I left the ship in Shanghai on Wednesday evening. I expected a bag search at a minimum but it went very smoothly. Three uniformed Immigration officers came aboard and met with the Captain in his office. I was summoned, one of the officials briefly compared me with my passport picture, and the three got up and left. They were polite and friendly. I think the Captain’s familiarity with the processes of getting on and off the ship in all of the countries we visited helped a lot.
Several of the crew and I exchanged contact information before I left. As I’ve said before there wasn’t an unpleasant personality in the bunch. They are hardworking family men who are a long way from home performing a job with major responsibilities for the safety of the crew and cargo. They are all intelligent and some had interesting things to say about books, movies and world politics. They were courteous, patient and generous about sharing their knowledge with this tourist, and I am glad I got to spend time with them.
But once off the boat in Shanghai I again had the feeling of being on roller skates. Three Chinese guys met the ship, two of whom spoke English a bit. I think one of them was the Port Agent. One of them disappeared with my passport, saying he was going ahead to immigration. I didn’t know where Immigration was of course, and it turned out to be outside the Port gate. When I fretted about being separated from the passport the other English speaker told me not to worry, “you’re with me” which wasn’t reassuring since I didn’t even know his name, but I had to pretend it was since his friend was gone with my passport. But of course everything worked out fine.
I wound up in a van with a fellow with zero English being driven to downtown Shanghai at night during the Chinese New Year holiday celebrations. Having been in a few cars and taxis here now, I’d say he was about a 7 on the scale of 1-10 for Shanghai drivers, with 10 being best. In Seattle he’s a two. He would be murdered in a road rage incident within 30 minutes of getting behind the wheel in Seattle, 10 minutes in LA, and no jury would ever convict his killer.
Alas I’ve been squandering my time in Shanghai, which is pretty, cosmopolitan and high energy, trying to understand its transportation system. Figuring out how to arrange train tickets to Vietnam was difficult. Two of the railway clerks had never heard of Hanoi, and had certainly never sold a ticket to the place. I am close to a train station but there are two in Shanghai and mine is the wrong one, and it took me almost a full day to figure that sad fact out. But taxis are cheap, I’m slowly figuring out the subway system, I’ve now got my train ticket to Nanning, near the Vietnam border, and I’ve enjoyed some great food.
I got a haircut today at a shop full of young men with Asian Flock of Seagulls-type haircuts, and wound up in an argument about the charges. My fault, should have nailed down the cost before letting them get after me with scissors but the guy, who kept saying he was the shop’s “number one cutter,” literally came out on the street near the Bund and pulled me inside. We settled for less than half what he demanded (I took a page from that stupid show “Pawn Stars” and started taking money off the table to close the deal) but the cost was still way too high. I deserved it – I am a rube in Shanghai who needed fleecing by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood hair salon.
There are lots of men here that are going for the pre-Nirvana LA hair band look. Their hair looks time-consuming – it makes me tired to look at them. If they were really as bad as they pretend to be they’d shave their heads and get a tattoo of a snake on their face. In fact there are not many tattoos in evidence. Lots of women wearing pants tucked into stiletto heeled boots or Uggs. Everybody wearing black or maybe gray parkas as the weather is very cold. Black is definitely the color.