Tim Foolery

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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Shanghai-Lights: Shanghai MagLev

Shanghai Pudong International Airport is about 30 kilometers from the downtown area, where our hotel was located.  To get to the hotel you can take a taxi (200rmb at 1 hour travel time), take the Metro (7rmb at 1 hour 40 minutes) or the MagLev (40rmb at 7 minutes) supplemented by either a taxi (30rmb at 15 minutes) or the Metro (4rmb at 1 hour).  I opted for the MagLev then a taxi.

After picking up a Chinese SIM card for my travel phone, I walked the 10 minute walk to the MagLev station and purchased my round trip ticket. The ticket itself is a hard plastic ticket – not the cheap paper tickets you get everywhere else in the world. These tickets are collected after they expire and are recycled. I wish I could have kept the ticket, I love that kind of stuff.

The MagLev is downstairs, but we are corralled into a waiting area before the train arrives. Once the passengers clear the train and enter the airport we are allowed downstairs.  The train has both VIP and Economy tickets. I don’t see a reason at all to go for VIP tickets — the ride is 7 minutes. Even if you are crowded into the car, forced to hold your suitcase and to stand the VIP still makes no sense.

I board the train, stow my luggage on the racks near the door an take a seat.  The train is quite wide, with groups seats facing each other – three on each side.  The train is clean, but not luxurious.  A bit better than a nice taxi.  The car itself smells a bit like cigarettes – not because anyone is smoking, but because there are a ton of smokers on the train.

We leave the airport at 15h31 on the dot. Inside the car there is an LCD above the door with the time and the speed of the train.  At 15h35 we reached our maximum speed of 431kph (268mph). We stayed at this speed for 75 seconds — yes I did take copious notes as this was the fastest land transportation I have ever been on.  The ride was very smooth and very quiet. The only issue was when you pass the train going back towards the airport – there is quite a loud banging sound and before you know it the other train has passed. I guess that’s what happens with a combined speed of 862kph (536mph), right?

At 15h38 we pulled into Longyang Road Station, the train quickly emptied and we head out, people scurrying to taxis, the Metro or private cars.

Longyang Road Station – Waiting for the Train
The “Ordinary Section” — not VIP.
Mike peering out the window as we cruise along at 301 kph
A not so glamorous view from the MagLev

At the end of our time in Shanghai, we took the MagLev back to the airport. Unfortunately this time, the train maxed out at 301kph.

The biggest downside of the MagLev? It doesn’t take you all the way downtown. Ideally the train would at least take you to the Central Business District in Pudong District.  The MagLev is totally worth the price. It is fast, it is clean, to me it is a novelty — I am a transportation nerd, so it was nice to cross MagLev off of my modes of transportation list.

One word of caution though. If you take a taxi from Longyang Road Station be sure you know how much it should cost you to get to your destination. I emailed the hotel asking this question and they informed me that it should be no more than 40rmb, but closer to 30rmb based on my arrival time. The taxi driver took a very direct route, but attempted to charge me 280rmb PLUS 100rmb “highway fee”.  Interestingly enough, he wouldn’t even pull into the hotel driveway, he wanted to park on the street. After I told him he was overcharging me and I knew it, he played dumb. I told him I only had 50rmb and I’d run into the hotel and get cash, he pulled into the driveway.  I told the doorman what was going on and he had a few words with the driver. I paid 30rmb and considered myself lucky.

If traveling in or out of Shanghai Pudong International Airport I highly suggest you take the MagLev. It is a great ride.

Do you prefer to take a cab from the airport or hop on local transportation?  How often have you gotten ripped off by a taxi driver like this? Do you call the hotel and get fare estimates in advance?  FYI, I usually do not, but since I felt I was going to be SO far out of my element, I figured I should plan a bit better.

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Nicest People – Shanghai

I met some of the nicest and generous people in Shanghai.  Everyone from the guy at the arrivals area at Shanghai Pudong International Airport who offered me a ride for only 700rmb to my hotel — any hotel in Shanghai only 700rmbs (only slightly more than double under the worst case scenarios).

Next there was the wonderful man who sat next to me while I was plugging in the Chinese SIM card into my travel phone and he offered to sell me the brand new iPhone 7. Gosh, mister, if you would have come up 3 minutes ago, I would have, but I just spent $20USD buying a SIM card. Shucks!

Then there was the all the guys in near the Yuyuan Garden who offered to sell me watches. The most glamorous watches ever — they even had a laminated card showing all the great brands they had: Casio,  Tagg Hour, Timecks and I think I even saw a Rollexx available.  He was even nice enough, when he found out I wasn’t looking for a watch, to offer to introduce me to a “sexy lady”.  Well, what’s a boy to do…

Such great guys – I had no idea the folks in Shanghai were such gracious hosts.

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Shanghai-Lights: UAL 835: ORD-PVG (United Economy)

@United offers one non-stop flight a day between Chicago O’Hare and Shanghai Pudong. This is a polar flight and would be the longest flight I have ever taken.

Carrier: United Airlines (ORD-PVG)

Flight #: 835
Seat: 21G
Departure: January 24, 2013 –  10h10 / 10h22
Arrival: January 25, 2013 – 14h50 / 14h25
Travel Time: 14 hours 40 minutes / 14 hours 3 minutes
Flight Miles: 7,056

You may have noticed my panic attack earlier when I saw that United swapped out my reconfigured plane for an older style 777. Well, luckily, they switched it back and Economy seats had AVOD – making the flight much more palatable.

Since one can’t print a boarding pass at home for this flight (airline has to check validity of Visas before you travel), I planned on arriving at O’Hare at around 08h30, giving me about 90 minutes to check in, get molested by the TSA, buy water and head to the gate.  I’m not a morning person. I actually left late and ended up getting to the airport about 09h00 — 10 minutes before check-in ended for my flight.

There was no line and check-in was a breeze.  TSA was a mess though.  No Pre-Check for me, since I was flying international. I was in line for a good 25 minutes – which is almost unheard of any more.  I opt out, as always and a nice older TSA gentlemen is assigned to grope me.  For the first time ever the TSA employee really did a molestation job and judging by the look on his face, he wasn’t expecting to run his thumb over my junk. He was as shocked as I was (or he is a creepily good actor). Lovely.

No time for a lounge visit, I head to the gate (C18) and buy water. I see the gate area is pretty empty and the line relatively short, then I hear the “Final Boarding” call for the flight.  It was only 09h35 by this point. Final call 35 minutes before departure?  I hurry my way to the Premium boarding line and quickly bypass the masses. The plane is empty.

I sit and next to me (across the aisle) is a young man and his wife. I assumed they were Mormon (Midwest Mormons, not West Coast). Young, married, extremely polite, booze-free — just a wholesome look.  A family with 8 (ish) year old twins sat behind me and didn’t sit still for more than 4 minutes the entire flight.  A Chinese woman (I guess she was Chinese, she was Asian, spoke Mandarin and was going to Shanghai…it may be a leap, but I’ll take it) sat in front of me, never reclining her seat or doing anything that may annoy me — Shocking, I know. Finally a young Chinese woman (see generalization above) sat in the Center section with me, on the other side of the empty middle seat.

This is my first time on a reconfigured UAL 777. The AVOD is great. The seats recline and the seat itself slides forward reducing the amount of recline that hits your neighbor behind you without reducing your actual recline.

Drinks were served. Followed by lunch which was a choice between BBQ Chicken and Hunan Beef and Rice. I chose the latter — the Mormons chose the former (they were going to be in China for 3 week and didn’t want to jump in with both feet yet).

The AVOD was great.  I watched a few TV show including: How I Met Your Mother, Big Bang Theory, Criminal Minds, Frasier and Downton Abbey.  Then I switched to watching movies. I watched Goonies (in French, again) and Beverly Hills Cop,  then attempted to watch: Hope Springs and Avatar but found them to be so horribly bad I couldn’t get past the first 30 minutes of either of them.

I napped and worked during this period too. I probably put in about 5-6 hours of work while watching TV.

I drink a ton of water on a plane. I brought 3.5 litres of water with me and had a cup of water every time the Stew would walk by and offered it — probably once an hour, perhaps.  I had the same flight crew for this flight and my return and they were AMAZING. Read about that in an upcoming post.

Considering this was the longest flight I had ever been on (next longest was the 12.5 hour flight from LHR-CPT, following an 8 hour flight from ORD-LHR and a 10 hour layover in London), it was remarkably non-miserable.  Granted the flight was empty and the Stew Crew was fab.  I wouldn’t want to do it every week, but with this plane and this crew, I could do Economy to Asia once a month, I think.

We landed early in Shanghai and as I look out the window, I see the City shrouded in a dirty brown funk. A haze that looks as toxic to your body as it is to your travel photos. Industrialization is going full steam (coal and petroleum fueled steam engines) in Shanghai.

Customs and Immigration are a breeze.  Technically, I didn’t need a visa, since I was in Shanghai for less than 72 hours, but I didn’t want to risk it…get a visa, even if you don’t need it.

Does the idea of 14+ hours in United economy give you the hives? What is the longest flight you’ve taken in economy?

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Best Airline Meals Ever…

Airplane food is never known to be all that fantastic. Yes, first and business class can offer some great options (caviar, cooked to order steaks), but still all in all, the food isn’t any better than what you can get on the ground.  This is not a story of how I had a meal that was so great on an airplane that it eclipsed food I had on terra firma .  Instead, I want to talk about the best meals I’ve had while in the air. Interestingly enough, two of these three meals were on a recent trip to and from Shanghai.

The best meal ever was on South African Airways from LHR-CPT.  I flew economy on an old A330-200. Our dinner was an absolutely amazing lamb curry. There was just enough spice to make it interesting, but not enough to make the 12 hour flight uncomfortable…if you get my drift.

The second best meal on a plane was a hunan beef and rice with peppers.  Surprisingly, this dish was served in economy on United from Chicago to Shanghai.  The presentation is really lacking – a plastic wrapped cold role, a salad with two slices of cucumber and a tiny tomato wedge – looks do not make a meal.  The beef was really good – full of flavor, warm throughout (none of those surprisingly icy bites) and rice that was also prepared almost perfectly.  Shocking, I know. Usually the food that comes out of those carts is so far from edible.  Not this time though. You can see my words of praise on top notch – just saying this meal was a whole hell of a lot better than I was expecting.

The third best meal I had was on the return from Shanghai. This time, the option was chicken and rice – no one could tell us what the accompanying sauce was. The other choice was “Chinese Pork”, again without guidance on the sauce, I figured I’d give it a go.  This pork was served with the same rice as the beef and was quite good as well. Would I ever order these in a restaurant (and if I did, would I order them again?), well, I just may.  The food was just good – exceptionally good for a plane.
What was your favorite meal on an airplane?  Have you found any economy meals that were worth looking forward to?

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Shanghai-Lights: Introduction

The largest City on the planet is Shanghai (depending on what metric you use) and a hotbed for amazing modern architecture — I had to visit.  The better half goes there for work once a year and I decided to tag along for a long weekend. Thanks to United for offering a very reasonable airfare and my work schedule lightening up for a couple of days.  Over the next week or so I’ll be putting together my trip report, as follows:

What an exciting yet whirl wind trip to Shangahi. You’ll see the details over the next week or so, but I had a really great time. It just goes to show what a little planning and properly set expectations can do for you.  Also, pardon me for the title of this Trip Report — I struggled to come up with something clever and this was the best I could get.

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