Sunday, March 30, 2008

Delayed & Cancelled

These are the last two words a traveler wants to hear when you are checking in but ones I encountered during my last trip. In mid March I was able to take my first trip home to spend at home and to do some work in Austin (not to mention visit the local Mexican food restaurants). The trip home was great. Rachel was off for a couple of days for Easter, so I planned my off days during the same time. The weather was perfect and overall was a much needed taste of home.

So, where does delayed and cancelled come in? Well, on my trip back to Shanghai my wife and I headed for the Austin airport at 2:45 A.M. so I could check in at 4:00 and leave at 6:00 A.M. The process starts at the self check-in terminals which is where my problems started. Right away the machine tells me that I need to wait for an attendant to help me. When one finally arrives they take my passport and head towards a computer terminal and after a minute I was informed that my flight from Chicago to Shanghai was cancelled. OK, I thought, flights are cancelled all the time and I'll just get rerouted. Sure enough after a couple more minutes I was presented with a couple of options. The same flight for the next day was already full so I could wait for two days and take that flight or I can switch airlines in L.A. and take China Eastern to Shanghai. It would put me in Shanghai a few hours later and I would lose my frequent flier miles but I would still get there during the weekend.

The flight to L.A. was a few hours later so they issued Rachel a no-seat boarding pass. It was just a pass so she could go through the security check point. We ate breakfast together and then she was off to a friends to get some sleep. My flight to L.A. was on time and all I had to do was check-in to find my new gate number. The gate was 120 and my ticket said the flight would leave 12:30 P.M. It was only 10:45 and I had some time so I ate lunch at the airport. After arriving at the designated terminal I found the flight time had changed to 1:30. No problem, it's just one more hour before a 14 hour flight. As 1:30 started to approach I expected they would start boarding but soon after there was another announcement. "There has been a delay of the flight for a special reason", was the announcement. "Please go to Gate 110." So everyone heads towards gate 110 where we see the sign say that the flight has been delayed until 3:00. Gate 110 was just a holding area. I guess they weren't sure when the plane would be ready and they needed the other gate for flights that were still coming and going.

During the wait a few people had found out that the flight was delayed because one of the engines had a problem and they were waiting for a part to come in. We soon got another update that the flight was now delayed until 4:00 P.M. and then again to 5:00 P.M. About 5:30 P.M. the final word for the day came in and they said the flight was cancelled for the day. Please go out to the check-in area for new instructions. After standing in that line for almost another hour I found myself with a voucher to the local Hilton hotel where I would staying for the night. The new flight had been rescheduled for the next day at 3:00 P.M.

Well I get to spend another day in the U.S. but I was pretty much stuck at the hotel. For a hotel stay it was pretty nice. The meals were paid for and they offered buffets for dinner, breakfast and lunch. I didn't have to worry about transportation since the hotel used a shuttle service.

After a restful day in L.A. and a large western style breakfast I was ready to get back to Shanghai. I stood in line again to get my new boarding pass and while waiting I heard the dreaded words again 'the flight has been delayed until 4:00 P.M.' Here we go again, I thought. Luckily I packed enough clothes in my carry on luggage to last me for a couple of days if the flight was cancelled again. I recognized several people in line who didn't plan so well. This time I decided to pull out the laptop and do some work to pass the time. 4:00 P.M. soon approached and yes you guess it, the flight was delayed again until 5:00 P.M.

I was completely expecting the flight to be cancelled again when around 4:45 they said they would start boarding. It didn't leave at 5:00 but we were on our way to another terminal this time by buses and we were up in the air around 5:45 P.M., finally!

If you are counting it was 2 cancellations and 6 delays. I finally made it Shanghai, Sunday evening around 11:00 P.M. and back to the apartment around 12:30 in the morning.

To put a cherry on top of the whole experience I discovered that I left my charger for my razor at home. Back to Carrefour tomorrow.

Friday, March 7, 2008


Transportation is one of the things that I think most people take for granted. I know, I sure did when I was home. It is very convenient to get into your car and just go to the places you need to. Here in China, I have had to resort to other forms of transportation. Keep in mind that a trip to the store usually means a trip back home first to drop off the goods before venturing out to the next destination. It seems like I spend a lot of time just traveling to and from home to get things done. But with so many trips I have had the chance to experience each form of transportation and have some conclusions for each.

Taxi: Small 1-6 passenger sedan. Fast and lightly armored.

Pros: Readily available when it is not rush hour or when it is not raining. Fast, if traffic is light and will get you closest to your destination.

Cons: The most expensive form of transportation. A trip to work about 10km will cost around $4.00.

Bus: Multi-passenger carrier, heavily armored.

Pros: Very cheap - about $0.30 a ride. Fairly reliable. You can expect the bus to be at the stop around every 10-15 minutes. Less often on the weekend though.

Cons: Very crowded during rush hour and when it rains. Limited range. Must switch buses if you want to go somewhere further away. All the signs are in Chinese characters so if you can't read it you have no idea where it goes. I have taken a bus from work which was headed in the right direction just because I couldn't get a taxi. Luckily one of the stops was at a nearby subway station.

Subway: Fast and efficient. No need for heavy armor.

Pros: Fast and inexpensive. Can expect another train within 5-7 minutes. Reaches many parts of the city. Not subject to traffic jams so time is of minimal concern.

Cons: Will get you close to your destination but you may have to rely on a secondary form of transportation to get there. Usually very crowded.

Bike: 1-2 passenger with no armor.

Pros: Very maneuverable and fast. Most roads in Shanghai have very large bike lanes so it is easy to avoid traffic jams. If I use the bus, subway and shuttle to go to work it takes about an hour to get there. But I ride I can usually get there in 25-30 minutes. Very cheap to maintain and use.

Cons: No defense against wild taxi drivers or buses. Easily stolen if not locked to something permanent. No protection from the weather. Bring rain gear and another change of clothes.

A picture of my bike. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . These kids found a fast way down the stairs.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

文可吉 – Wen Ke Ji (My Chinese Name)

With more and more companies establishing businesses in China it is very common for Chinese poeple to take an English name. Most receive a name in school but some choose to change it when they enter the workplace. Last week my collegues started putting together a list of Chinese names for me. Names here are based on Chinese characters and so, have special meaning. In China your family name always comes first so the first part of my Chinese name sort of matches my last name (the first letter, anyway). Here is the meaning for each part and the pronunciation.

文 means gentle; (pronounced - wun, sounds like one)
可 means nice; (pronounced - kuh, similar to wun but with a k and drop the n)
吉 means lucky; promising success; opportune; favorable (pronounced - jee)

wun kuh jee - The real pinyin is wen ke ji