March 15th 2016, Hangzhou, China

We reached in the afternoon and checked in at the lakeside hotel, looking like a mountain resort. Not tall buildings, maximum 3 floors, big green spaces, relaxed atmosphere and clean fresh air.

However, once you step out of the hotel gardens doors, on the main roads, you really understand the purpose of those masks the Asian wear. Literally, I have sand/dust/soil on my face and lips and I need to cover my nose to breathe. So polluted that my eyes are filled with the stuff. Such a contrast.

This area is a relaxation areas, with hotels and lakes. No much activities to do other than look at the mirror of the lake, at the peace of the sky, away from the pollution down the street and eat some Chinese food and drink wine or very light Chinese beer.

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We get into discussions about conspiracy theory and aviation, media manipulation and other almost spiritual issues with the German pilot. I find out from him about Udo Ulfkotte, a German journalist who wrote a book called “Bought Journalists” in which he tells how journalists would take a canister of gasoline and light it to pretend they were transmitting from the war zones, although they were in safe areas.

Oh well, what caught my attention was his theory that people start having vision issues when they don’t want to see the world around them. As a psychological issue, as a battle to what they don’t like in their life. Made me think about it a lot. I started having my issues when I was around 15. Very interesting discussions by the glasses of white wine and a very intelligent person.

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March 16th 2016, Hangzhou, China

We’re ready to go to West Lake, but since early morning I feel we’re not going to make it. I’m with O. from Serbia, whom I just met, but feel close to her, as to a cousin.

Walking down Xiang Lake Road, through the terrible pollution I was telling you about, you reach a beautiful Chinese Gate decorated with dragons, right in the middle of a small park, by the lake. There are not many people around. On the left, a high hill covered in trees and with a pagoda. Right under the hill, a river and a chain of houses by the lake. From the road where we are to the houses there are fields that grow rice and vegetables in this extreme pollution and dust.

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This looks like a Palace, but it’s actually a restaurant and we pick a huge table by the lake, in the interior yard. The waiter comes to take us and we think because we are just two. We try to explain we want outside, but he insists, so we go. He takes us to the place where you order, where the food is made. So clean and well organized. The plateaus already arranged, the soups with all the ingredients at view, pictures for all types of food, the fresh vegetables and salads being watered continuously to remain ultra-fresh and a selection of fish and seafood that looks literally like an aquarium. It’s a museum inside the restaurant, you can forget you are picking your food.

We ordered and without any English he brought exactly what we asked for, even the Jasmine tea with goji and complementary cherry tomatoes, grapes, American peanuts and sunflower seeds. Some shrimp and some snails and other weird stuff I like or want to try.

I pause this to check my email and I have just received a complimentary letter for this flight. Wee!

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Xianghu Lake and its surroundings are lovely, a vast park with music playing from speakers hidden between the cherry blossom trees. Such a peaceful afternoon and O. and I talk about different things, about life, joking that we are like old people in a Sunday relaxing afternoon.

Besides, we laugh at the announcements by the lake and in the hotel. First was in the bathroom saying “Beware of the slippery”. Who’s the slippery? Now it’s written “Depth of Xianghu lake water be safe”. Probably it’s deep? Last one: “No littering here beautiful Xianghu Lake”.

We went back by the chain of houses at the basis of the hill, a place that looks quite strange, right by the very dirty water river, which does not prevent the old ladies to wash the vegetables and salads in it. Oh, and one more detail, the salad grows in the 30 cm wide soil band between the 3 meters fences of the houses and the street itself and it’s covered in dust and soil and the pollution stuff raised by the expensive cars driving around. This small community looks like the ones of criminals hiding their families here. Very tall fences, no men around, very expensive cars, only some old women preparing to cook and some kids. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m right.

Oh, I love the three seats bicycles at the hotel and the red ribbons with Chinese coins hanging from the trees with small pink flowers growing directly from the branches for the recent Chinese New Year. The hot air balloon in the garden of the hotel and the very twisted branches of one tree. Just like my thoughts. The cooks with their white hats walking around, the trees with huge pink flowers with countless petals, the reflection of the chain of houses in the nearby river, the pagoda up on the hill…

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January 31st 2016, Beijing, China

1 AM, just arrived in Beijing, China first time after 12 years.

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I was thinking in the plane that you should surround yourself with positive people. Then you become positive. Always be positive. I have dear friends who are negative and I avoid being around them since they seem to find the tiny negative aspect of all bright things and I leave drenched of energy after a talk with them.

So, I’m in Beijing. How do I see it now after 12 years? Weird, a different world. As back then. At the time I was not ready for the trip. I was in love. I wanted to be somewhere else and did not realize what a blessing was living. Same Hyundais all over the streets. The airport is beautiful, amazing design. Huge Chinese words illuminated signs in bright colors.

Order and boredom. I’m here in China thinking that even if i would only see airports and the rides to hotels it would still be worth it.

Someone asked me what drives me. Pilots!

My room? Of course, 11. 1703. And I got a missed called at 11:11. Really, I’m not crazy! And I got message from 1001 0 to welcome me in China.

By the way, there’s no Facebook here. Better. Actually last time I almost freaked out to the reception that their internet is terrible when I realized where I was and that all those stories in TV were right.

I love my room in Beijing. It reminds me of the rooms and the hotels I stayed in in 2004 during my China trip.

For sure in a few years I ll be back to my social sciences research, entwined with international affairs, using my law background, and doing what cabin crew do – travel, meet people, know their nature.

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This is the most exciting job on earth, really. You think meeting the president is hard? Try meeting cabin crew. I get 100+ flying hours every month which is a lot, mainly that’s all I do, I have no life. But traveling is my life, my addiction, my purpose and destiny.

It’s the most amazing and the craziest job. I think only crazy people can do it and enjoy it. For normal people must be hell. Thank God I’m not normal.

My colleague is from New Guinea and I was so proud to tell her it got its independence from Australia. Adding “in 1975”. I love to know the world, the countries and their history, the people and their traditions, their beliefs, what drives them, what makes them sad or smile.

At all times, it matters to see where you’re at. What you see with your eyes and with your mind. Where you want to go. What you want from life. For me, this is where I need to be. It is what I have to go through.

Messages everywhere: “To fight not just for yourself, but for the ones standing to your left and right.”

I live in a tunnel of messages. I live fast forwarded just to be at the right time at the right spot to hear, see, learn the right thing. In a certain way. That makes me think. Deeply. Because of the circumstances and the way it is delivered.

You know certain things touch you at different intensities depending on the circumstances. Well, I feel I am given the circumstances to be touched in a certain way. Some seeds are buried in me. I know it.

Slept 18 hours then did not sleep 24 then slept 8, awake 16, slept 3 more.

 

January 31st, Beijing, China

IMG_0528Off to the Great Chinese Wall, not too far from Beijing. We found a friendly taxi driver, I., my Ukrainian colleague and I. He does not speak English at all, but he’s trying to understand where we want to go. The price, on the phone (we negotiated and obtained around $90 for both ways plus waiting time). We are not sure we are going the right place until we actually arrived. But the heat of the car in the -15 degrees air outside makes us not care.

My recommendation for anywhere in China would be to take the card from hotel and pictures of where you want to go. You think you know you’re staying at Hilton, but then you realize there are 5 Hiltons in the city and you cannot go back.

The scenery is simple, beautiful, frozen. The sun is shyly spreading its rays. Rivers are completely frozen. We keep driving looking at the “fake” cars and at the motorcycles with gloves. They really must be freezing.

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We expect extreme cold, but we’re from Eastern Europe and we think we can take it. Though, I know I adapted so well to the desert that I’m cold below 30 degrees. However, we were so lucky that it was a very sunny day and there was no wind and could actually take the gloves out to press the camera button.

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The driver bought the tickets for us, three for each. There are no foreigners except for two Americans and us. We get into the same cable car, second one. On the first one it says that Mrs. Michelle (no last name), the wife of the president rode this cable car.

 

I have asked over time people from different fields of activity how life in China is. The reviews are not great and I understand why. The cultural gap is huge, the language barrier is an issue and it’s a very different and difficult language. Football coach tells me he’s not enjoying it. Although paid double, pilots refuse to move here. So I ask this American guy, in his 40-50s, who says he had been living for years here. He says it’s a good experience, but since he’s here he appreciates America more. Very diplomatic.

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We’re up the Chinese Wall, but I don’t recall it like this. The weather is truly great, no wind at all and sunny. Cannot even feel the cold. There’s so much silence up here, the view is magnificent and there are almost no tourists since it’s early morning. I find we are in the Mutianyu Section of the Wall, around 70 km away from Beijing and that it used to be the Northern border of the city. It is one of the best kept sections of the Wall, yet far away on some hills you can see parts of the Wall almost vanishing.

A wonder of the world, The Great Chinese Wall comprises of more than 8000 km of fortifications. Even so, there is a misconception that it is visible from the Moon or from Mars.

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Walking the Great Wall is one of those bucket list entries that you have to check in a lifetime. The feeling is overwhelming and fulfilling. We have hot tea in a Pagoda looking at the whole Wall and the cliffs visible between the bricks. Then we bargain two magnets from 260 to 100Y.

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The taxi driver is still here waiting for us. He’s young, well dressed and nice smelling, but still he has a long pinky finger nail. He shows us the app he has for instant translation into English and the phone says: “It is a pleasure to make service for you”. Such a cute thing! We laugh at each other, it is a universal language. Yet, I’m wondering why he did not use it when we first stopped him on the street.

Back in the hotel, in the crew lounge. A Chinese flight supervisor is saying the instructions like a prayer, without even breathing. Reading for some paper for good minutes. I’m so relaxed in this full body massage chair, eating ginger cookies and sipping an espresso.

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China is a different world, but one that cannot be ignored. They made all the things you wear and in your surrounding while you’re reading this. Your laptop and iPhone.

The city and the country is ready for the New Year. Chinese New Year, on the 8th of February. The year of Red Monkey. I’m ready for it and actually waiting for it. I order room service and it’s so fat I cannot eat it.

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Gong xi fa cai! Welcome to the year of the Fire Monkey!

 

Before landing I was curious if I was going to recognize Shanghai after 11 years+. I mean, I am just bach from Bucharest and I barely recognized parts of it after 6 months away from the city. And I lived there 7 years.

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First Day in Shanghai

I take my room key and head to the 20th floor of our hotel. The view is not bad, but not amazing or maybe it’s just me getting used to high views and standards.

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In about an hour I’m heading downtown to the Lujiazui Station. This is where the Oriental Pearl Tower is, the place where any trip to Shanghai starts.

IMG_0167I had been here 11 years ago, in a almost one month journey around China (Beijing – Shanghai – Xi’an etc.) I took together with my mother and other great ladies in 2004. I was 13 back then and I’m not sure how much I realized back then how lucky I was. As everybody had told me, the city changed immensely and I recognized the tower of course and I had a flashback in the very fast elevator, but that’s about it.

However, for the first night I chose only to walk around the city and in the area or the tower which is invaded by minions (there is also an official store),

IMG_0124 take the Tourist Bund Tunnel (which was much of a disappointment because we were expecting something like a sightseeing tunnel, but there’s only lights and then you get to the other side), walk along the Bund (waterfront area) and admire Shanghai by night which is pretty amazing,

Shanghai is the kind of very modern city with skyscrapers and looks very futurist. During the day it looks foggy and actually I think it is pollution coming from the numerous plants at the outskirts of the city, but the view is amazing – tall buildings swallowed by white milky grey clouds.

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shop and have dinner on the extremely crowded Nanjing Road.

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IMG_0305 Chinese design is also attractive, colorful and with lots of print and man … they have everything. I will not mention the selfie stick which is everywhere (even so, people were staring at mine bought from Bangkok), but they have all the small stuff you need and don’t need, all coming in an amazing colorful and ingenious package.

At The Bund it is the first place I saw people directing the pedestrian areas. There are seas of people there at night and probably without these people yelling some Chinese in loudhailer, the traffic would simply block. Even so, it is simply overwhelming and once you got a direction there is almost no possible way to go back.

What stroke me about Shanghai was that there were no foreign tourists. Only Chinese. And I was during all my stay in essentially touristic places. Where are the foreigners. I mean, to climb to the 351 m Space Capsule of the Oriental Pearl Tower we waited in line for almost two hours and we only saw a family of four and apparently the lady is a pilot for our company.

If you want to be a star, be European/American/white and preferably blonde and go to China. The flip out, they stare, the kids run to you, get embarrassed and then go back to their parents, they ask to take pictures with you, it’s crazy. Normally, they should be used to tourists, I mean foreign tourists.

However, you can tell how directed they all are and there are not the best words I can say about the behavior of SOME Chinese. Maybe the cultural gap is too huge, I know we were raised differently and have different cultural roots, but I have actually noticed this with all the Asians. They are good people, you can talk to them, joke, go out (I mean my Asian colleagues because Chinese do NOT speak English and don’t even try), but then that’s it. No way of clicking further.

At the smelly restaurant (I don’t mind and as opposed to what everyone told me, it does NOT smell) I had a spicy soup with minced meat coming in one of their colorful bowls with the big wood spoon and a pork schnitzel with rice which came with a sort of soup (water soup, which is too light for me and I don’t eat/drink).

IMG_0292 For my friend’s fish I had to draw the fish and the rice, which was pretty funny, but I guess you can communicate very well with people if you want and keep a positive state of mind and don’t give up.

I stopped at a store to buy some snacks and I bought three bottles of tea that taste terrible right after coming from Nanjing road. There must be something wrong with me, but they were terrible. I’m not a huge fan of tea, meaning I never drink tea, but this was bottled and I expected to be sweet, but it was not. Here I remind myself of some Chinese wisdom coming from Confucius on which I base my whole life philosophy – “Disappointment comes from expectation”.

Second Day in Shanghai, 20 July 2015, 5:40 AM

Weird enough for me I woke up without the alarm clock at 5:40 AM. I watched some CNN and BBC and then got ready for the breakfast.

At the same time an ad is running about the newly rich of China (a new millionaire is made every WEEK) who are not as free as you would think a filthy rich person is as they have to do what the government says or otherwise they are arrested (probably this being the best).

IMG_0018I just woke up after 7 hours with the light going in the room on the huge wall size window. The view is mainly plants with thick foggy pollution smoke and tall condo buildings.

The offer was very good, but I felt some were tasteless, which might also be from my recent teeth extractions/ anesthesia etc.

We took the metro which was crowded and extremely cheap. People are staring at us and in a station where we saw another white girl we stared at her and she stared at us, saying things with the eyes. Probably she was crew. Haha. In the metro it says “Please take care of th elderly, the children, the sick, the disabled and others in need of help” and there are cartoons panels everywhere. Back at the TV tower we went up to the highest point (Space Capsule or the upper most bubble of the tower) and them to the Transparent Observatory where the floor is made of glass, being the only all glass 360 degrees observatory in the world.

We took tons of pictures together with my Serbian and Brazilian colleague and then spent some time in the shop of the tower.

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For Future Visits

My first visit in Shanghai was 100% guided and besides I was with  group, now it’s my first time alone as an adult tourist, but for the next time, since I covered this time the most important attractions I plan on:

  • Having a cocktail at The Vue Bar at the Hyatt Hotel;
  • Sometime take a ride on the Shanghai Maglev which takes 8 minutes from the airport at a speed of 430km/h (bye bye Arlanda Express in Stockholm at a speed of over 202 km/hours). I don’t know when this will happen as we have the transportation covered, but I am curious as I read about this train in Foreign Policy Romania (to which I was a collaborator) quite a while ago;
  • Go to the Shanghai Museum in People’s Square. I visited it in 2004 and I remember the most amazing Cartier jewelry exhibition which I saw advertised in Elle (this time was in Paris maybe) at the around the world page and I wrote so proud “seen it in Shanghai”;
  • Visit the ShanghART Museum. Chinese Modern Art is booming and is sold for millions around the world and besides it is one of my greatest passions.
  • Have dinner at M on the Bund (http://www.m-restaurantgroup.com/mbund/) watching the amazing night view.
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