SHANGHAI -- I'm in the world's possibly most exciting city, a city with twice as many skyscrapers as New York, more residential construction underway than in all of the United States, and one of the greatest explosions of skyrocket affluence in human history.
I need to do laundry.
Successful traveling is all about pacing. I'm nearing the 40 percent mark of the journey, and my toughest week is coming up when I head to Xi'an on Monday. So when the Kansas tornado dropped me down in Shanghai last night, I found a hotel with broadband and set up camp. I'll go out this evening, but until then, it's time to organize the business cards, consolidate the week's gains and clean my jeans.
And what a week. And what a yesterday, which started with a bus trip through the countryside to the Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng City. The city is the purported birthplace of Kung Fu, and the temple still hosts martial-arts training that attracts 63,000 students a year -- enough to easily staff five crack infantry divisions when the students get older. They were doing morning exercises as the bus arrived, and I took video of their endless lines here. Download MVI_0490.AVI The reasons to cultivate peaceful relations with China are numerous, but this would be another one.
Dengfeng remains a holy place. During the Cultural Revolution all monks but three were banished, and only now has it begun to flourish -- as a tourist attraction. Many of the buildings evidence the Restoration Hardware approach to antiquity -- why have something old when you can have something new that looks old? But tourists the world over can light candles and pay tribute, and that's not such a bad thing. And the martial arts truly are amazing -- demonstration is here (Warning: Large file.) Download MVI_0533.AVI
The trip back from Dengfeng, unfortunately, exhibited my Type A personality at its very worst. My plan for the day was to get back from Dengfeng, then meet up at noon with a driver and head to Xinzheng City, another Henan Province town, to spend a couple hours talking with students for a story I'm working up before catching Gov. Sebelius's speech at SIAS International University, a college that grants degrees in conjunction with Fort Hays State University in Kansas. But the bus driver had other ideas, deciding we all needed to see the tombs where famous monks are buried. I spent the stop silently cursing the monks and their memories, and we ended up getting back at 12:45. I thought my opportunity was lost -- but of course, the driver was still waiting for me. Not only that, he had a whole team gathered that handled my hotel checkout and my plane pickup later.
I've noticed out here that it's hard for me to gauge whether to anticipate whether someone will be helpful or not -- sometimes a seemingly simple request is impossible, and sometime I think I've blown it, only to have every need accounted for before I even know what it is. And there's always so much going on that I'm not even comprehending.
But I can comprehend SIAS, where students were celebrating international week. I was met at the school by three students -- my minders for the afternoon. I, of course, wanted to interview them, but all they wanted to do was show me buildings. This may have been their plan all along, but I managed to meet some other students, and after awhile everyone opened up.
And so we walked, past the Western-style west campus with streets named "Los Angeles Avenue" and the like, through the east campus, which is traditional. I got life stories, reflections on what Chinese students like about the West ("May the Force be with you," one said), and dating tips. "One sentence you need to know," one student said, 'is 'Ni hen piaoliang.' Ni hen piaoliang."
"I think you're very pretty too," I replied.
"You KNOW it!" she squealed. "Ni hen piaoliang!"
"I know enough to get by," I said, feeling suave for the first time in weeks.
And the governor arrived, backed by a parade that kept a beat anyone familiar with Queen would know. Thump-thump THUMP! Thump-thmp THUMP! Download MVI_0567.AVI Almost reflexively, I went into the lyrics:
Buddy you’re a young man, hard man shoutin’ in the street gonna take on the world some day
You got blood on yo’ face, big disgrace
"Wavin’ your banner all over the place," the Force student completed.
The governor arrived. We took our seats. The governor spoke, and did a q&a, a question of which is captured here: Download MVI_0618.AVI To the airport, to Shanghai, to hotel, to rest, to laundry.
Caught up yet?