China/Macao — through Thurs PM

Here I am at the Wynn Macao where the internet isn’t censored. I can send e-mail, visit websites and be normal (as normal as I can be anyway). When we last left our intrepid traveller I had arrived at our hotel in Ningbo where my computer was under constant attack.

The next day we had a 9am meeting which was, quite honestly, a waste. Later we decided to walk around Ningbo a bit, and besides the usual ladies throwing themselves at us for the obligatory massage, there was little else of note. Everyone was staring at us because Westerners are clearly not a common sight there. Nobody was overtly hostile, but it was very uncomfortable in one sense. We went to a quick-mart and I bought some chocolates and a pack of throat lozenges that I would later find out expired over a year ago. Well, they worked so what difference?

For RMB 600 we were able to extend our checkout until 4pm — the best money we ever spent. We had another brief meeting which went better. After that, we didn’t do much until we checked out at 4pm. They tried to bill me for my mini-bar tab twice but that wasn’t particularly troublesome I thought. I’m sorry I complained; after all at a paltry RMB 41 it wasn’t worth the headache — then the manager came over and said a laundry bag was missing but I tried to explain I gave them two laundry bags and that went nowhere. A good example of why sometimes you just pay and shut up.

We arrived at the Ningbo airport, and like most places in China there was no A/C and some of the lights were off because you could still see a little bit. All five flights at the airport were delayed and we would later learn the Chinese air traffic control system was out that day and they were running manually. Anyway, we’re told check-in is at 5pm so we wait and kill time. Finally, we check in and go to the gate where we find there is an unspecified delay. Naturally they just announce there’s a delay without any details as to why or how long. I am not picking on the Chinese — the US Airports aren’t any better and at least they apologized for the inconvenience.

Finally we board. There is no first class cabin which is why Karen couldn’t find seats. If you’ve ever been on a plane in coach, you know there is one row for each set of windows. China Southern’s intrastate flights have three rows for every two windows. I had trouble even getting in the row to get to my seat. It was the most uncomfortable 2.5 hour flight I have ever taken. Of course, there was a full meal service, which I declined. I think it was whole, boiled eels.

We arrived in Guangzhou (aka Canton) and what a hard landing. Apparently, it was our pilot’s first time behind the yoke of a plane. My cat could have landed the plane better. We were wondering where the terminal was. Why? It was night and we couldn’t see the well-lit terminal through the smog. When they opened the plane door the stench was unbelievable. Years ago, if you ever went to Jacksonville and smelled the paper mills, it was reminiscent of that only 100 times worse. My ability to describe this cancerous malaise is beyond belief. That old expression “air so thick you could cut it with a knife” is quite appropriate if the knife is sharp enough — makes the air in Shanghai seem pristine. Disgusting.

We drive to the hotel with our host who actually picked us up and took us to the hotel. We had booked our own hotel, but he insisted we cancel and stay at this hotel. I believe I may have mentioned that before. So we get there, except apparently he didn’t really book the room and didn’t believe us when we said our travel agent said the hotel was full. We had no rooms. Being Chinese he had to save face so he did they only thing he could do, which was to rent us a villa. Greg and I didn’t realize that when he said we had to share a room and we gave each other the “whatchoo talkin’ ’bout Willis” look. Turns out we had a four-bedroom house for the night which was nearly RMB10000 a night — and we let him pay as he was insisting, something we’re normally loathe to do.

Now, since earlier Wednesday I had been, let me put this delicately, suffering severe intestinal distress. I was told that we had to go to dinner — and they brought me what was supposedly a “burger”, but it had the consistency of mashed potatoes, the colour of pinkish-white, and the taste of a pepper-cream béarnaise sauce (if such a thing exists). Two bites and I almost heaved. The worst burger of all time but not nearly as bad as the Sea Cucumber from my last trip to China.

Off to bed. I decided to use the shower (after testing the toilet several more times). I was going to wash my hair but after seeing the colour (and smelling) the water, I take a record-speed shower. You think a villa at a “five star” resort would be nice and it was. You think it would be clean but it wasn’t. I looked at my socks and the bottoms were black. Icky. And the bed was the hardest bed — beating out even the Tayhih Landis — I’ve ever been on. I sleep until 6am anyway.

Thursday I am up and decide to go for a walk. It’s humid and the weather is brown. Yes, you read correctly. The weather is brown. Later that day it would be yellow-brown. I eat breakfast at the main building and return to the hotel. Our ride is a bit late but we’re out the door at 10.

This is Greg’s big meeting and it’s a disaster. His vendor and the agent are lying through their teeth. Their stories change, their body language says anxiety, and they don’t come clean. I pass Greg several notes warning him it’s bad news on most counts, but he’s aware of it, just not how bad. We’re talking the body language of wringing hands, massaging thumb into the forefinger web, looking downward, furrowed brows, avoiding eye contact. The guy’s a bad lair and is very uncomfortable because he realizes we aren’t gullible plus about 1/2 hour into the meeting our guy from Hong Kong walks in, so he can’t even talk in Chinese to his partner without us being privy. Glad it wasn’t my meeting. They send us back to the hotel in the car and invite us to lunch to appease us, but we decline and meet our hosts from Hong Kong for our ride to another factory way to the south. Parts of the ride are nice, but I am confident that a factory billowing mustard yellow smoke is a really bad thing.

This factory visit goes swimmingly well. Yay. Then we’re off to Macao (Macau to some). We go through the exit process. Leaving China proves to be a chore — there is almost no English instruction, so our host proves helpful — and the immigration officer is yelling at Greg about something, but we don’t understand. We begin to worry we won’t be allowed out and someone else comes over and finally lets us through. Then we walk about 50 metres to the entrance to Macao, China, SAR but that runs much more smoothly since though there’s not much English I can muddle through the written Portuguese instructions. We’re in Macau and take two taxis since we all can’t fit in one to the Wynn Macau. It’s just like Vegas only smaller.

The casino is way different though. Blackjack allows you to bet not only on your hand, but on anyone else’s hand on the table — there are hash marks below each hand for this purpose. And even people standing and watching can bet on your hands. It’s very odd. You can also bet a “pair” bet at 11-1 which means if the person gets a pair, you get paid 11-1 — and you can bet on any or all players whether or not you’re actually playing. Also you play your hand out and then the dealer plays his/her hand and draws the second card. Weird. And now you’re up to date through Thursday night.

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