God bless that woman at the Delta counter who set me up with exit row seats for all 4 legs of the trip to Shanghai. It’s almost enough to make me forget how pissed off I was at Delta for giving me the runaround on flights going through Tokyo after the earthquake, tsunami, and attendant nuclear nightmare.
While I am travelling to China alone this time since Jason has decided that he needs to focus on his budding career as a rock star, the bigger difference may be that I had friends waiting when I got here. Seeing Nick’s smiling face just beyond the customs boundary made me feel right at home. And his accomplice Clark instantly seemed like an old friend, which is pretty amazing considering the fact that I speak no Chinese, and he’s still working on his English skills.
If you haven’t met or worked with many Chinese, then you may not realize that most of them adopt English / American names for international business purposes. I don’t know of other cultures that do this so readily, but it seems like standard operating procedure over here. Nick has been my kayaking contact in China for the last couple of years, and the purpose of this trip is to work with him and his team at Coastlines Kayaking to train some paddling instructors and guides, and launch a kayaking club & outfitter service. Of course, every time I speak with him, Nick has added one more item to our packed agenda. Upon my arrival just before midnight local time (after 30 hours of travel) I find out that Clark is trying to launch a branch of the Coastlines Kayaking Club in Shanghai, and our leisurely drive to the hotel includes more than a bit of business discussion.
When Jason and I travelled to China in 2009, Nick seemed to always have some kind of deal worked out with one fantastic hotel after another. Our arrival in the ornate lobby of the New Century Grand was no exception. Not that I took much notice of more than the hot shower & comfortable bed before dozing off for a few hours of long awaited sleep.
Unfortunately my body has been getting used to odd sleep patterns, and by 5:00 in the morning it was convinced that I was enjoying a long mid-afternoon nap, and that it was time to get up. Figuring that some exercise would help quell the jet-lag, I set out in search of the fitness center only to find that it doesn’t open until 6:30. A quick jog around Songjiang was going to have to do for now. I discovered that this relatively new city is interlaced with a network of canals and creeks, and is home to the Shanghai International University, one of China’s leading language schools. After a quick dip in the chilly pool, and a very hearty breakfast Clark picked us up along with an entourage of 12 that would be with us for most of the day.
Clark owns a fitness center, and apparently most of the young guys in suits are his personal trainers & other staff. As if I didn’t get enough stares here, having a dozen guys who look like they’re auditioning for the Chinese remake of Resvoir Dogs doesn’t exactly help me blend.
Clark’s gym, Flex, is a beautiful state of the art facility with every machine you could hope for, dedicated rooms for spin, hot yoga, dance, and other classes, a boxing ring, and a full Olympic sized pool. Not bad for 2000 Yuan a year. And now he’s adding kayaking. Trying to connect the fitness center with the outdoors is where Clark sees his greatest potential for growth, and in a city of 20 Million souls, some of them have to be dying to get outside & play.
After a full tour of the fitness center and a few photo ops, we were off to check out the paddling scene. Today’s a bit rainy & cool, but our caravan cruised by a couple of nicely manicured access spots on the river & discussed the trip possibilities here in the heart of Songjiang. Throughout the day conversation focused on how to build awareness of the kayaking industry and the kayaking club in particular. This is a brand new sport here, and the culture is evolving so fast that there’s no real point of reference for these guys as they try to develop a strategic plan. Nick and I already have a to-do list that’s about 2 pages long, and we’re constantly adding to it.
If you read at all about my last trip to China, then you know that one of my favorite things about this country is the food. Judging Chinese food by the crap we get in the States is like basing your opinion of all wine on a warm bottle of Mad Dog. Lunch today was a 2 hour affair including at least 18 different platters passed around the table, each one better than the last. Clark, Nick, and I were joined by Tim, Scott, one of Clark’s trainers, and a girl who’s name I never caught, but who I think runs the front office of the gym.
As I write this Nick and I are on the high speed train to Hangzhou. One thing that you can’t help but notice is that China is literally growing everywhere. If they aren’t constructing a road, building, or rail line somewhere, then that spot is probably planted with rows of vegetables. I’m serious. They grow Bok Choy in the medians here. Hangzhou is a beautiful city by a lake, and we are headed there to meet with Nick’s boss David. David owns the Boyo Plastics factory, which produces the kayaks I have been working on developing with Nick, as well as the Coastlines Kayaking facility in Hangzhou. I’m assuming that we’re in for another big meal, and I’m looking forward to getting a few things nailed down as we discuss how to continue building our working relationship. Of course, right now I just want to put my head down and close my eyes for a bit. It’s 3:30 in the afternoon here, but my body is convinced that I’ve decided to pull an all-nighter. Time to give in.