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Meiguo

Started: 2016-04-03 17:21:07

Submitted: 2016-04-03 19:57:48

Visibility: World-readable

26 January 2016: In which the intrepid narrator sees a bridge and flies home after two weeks of playing tourist in the People's Republic of China
Hotel room in Nanjing
Hotel room in Nanjing

After nearly two weeks in the People's Republic of China, it was time to head back to Shanghai to catch my flight home. Before leaving Nanjing, though, I had one more thing I wanted to see: the Yangzee River Bridge, now that I understood enough of the Nanjing city bus system to make it work for me.

I took metro line 3 to one of the last stops before the line crossed under the Yangzee River and caught bus #12, which took me along a main road that broadly ran parallel to the river, though I couldn't really see the river from where I was.

Apartment building in Nanjing
Apartment building in Nanjing

I got off the bus at the park at the base of the bridge. The massive viaducts forming the approach to the bridge loomed over me as I paid for my ticket to enter the park and take the elevator to the top of the tower.

Under the eastern approach to the Yangzee River Bridge
Under the eastern approach to the Yangzee River Bridge
Dramatic tower on the eastern approach to the Yangzee River Bridge
Dramatic tower on the eastern approach to the Yangzee River Bridge

According to my Lonely Planet guidebook, this bridge was built in 1968, and was the first major bridge to be built in China without foreign assistance, much to the delight of the Chinese government (especially its propaganda department). It's 4.5 kilometers long, built from a steel truss, and carries road traffic on the upper deck and rail traffic on the lower deck. (My high-speed train took a different route across the Yangzee; it crossed the river a few kilometers upstream.) The most distinctive part of the bridge is the dramatic red-capped towers on the shore, looking sort of like a flame and probably intended to invoke Communist iconography, and the stirring "socialist-realist" sculptures lining the approach showing workers triumphing over their oppressors. (The bridge was built during the height of the cultural revolution, so I can't help but wonder if the figures in the sculpture are carrying Mao's little red book.)

Dramatic Communist sculpture on the Yangzee River Bridge
Dramatic Communist sculpture on the Yangzee River Bridge
Eastern approach to the Yangzee River Bridge
Eastern approach to the Yangzee River Bridge

I rode the elevator to the observation deck on the southern tower, giving me a nice view of the bridge as the viaducts built as the approach transitioned into the steel truss spanning the river. (The bridge still used piers in the middle of the river; from what I could see the largest clear span looked relatively modest, on the order of one or two hundred meters.)

Yangzee River Bridge
Yangzee River Bridge
Tower on the eastern approach to the Yangzee River Bridge
Tower on the eastern approach to the Yangzee River Bridge

I looked around but couldn't get a good view of the entire bridge from my vantage point on the ground -- the park ended at a flood wall above the river, and the mud flat beyond the wall was overgrown by trees and grass, all dormant for the winter, but high enough to obstruct my view of the bridge.

I retraced my steps to take the bus back to the metro to my hotel, where I gathered my suitcase and took the elevator back down (下) to the lobby, where I checked out at 12:00. I walked across the street to a Starbucks, where I ordered a coffee and hung out for the better part of an hour before it was time to head to Nanjing Nan Railway Station for my 14:00 train to Shanghai. I arrived at the train station with time to spare before the train rolled up to the platform right on time at 14:00.

High-speed train pulls into Nanjing Nan Railway Station
High-speed train pulls into Nanjing Nan Railway Station

I found my seat in the first-class coach for the hour-and-fifteen-minute ride to Shanghai Hongqiao Station. In Shanghai I disembarked and made my way to the metro, where I took line 2 into the city. I got off at Jing'an Temple and ate a late lunch at Jen Dao Vegetarian Restaurant, around the corner from the metro station (and behind the eponymous temple).

Pagoda at Jin Mao Temple above the metro stop in Shanghai
Pagoda at Jin Mao Temple above the metro stop in Shanghai

I returned to the metro and continued east on line 2, past landmarks I recognized from my time in Shanghai: People's Square, the Bund, under the Huangpu River, and into Pudong. I got off the metro at Longyang Rd, somewhere in the middle of Pudong, even though line 2 would have taken me the rest of the way to the airport, because I wanted to take the Shanghai Maglev Train the rest of the way to the airport. It wasn't immediately clear where I had to go to board the maglev, but I eventually figured it out (after walking past a couple of drivers touting rides); I purchased a special maglev ticket and waited on the platform for the train to arrive.

Shanghai airport maglev pulls into the station
Shanghai airport maglev pulls into the station

The only thing really unique about riding the maglev was the vertical rise when the train turned on the magnetic levitation. The train accelerated smoothly to 300 km/hr, which used to be amazingly fast by Chinese rail standards, but now just ties with the country-wide high-speed rail network. (It was built in the early aughts, before the high-speed rail network came into being.) We arrived at the airport quickly and efficiently, and I headed into the terminal to check into my flight to Los Angeles.

My first stop in terminal 2 was the restroom. As soon as I emerged from the restroom and was taking stock of my surroundings, to figure out where I was supposed to go to check into my flight, I saw a knot of people coming my way. It looked like 50 young women, mostly carrying smartphones and aiming them at the center of the knot, which appeared to be a tall Japanese young man wearing a black face mask. I stopped where I was, and the knot enveloped me and moved past me. It appeared that the center of their attention had gone to the men's room, and they were waiting patiently for him to emerge to continue their silent vigil. I assume he was some sort of pop celebrity, and that my somewhat-bewildered face was captured on dozens of videos uploaded to Chinese social media.

I found the United counter and checked in to my flight, then headed to the "International, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau" departures door (as opposed to the "Domestic" door*) to formally exit the country. I made it through immigration and security without incident and found my departure gate with two hours to spare.

[* Hong Kong and Macau are legally under the suzerainty of the People's Republic of China, but because they're special administrative regions one needs a passport to travel there. Taiwan is de facto an independent country, but no one on either side of the straight wants to admit that, so at the airport it exists in a sort of limbo state: it's effectively equivalent to an international flight, though no one is willing to actually come out and say that out loud.]

I took advantage of my extra time in the airport to shop for gifts for my family members. I picked up different sizes of stuffed pandas for Calvin and Julian, and various other trinkets for other people. (Bethany got a bottle opener with the Shanghai World Financial Center on it -- the building looks like a giant bottle opener, so here function follows form.)

United 787 parked at Shanghai Pudong International Airport
United 787 parked at Shanghai Pudong International Airport

At length I boarded the 787 operating my flight and settled into my window seat for a long flight to Los Angeles. I sat next to a young Chinese woman, whose command of English was sketchy*, who appeared to be traveling to the United States as part of an exchange-student program.

[* Her English was still generally better than my Chinese -- though as we made landfall over Los Angeles I pointed out the window and said "Meiguo" [America] and she seemed to understand that better than my attempt at communicating in English.]

As our flight took off from Shanghai Pudong International Airport, I bid China farewell, for now -- and promised to return.

787 wing taking off from Shanghai Pudong International Airport
787 wing taking off from Shanghai Pudong International Airport

I was very excited to see that my flight had WiFi (and that it actually worked, 35,000 feet over the middle of the Pacific Ocean). Not only could I walk into a giant plastic bottle and emerge ten hours later on the other side of the planet, but I could get live Internet over the middle of the ocean. Forget flying cars; the future is here.

(The latency in the flight was a little on the high side -- ping gave me 750 ms round-trip to Yahoo!. It was unfiltered, though -- after two weeks I was finally able to emerge from the Great Firewall -- so I didn't have to fiddle with my VPN or proxy, giving me faster and more reliable Internet access in an airplane over the middle of the ocean than I had on the ground in China.)

I slept on the plane, trying to split the difference between my source and destination time zones (never mind that the flight was not designed to make that at all easy). Sometime during the night we crossed the International Date Line, resetting the clock on Tuesday. At length we made landfall over southern California, where it was still Tuesday afternoon, and landed in Los Angeles in the middle of the afternoon, local time -- subjectively the same time I was riding the train from Nanjing to Shanghai on the other side of the planet. In my jet-lag-induced haze this made perfect sense: why wouldn't China and the United States have their own instances of the same day?

LAX from the air under a 787 wing
LAX from the air under a 787 wing

I disembarked through gate 77, the same gate number that I boarded the flight through in Shanghai, and walked around the outside of the passenger area to be routed to immigration and customs. I found the Global Entry kiosk on the far side of the room (and actually had to wait for a spot at the kiosk! They're getting popular), then claimed my bag and formally re-entered the country.

I repacked and rechecked my bag (stuffing the trinkets I'd bought at the airport in Shanghai into my checked luggage), went through security, got coffee, and then lunch, and then had to go find some sun to stand in to convince myself that it really was late in the afternoon and I ought to be awake rather than asleep. (I tried very hard not to think about what time it was in China, since it was probably about time to get up Wednesday morning.)

My flight to Denver left out of gate 76, which was (as one might imagine) right next to gate 77, at the very end of LAX's Terminal 7. To get to gate 76, I had to walk through the very same glass-walled corridor that I'd walked through earlier to get to immigration, while disembarking from my flight from Shanghai, only this time the corridor was for boarding people already in the US. The corridor was the same, but its use had changed.

I made it to Denver without further incident and arrived home before midnight, local time -- 26 hours after I left my hotel in Nanjing, with only four hours of something like sleep on my flight from Shanghai. (I wasn't especially coherent on the flight into Denver but I don't think I really slept.) I was glad to be back home, even if it was just for a week before heading to San Francisco to start my new job.

For more photos from my last day in China, and my first day back in the United States, which happen to (sort of) be the same day, see Photos on 2016-01-26.

I've always thought someone could make a killing by selling the
"for dummies" books for $200 a piece using infomercials! :-)
- Yanthor, on Content Solutions chatter, 17 December 2001