wanting to take some photos sounds a bit more organised.

So first to some new underwear.  Giordano is just across the street from the hotel, so braving the constant enquiries of  lady massages and sexy girls, I popped in to have a nose.  Its a bit like Gap, only a little bit trendier and  I think I still fit the Gap demographic (just).  I was only after some pants, so two pairs of boxers, three pairs of socks and three t-shirts later I was on my way to the Bund...

I decided to take the 'back street' to the Bund to avoid the crowds and came across some nice colonial-era buildings and non-oriental lions on the Postal Savings Bank of China Building.

The Bund and the view over the river is even more stunning at night, as the photos show.  If I had had more time it would have been nice to take the river cruise and see the whole of the Bund in more detail, but I have to leave something for the next time I come I suppose.

On Thursday morning the limo picked us up for the short journey to Pudong airport and our 13 hour flight home.  The business class lounge wasn't up to the Virgin one in Heathrow unfortunately, but at least it had free WiFi so I could fire off a few work emails before going silent for half a day.  The flight was a lot more bearable on the way home - mainly due to me deciding not to drink alcohol I think.  Managed to watch Snow White and the Huntsman, Dark Shadows and the Raid on the TV, though. the entertainment system could do with an upgrade now.  People are becoming increasingly used to having HD from films on their TV's and now their phones, so a low resolution film in cropped 4:3 ratio doesn't really cut it anymore.  It could have been a lot worse though.

On landing, the immigration controls were lightning fast (Heathrow in doing something right shocker!) so I was in departures by 5:30.  I had planned to go to the Virgin Revive lounge and get a shower and a bite to eat, but it was only open in the morning (you didn't put that on the website did you Virgin?), so I jumped on the Heathrow express and decided to chance my arm on an earlier train out of Paddington.  Oh my, I had forgotten what a merry bunch of people London commuters are.  The train was rammed leaving Paddington and I was already public enemy number one for having the temerity to want to put my two suitcases in the empty luggage rack.  After lots of tutting, signing whipping of newspapers and muttering I managed to find a spot and stood until Reading and then found a seat for the final part of the journey to Taunton.

The trip was one of those experiences I don't think I'll ever forget.  Possibly the only time I'll get to fly business class and travel to China along with the opportunity to sample a culture and sights half a world away  - wow.  The things I'll take away from the trip are:
  • The staggering amount of money there is now sloshing around China
  • Despite the complete absence of order in both the subway and on the roads, the transport system copes
  • Haggling is not a humiliating or an embarrassing thing to do - its actually quite a lot of fun!
  • Constant spitting in the street is disgusting and the quicker the Chinese authorities quash it, the better
  • My hatred for MacDonalds, KFC and Starbucks grows ever deeper as they try (and unfortunately succeed) to take over the world
  • Skyscrapers are beautiful 
  • No matter how you dress it up, 10-13 hours in an aluminium tube at 600km/h is hell.  Having a flat bed and nice food just makes it a little more like the third level of hell, rather than the seventh (but hell nonetheless).
  • Jetlag is a bitch
  • Pimps all look the same and can be spotted a mile off, if you know what you are looking for!
  • How a government still censors what its 'subjects' can and cannot do.
  • The smell of fried tofu will haunt me to my grave.
So thats it for the Shanghai posts, back to triathlon training next time...

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Shanghai Day 6 - Top of the world

Another day of sightseeing today.  After breakfast, my colleague and I met her friend's daughter, who is working in Shanghai at the moment.  She took us to Tianzifang, a small area of the city made up of old buildings and lanes.  It was all a bit boho and arty, with lots of little galleries and shops selling decent touristy items (rather than the tourist tat you find in the fake markets).
Tianzifang lanes

After that we walked to a local antique market - which this time did actually have some old(er) items in amongst the mass produced rubbish!  I especially wanted to buy a load of the old leather suitcases and make a 'feature' of them at home, then remembered I had a 2 year old daughter and 5 year old son who would take great delight in destroying them!  Anyway, I can only check in three bags into upper class on the way home...
Ye olde antique market 

From there we wandered back to the hotel and then I went straight back out with a view to getting to the top of the World Financial Centre building for sunset.  On exiting the subway you are faced with 2 (and a half) of the tallest buildings in the world right in front of you.  The Chinesey looking one is the Jin Mao tower, while the one with a giant bottle opener is the World Financial Centre. The third building being constructed is the Shanghai Tower, which apparently is going to half as tall again as the World Financial Centre.
World Financial Centre, Jin Mao & Shanghai Towers
After a bit of queue (me and fellow Europeans queueing correctly, Chinese bun fighting and barging), we got into the lift which took us up the 430 metres to the 94th floor.  From there it was an elevator up to the 97th floor and the first observatory and then another lift up to floor 100 and the 'highest observatory in the world'.
Hmmm quite high up here aern't we?

The viewing platform views are amazing, looking over both sides of the Shanghai.  There is also glass flooring that you can see the 460-odd metres straight down.  Despite the day being extremely clear (for Shanghai), there was still a pollution haze hanging over the city - bit of a pity really.  I sat down and hung around until it got dark and managed to get some cool photos, I even manged to spot our hotel!
My teeny tiny (27 storey) hotel
The Jin Mao and Oriental Pearl TV tower at dusk
I took up the tower's very kind offer to take my photo for 50 yuan as I was playing norman no mates.  After using an electrically powered toilet for the first time in my life (uppy downy, side to side, front and back washing and 'relaxing wash') and yomping my way through the obligatory souvenier shop (magnets for fridge, check), we zipped down in the double decker lift and were deposited in, the shopping and restaurant floor yay!
The two towers all lit up and looking pretty

Back to work tomorrow, only three days to go before I have the pleasure of a 14 hour flight back to the UK, wahoo!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Shanghai Day 5 - Amateur haggling

Its been a busy few days work wise - still suffering from jet lag while in the office means that I'm in cloud cuckoo land for the first half of the day, but perk up in the afternoon.  I finally thought I was over it last night, but then woke at 4:50am promptly ready for the day!  Maybe tomorrow then.

We were taken to dinner by the Chinese Program Manager last night for traditional 'Shanghai-ese' food.  This mostly involved fresh water shellfish and tofu.  I've come to the conclusion that the smell of fried tofu sits on a similar smell-pedestal as baby poo and vomit in the stomach churning stakes - not good in a country like China.  The food on everyone else's table looked delicious - why did we get the smelly root stew and shellfish fungus goop??  I ate the food, but I'm hoping my local Chinese in Taunton doesn't start offering Shanghai delicacies as a dish - house special chow mien and sweet and sour pork balls will do just fine next time thank you.  I'm paying for it this evening now as well, thank god I decided to get some Imodium in case of emergency...

I'm not lyin, I'm a tiger Rarrrh!
Today was a big day as well, went sight seeing in the morning to the Yuyuan Gradens.  I was out of the Hotel early so I got to the Gardens not long after they opened - as a result, my first hour of wandering was tranquil and quiet.

Amazing that a place like that can exist in such a breakneck-paced city as Shanghai.  Its a series of walled areas with buildings, pagodas and various tree species. There are ponds full of Koi (well, giant goldfish anyway) and many rockeries built of water smoothed stone.  I went a bit snap-happy with the camera, but hopefully it was worth it.
One of the many sculptures on the roof of a pagoda
Many of the buildings are set amongst the ponds 

Notice the water-eroded/smoothed rock - the gardens are primarily composed of these rocks
After the gardens, I took a wander around the 'market' that surrounds the gardens.  Traditional-looking Chinese buildings housing all sorts of tourist shops, plus the ubiquitous American imports of KFC, McDonalds and Starbucks.  I did my first piece of haggling (practice for later in the day) and picked up a mini sceen thingy with Chinese decoration.   Probably got completely ripped off, but there you go!

One of the buildibgs in the market - probably only 20 years old!
By midday, the market so so busy I escaped back onto the subway to go to a large photography mall I'd read about online.  I was after a new lens for my DSLR, but found that the prices were similar to or even more expensive than the UK.  I did manage to pick up a memory card and some UV lens filters for a similar price as ebay - why buy on ebay when you can spend £4k on flights and buy them in the shop eh?!?

After a snickers (tasted of Hershey chocolate not Mars chocolate, felt duped by Masterfoods) to gird my loins, I made my way to the Science and Technology subway station and the (in)famous A.P.Plaza Shopping Mall.  This is a fake market - don't be under any illusion that anything in the market is the real deal apart from the bespoke suit fitting (which I didn't go for anyway).  So if you after any of the following, this place can provide a facsimile of it:
  • Handbags (Jimmy Choo, D&G and Mulberry seemed to the most popular)
  • Belts & wallets (stamped with all sorts of designer logos)
  • Sunglasses (Rayban and Oakley mainly)
  • Watches (Ice and G-Shocks were the main ones I saw)
  • T-shirts (Abercrombie, Diesel etc)
  • Jeans (All sorts, but due to my small waist/huge arse disfigurement I didn't bother)
  • Shoes (Mainly Converse and Uggs, but a lot of leather shoes as well)
  • Bags (Rucksacs and suitcases)
  • iPhone/iPad accessories
  • Helicopters (bloody everywhere)
  • Tourist Tat (Chopsticks, buddas, dodgy jade, tea sets, masks, abacuses and little jewellery boxes)
Hels had packed me off to China with some very specific instructions about a particularly nice handbag I was to look for and I found it straight away, so then it was onto the process of haggling.  I managed to get the bag for less than 30% of the original asking price, which wasn't bad (probably still got ripped-off, but never mind, the bag was £680 less than its original...).  I wasn't quite so successful with my tourist tat as the girlie was particularly polite, friendly and pretty (bloody sucker), so I forgot to haggle as hard, but still got a bit off nonetheless. 

There were more westerners than locals and shop owners were forever trying to drag you into their shops.  In the end I just switched off and wandered around until something took my eye.  There are only so many times you can asked if you want bag, t-shirt or shoes before you want to just start shouting fuck-off and die at the top of your voice, so I decided that was enough and came back to the hotel.

Five subway journeys in all today amounted to a grade total of £2 with all journeys 30 or 40p, not bad for a days work!  More sightseeing and tourist stuff tomorrow - hopefully will get to go up to the highest observation deck in the world (complete with glass floor!) if the low cloud has improved.  Will post some pictures if I can get up there!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Shanghai Day 3 - NSFW

'Hey you want lady massage?  Pwetty girl, velly sexy!'

Oh dear, not been accosted by pimps/madams/prostitutes before, so it came as a bit of a shock.  Fortunately the shock had well and truely been replaced by ambivalence on the tenth occasion I was asked and then by annoyance as I was asked two feet from the front of the Hotel doors in full view of the concierge.  Obviously, the bag/watch hawkers by day are the pimps by night - got to make your money some how I suppose... 
Just a short entry today as I'm suffering from jet lag and severe carbon monoxide poisoning.

A combination of the worst taxi journey yet (even though it was only £2.60 for a 20 min journey!) and the rain arriving meant that the fumes finally got to me and I've had a motor fume headache all day - ugh!

I zoned out for most of the day at work until around 8am UK time as my brain realised that it was getting up time.  Took the subway home for the first time, which was pretty easy as the trains are bigger than their London counterparts and thankfully air-conditioned.  All the signs, ticket macines and announcements were also in English, so it was stress-free finding your way.  The only difference to the UK was the complete absence of any waiting to let people on or off, so it was a bit of a bun fight at some stations.  Just going with the flow and joining in the argy-bargy seemed to be the best bet, it helped that I was twice the size of most of the women and bigger than most of the men - all hulking 12st 5'10" of me. Heh, beefcake!!

Lovely bit of sushi for dinner, followed by cheese cake, mango cheesecake, ice cream and erm chocolate fondue.  Well, I did go to the gym this morning and I will (might) go tomorrow morning...

Signing off for now.  Nearly the weekend and have to save my strength for mammoth sightseeing/ fake goods purchasing spree on Saturday.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Shanghai Day 2 - Tai Chi, breakfast dumplings and tiny urinals

My first day back at work today meeting our Chinese colleagues, but before that I decided to go for a wander in the morning sunshine.

Tomorrow Square building
Amazing the number of people doing Tai Chi in square - was really impressed by the mass participation-side of it all.  Was even more surprised when I went round the corner and found that early morning exercise also included group aerobics and ballroom dancing!

The god awful pollution
I took a stroll to the People's Square and had a nose around.  Got a lovely shot of the Tomorrow Square building, but even at 7am the pollution was incredible.  It was even worse by the time we made our way home in the evening.

In the People's Square there are quite few sculptures - one of Mao (I presume) and a huge bronze sculpture  of the 'Good Eighth Company on Nanjing Road'  The army is depicted doing all the good things that communist armies do - help tend the fields, build roads, repair shoes, help old men and women with babies cross the road and also carry lots of guns.  The description beside the sculpture also describes their 'perservering resistance and defiance of the corrosive influence of corrupt and decadent ideas'.  The sculpture is mighty impressive nonetheless.
The 'Good Eighth Company on Nanjing Road'
After wandering back to the Hotel I decide a bit of breakfast was in order.  When in China, never choose to eat Alpen - it really does taste like dust.  Fortunately, I was in a corrupt and decadent American hotel, so it also offered waffles, french toast, crunchy bacon and maple syrup, so I was quite happy!  Having not eaten for 16 hours, I thought it was only right to have a third course as well, so tried some dumplings.  The seafood dumpling was a bit mleh, the fried dumpling so-so, but the big pork dumpling was lovely - I may have to try them again (after I make my way through the breakfast sushi, croissants, donuts and full english also on offer).

At lunchtime we were taken out by our Chinese hosts to a restaurant where we were treated to some proper Chinese cuisine.  None of your english MSG, prawn cracker, egg fried rice nonsense here though - lots of soups, lots of chilli and not a noodle or rice grain in site.  I tried not to make a fool of myself by using chopsticks, but they took pity on me after I dropped hoy sin pork all down my shirt and a knife and fork turned up.  Spot the tourist...(at least I tried!!).

Most important discovery of the day however, is that I am unable to use urinals in China.  Even the highest appliance seems to be designed for my someone of my four-year-old's height and the potential for splashback is to severe for even me to attempt!

On that bombshell, I am off to bed, more later when I do some more exploring...

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Shanghai Day one and half

My what a lucky boy I am - 10 days in Shanghai with work and got to fly business class as well!

My day started by catching the 8am train to Paddington, hopping off and then straight on the Heathrow Express - House to Airport in less than three hours which can't be bad.

After being whisked through the posh lane in security, I had time to imagine myself as a spy when I spotted Melissa George in the queue (yep, as foxy in the flesh as on the TV!!) - were they filming another episode of Hunted at the airport?

The Virgin Clubhouse

Our A340-600 (or so the brochure says)

The Virgin lounge was very nice - managed a posh burger and a beer before being whisked into my upper class seat on the plane.  Was looking forward to my first experience of turning left rather than right, but alas no - we were given our own separate upper class entrance!

I have come to the conclusion that flying is rubbish no matter what class you go, its just that flying upper class makes it slightly less rubbish than economy.  The food was much better, the seat comfier and yes it did recline to a flat bed, but that's of little use if you can't manage to sleep on the plane anyway!

So, a bit bleary-eyed we arrived in Shanghai and were greeted with a very fast moving immigration queue (Heathrow take note!) and we were soon in our Limo to the hotel.  The scale of the city is staggering.  Where in the UK you would have 2 or 3 high-rises, here you have 10 or 20 all in the same development and more being built all the time.  The high-rises started 30kms out of the city centre and just kept getting taller and taller the closer to the centre we got.

The Howard Johnson Plaza in all its glory!
Our hotel - the Howard Johnson Plaza is pretty nice. A 15m swimming pool which was nice and cool (got raced by a cheeky 4 year old in armbands - he nearly beat me!) and I'll check out the gym tomorrow.  It is also 30secs walk from the equivalent of Oxford/Bond Street in London.  Every other shop for half a mile was selling Omega, Rolex or beautiful Chinese jewellery and antiques (£50k teapot anyone or £98k jade Buddha anyone?)

Of course just outside the real shops we were also offered the fake Omegas and Rolex as well - in plain view of the ubiquitous Police in their little electric golf buggies.  Looks like all you have to do is be able to run fast in China to outwit the police...

Traffic lights also seem to to be more of a suggestion that mopeds should stop rather than actually stop.  It doesn't help that half of them are electric as well, so you have to keep your eyes open at all times - quite difficult when you've been awake for nearly 24 hours..

We walked all the way to the river to get a view of the Bund and the financial centre across the river - including the Oriental Pearl Tower.  That is on the tourist list, especially as I want to try and spot the swimming pool from Skyfall...
The financial district (Pudong).  Pollution is awful.

Back to work in the morning after a 13 hour sleep to try and catch up on things.  I will post some more pics up as I get them.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Belts, Braces and Laces

My training is now in full swing.  The guys at work have helpfully(!!)  become my conscience and remind me every time my mind wanders onto chocolate or lard in any way.

I've spent a couple of quid and got myself some stretchy laces and race belt, which should save at least a minute over my shoddy transitions in the Taunton race.  I've also got myself an Id band from OneLifeId, so I'm not quite so nervous about leaving my wallet at home when I go cycling or running at some ungodly hour of the day or night.

Hels has taken the children to Cardiff for the week so I've taken the opportunity to put myself through a little cycling training camp.  40km on Monday night (including a more than slightly challenging 1:4 climb up to Crowcombe Gate), a 40km up to Wellington Monument on Wednesday night and the 55km cycle to work on Thursday have nearly broken me!

I'm going to try and get some swim coaching from an instructor who lives down the road.  I'm not looking for a revolution to my stroke, just pointers on improving things.  I've already improved my time by a further 30 seconds down to 7:30 for 400m, if I can take a further 15sec by the time I race, I will be well happy.

I also need to put in some serious miles on the run.  I find this by far the least enjoyable of the three disciplines, by that doesn't mean I can ignore it and hope it goes away!  I'm still using micoach to do the  pace-based interval training, but I've got a Garmin 305CX (with a HR monitor) on the way courtesy of eBay, so I'll see I get on with that as well.  Fingers crossed I can equip myself as well on the 23rd September at Langport as I did in Taunton in June.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Next Challenge

Hmmmmm, only 2 and half years since my last post, but nevermind.

First a bit of background.  Around this time last year, I did something to my shoulder.  Not sure what it was or how I did it, but it hurt when I lifted my arm above my head, pulled anything up or tried to pick up the kids.

I buried my head in the sand and hoped it would just fix itself, but to no avail - in fact it just got worse.  I stopped going to the gym, mountain biking and even road biking because my shoulder hurt so much.  In the end I went to a physio who sorted me out, but in the meantime I started running again.

Christmas last year I was running 3 times a week for about 5km at about 5min/km pace (25mins for a run then).  About the same time I got the OK from the physio to start training again, but I wanted to try and do both the running and cycling.  I started running at lunchtimes at work and continued cycling the 50km to work once a week and the odd mtb session on the Quantocks.

In March we also joined Taunton School gym, which has two indoor swimming pools and a gym, all of which the family can use for a bargain £30 a month!  I was already running and cycling and now I had a swimming pool to use - the seed was sown.

At the end of March I signed up for a sprint distance triathlon being run at Taunton School and began training.  I'd not swam more than 2 lengths since lifeguarding 16 years ago, but just got down to the task at hand.

I also took advantage of the online training app micoach (for running) and Strava (for cycling) to get me up the hills that little bit faster.

By the time the triathlon came around at the beginning of June, I had reduced my 400m swim time by two and half minutes and my 5km run by over 5 minutes.

The end result was a pretty good time and a creditable 45th place:

Although I'm quite pleased with my time, a quick look at the stats shows several areas where I can improve my time without having to improve my fitness:
  • Swim - I can reduce my time by a minute by just doing 16 lengths instead of the 18 I did (!!!!)
  • Swim to Bike transition - This was rubbish.  I can reduce this time by not drying feet and not putting on socks.  A race belt will also help here as it will already have my race number pinned to it.
  • Bike to Run transition - This was truly appalling.  The main chunk of time here was due to having to safety pin my number onto the front of my suit.  Again, the race belt should improve this time significantly.
The changes above should improve my time by at least 2 minutes, which would have pushed me into the mid-30 placings.

I've just spent the past week and a half drinking wine and eating chocolate cake after the race.  I'm bored now and ready for the next challenge and have just applied to do the Langport Triathlon in September.  Lets see how we get on with this one...