Thursday, December 06, 2007

TR - China

Trip Report
11/22 – 11/30/07

Toray Cup Shanghai International Marathon
Shanghai, China
Sun, Nov 25/07
Marathon #294 – Country # 86

Actually this was a ‘surprise’ marathon that got added to my race schedule very late in the planning cycle. I planned to run the Macau Marathon in early Dec when a friend informed me that he thought there was a marathon in Shanghai in late Nov? I searched the Internet and discovered that indeed the Shanghai Marathon was only one week before the Macau Marathon. Although I planned/hoped to run the Beijing Marathon for China the opportunity to run two countries on the same trip was too appealing. And there was no extra cost to add a stop-over in Shanghai enroute to Hong Kong. However it meant having to spend a week in China so I tried to find a tour to Beijing but that turned out to be too expensive and I decided to play it by ear and look for something when I got to China.

The website for the marathon was informative but did not permit online registration. However when I contacted the race organization they were very responsive and helpful. The only problem I experienced was their response to my request for hotel information was sent to me in Chinese? I emailed a friend in Shanghai and asked for help. Linlai used to work with the Sports Manager at Nortel and was happy to help. He checked out hotels and booked one a few blocks from the start line on the pedestrian mall on Nanjing Rd. and provided much needed directions how to get to the hotel from the airport.

As I made the long flight from FL to Shanghai on Thu I contemplated how to run the marathon? I had run the Philly Marathon the weekend before so Shanghai would be the second of three marathons I would race in two weeks! Should I be smart and run easy to ensure I didn’t aggravate the tear/injury to the plantar fascia in my right foot?

I arrived in Shanghai late Fri afternoon (lost 1 day enroute) and it took more than two hours to travel 34 Km from the airport to the hotel because of horrendous rush-hour traffic . I was surprised (but pleased) to find Linlai waiting for me in the hotel lobby? I had slept on the long flight and wanted to stay up as late as possible to prevent jet lag so I agreed to let Linlai treat me to a special Chinese dinner. It was a delicious dinner with many local Shanghai delicacies. I had no idea what I was eating – but it was good and many times I had to ask Linlai how I was supposed to eat a certain delicacy? At dinner I asked Linlai for suggestions about a side tour after the race? I mentioned that I had tried to book a tour to Beijing but that was too expensive. I always wanted to see the Terra Cotta Warriors but didn’t think that would be possible on such short notice? Maybe I would travel to Hangzhou – west of Shanghai and located on West Lake? At least I could get out of the city and do some training runs while waiting for the next race?
Linlai promised to check with a friend who was a travel agent.

I was hoping that after a great meal and staying up late I would sleep well. Didn’t work! As soon as my head hit the pillow the old bod came alive figuring it was time to get up. The time difference is 13 hours so my body clock was 180 degrees out of phase. I tried to force myself to sleep but all I managed was to toss and turn for 6 hours before giving up and going for an early breakfast. Linlai had insisted on joining me on Sat morning to help me pick up my race packet at the Shanghai Stadium. I told him that was not necessary but it turned out to be a good thing because the location had changed from the details provided on the website. Having a local Chinese guide/translator was very useful although many people in Shanghai speak English. I noticed about two dozen foreign (non-Asian) runners on the list and met a few runners from the UK at registration.

After successfully getting my packet I said bye to Linlai and set off to explore the city on my own. I walked around the Bund & East Nanjing Rd neighborhood. There is a pedestrian mall on East Nanjing Rd with lots of shops, etc and seems to be a major gathering place for locals. Unfortunately my blonde hair and blue eyes were like a giant friggin neon sign for hawkers/scam artists/hookers and I became so annoyed at being harassed that I soon had to avoid that mall for the rest of my stay! I walked down to the Huangpu River to enjoy the views of the Pudong neighborhood across the river with many modern buildings and the Shanghai Tower. By 4 pm my body clock was demanding that I rest and I returned to the hotel for a short nap before dinner. I woke at 8pm feeling like crap and made an executive decision: if I went to dinner I would not sleep again that night so I crawled between the sheets and slept another 10 hours! I figured that sleep was more important that food and besides the flab I have around my expensive beer belly should carry me through a marathon?

I woke at 6am to walk over to the start line at Century Square on the pedestrian mall on Nanjing Rd. The race start was well organized except that the 12,000 runners were not seeded by bib numbers and there were no corrals for expected finish times. In other words it was a free-for-all and I ended up in the middle of the pack. The weather was warmer than normal (mid 50s) so I wore shorts and a T-shirt as the race started at 7am. The start chute was too narrow for that many runners and it took about 5 minutes just to reach the start line. And the course didn’t get any better! The first 4 km through the city center were scenic but on narrow streets so we were forced to stay in our pace group and fight for elbow space. At 5 Km I thought the course was going to open up but instead it dumped on to a single-lane service road for an expressway! The expressway was already clogged with traffic and we sucked up diesel fumes for the next 5 km! I passed 8Km in 45:40 – a little faster than I wanted to start? At 10Km I thought we were finally going to get relief from the diesel fumes when we turned off on to a major blvd. but we were forced into a single coned lane with traffic passing or clogged beside us. Traffic control was bad – bikes/motor bikes and people were darting across the course in front of us. I bowled over some poor Chinese lady who stepped in front of me unexpectantly!

I passed 18Km in 1:43:54 and a split of 6:20/Km (10:08/mile)! I had slowed significantly and was already starting to struggle in spite of a lot of spectators along the course cheering and shouting “Jiayou”, “jiayou”! I asked a local what that meant. The polite translation is “keep going” – the guttural translation is “move your ass faster”! At that point the course climbed up on to an elevated expressway that we had to share with congested traffic. Could it get any worse? YES! By the time I passed the Half in 2:03:01 it was hot – I was struggling to hold a 10 min pace - and my legs were DEAD! I knew the 2nd Half was going to get ugly! When I reached a water station at 25 Km in 2:29:17 there was nothing left in my legs and I started to walk! At 29 Km we were routed on to another elevated expressway that was straight and long with high walls. It was so boring and depressing that I really wanted to run the entire section just to get off that raised torture oven! I reached the water station at 30Km in 3:04:20 and a split of 6:59/Km. I walked! Then at a water sponge station at 32.5 Km I was forced to walk again. I struggled and played mind games just to make it to the next water and/or sponge station where I would walk for 1 minute and continue. Finally at 39Km we exited the elevated expressway and I managed to keep the wasted old legs moving to reach 40 Km in 4:17:36. I decided to take a long walk at that point so I could run to the finish line although survival was the most important thing on my mind.

I was so thankful to finally see the Minhang Stadium and stumble across the finish line in 4:34:18. I have no idea what caused such a pathetic performance and why I crashed so early in the race? I guess it was a combination of missing the dinner, the terrible pollution during the race and severe jet lag?

Linlai was supposed to be at the finish line but I didn’t see him? I picked up my warm-up clothes and proceeded to the area to return my chip and pick up a finisher’s certificate and award. Slight problem!
To receive the certificate and award (a sports bag instead of the normal finisher’s medal) it was necessary to turn in one of the two race bibs we had been provided? The Chinese seem to need physical evidence that an action has been completed? I tried to explain that I wanted to keep both bibs – one for a souvenir of the race and the other for a friend who owns a running store. (He posts them on a wall to motivate other runners). No way! No bib – no award! I told them what to do with their certificate and award! They were shocked when I refused to return my race bib?

I finally found Linlai at the finish line who volunteered to take a finish line photo and guide me back into the city. I insisted that he join me later for a celebration dinner! After a long hot soak and shower I ventured out to explore some more of the city. Shanghai is a very modern and vibrant city but just too big – too noisy and too crowded for a poor old country boy. I was glad that I had made a decision to get out of the city! Linlai and I met and enjoyed a very good dinner in a restaurant overlooking the Huangpu River and the lights of Pudong. I learned that if you stay/eat in Chinese hotels/restaurants it is reasonably cheap but if you stay/eat in western-style places the prices are equivalent to big city prices in the US! Linlai had great news for me over dinner – his friend had arranged a 3-day tour to Xian to see the Terra Cotta Warriors and other tourist attractions in the old ancient capital!

Since I would leave on Tue I had one final day to explore Shanghai. I did a self-guided walking tour through Old Town or Nan Shi that dates back to the 16th century. I started at the Old Stone Gate and walked through back alleys with laundry hanging overhead, past Baiyun Temple and the ‘wet market’ to Dajing Pavilion which contains the only preserved section of the ancient 5-Km city walls. Parts of Old Town have been restored and turned into tourist traps!
I also planned to cross the Huangpu River to visit Pudong but a cold front had brought in fog and I couldn’t even see the tops of the buildings so I skipped that. I met Linlai for a farewell dinner to thank him for his gracious hospitality and went over the itinerary for the tour to Xian. On Tue morning I took the first Mag Lev train to the airport to catch an early flight. The maglev train is more expensive than a bus but it makes the 30 Km trip in 8 min at 300 Km/hr!

I arrived in Xian at 11:30 am and was met at the airport by a private English-speaking tour guide - a lovely young lady, Yao Ming or ‘Meggie’ as she asked English tourists to call her. We reviewed the itinerary for the day and since it included only tourist sites within the city we decided to use taxis for that day. Taxis are very cheap in China and that seemed like the best option – until I lost a brand new pair of prescription glasses in one of them! I hope that cabbie enjoys his new pair of hi-tech glasses that cost $700! Unfortunately I didn’t realize I had lost them until the end of the day.

Xian is the capital of Shaanxi province in northwest China. Called Chang’an in ancient times it was the capital city of 13 dynasties from the Western Zhou (11th century – 771 BC) and Qin (221 BC – 206 BC) through the Tang (618 – 907) and is considered a living history book in China. We started with a visit to the Shaanxi History Museum that contains artifacts from all the dynasties. Then we toured various sites such as the Big Wild Goose Pagoda built by Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty to collect Buddhist artifacts taken from India and Da Ci’en Temple (648). To conclude the day Linlai had suggested to Meggie that she book me a seat at the Dumpling Dinner and Tang Dynasty Music and Dance show. I wasn’t in much of a mood for a traditional dinner show after finding my $700 glasses missing but since the ticket had been booked I went. I was concerned about a dinner of only dumplings – a local specialty/delicacy in Xian but they were quite good. The show was a performance of ancient music and dance from the Tang Dynasty and was very interesting and included many of the musical instruments I had seen at the Museum earlier that day! The next day included sites outside the city so we decided to hire a private car for the day.

Meggie and the driver picked me up early so we could make a quick stop at the Xian City Wall before leaving the city. The wall was built by Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1366 – 1644) on the original city wall built during the Tang Dynasty. It stands 40 ft high and 40 ft wide at the top. The rectangular wall is 13.7 Km in length and encircles downtown Xian and is the most complete city wall in China. A Bell Tower used to signal the opening of the city gates each morning sits in the geographical center of the city. I was wishing I had time to run the entire wall because it was impossible to run in the streets of Xian – the roads were too crowded – too dangerous and the pollution was so thick that I could see/smell/taste it! After walking a short section of the wall we left the city to visit the Museum of the Terra Cotta Warriors – the main reason for the tour to Xian!

The Museum is a small part of the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang that began construction in 246 BC. He used 700,000 workers to construct the Mausoleum site and killed them all when finished to keep the location a secret! It was discovered in 1974 by a farmer (met him at the Museum). I didn’t realize that it is still an ongoing archaeological site! The Museum covers a very large area and is divided into three Pits. Pit #1 is the largest and contains more than 6,000 terracotta warriors and horses marshaled into battle line formations to protect the Emperor in his ‘after-life’. It is an awesome sight but I was also disappointed that only a small fraction (about 25%) of the pit is excavated? Pit #2 contains four mobile combat units consisting of 1,000 warriors and 89 wooden chariots and two bronze chariots that were meant to carry the Emperor and his concubines around in the after-life.

Pit #3 is surmised by archeologists to be a command center for the military who commanded the construction of the Mausoleum. It contains 68 warriors, four horses and one chariot but no battle formations.

The Museum is quite spectacular and amazes a viewer with the obvious wealth of the Emperors! It is worth the visit and the pollution/smog you will have to endure for a few days! After leaving the Museum we visited Huaqing Hot Springs which is famed for the scenery and the romantic love story of Emperor Xuanzong (685- 762) and his concubine Yang Guifei in the Tang Dynasty. A palace built by King You during the Western Zhou Dynasty and expanded by Emperor Qin sits on the grounds with several pools fed by the hot springs. On the way back to the hotel I asked Meggie to help me buy a pair of replacement reading glasses ($4) so that I could read during the rest of the trip. I am still bummed about losing a brand new pair of glasses and even more bummed about having to pay another $700 to replace them! That evening I explored the area of the city close to the hotel. I considered eating outside the hotel but couldn’t find a restaurant with an English menu so I retreated to the safety of the hotel. Very few staff at the hotel spoke English but at least there was an English menu!

On Thu I had hoped to try to find a place to run but when I got up in the morning and looked out the window I couldn’t see the buildings across the street because the smog was so thick! I refused to run in that pollution. And Xian was much different than Shanghai. It is not modern, the buildings are the old square concrete blocks built by the central/communist government and the streets are congested with cars, bikes and people and there are no rules – it is dangerous and unsafe to run! I decided I didn’t need to train/run that badly. Meggie met me late morning and we hired a taxi to take us to the last tourist site – Hanyanling, the Mausoleum of Western Han Emperor Liu Qi and then drop me off at the airport. The Mausoleum is a joint tomb of Liu Qin, the Emperor of the Western Han Dynasty and his Empress Wang. There are several burial pits containing thousands of artifacts. Compared to the Qin Terra Cotta Warriors the pottery figures are one tenth the actual size and not nearly as impressive.

Finally I was finished with the tour and the pollution. I asked Meggie bluntly why she lived there. I think the locals are oblivious to it because they don’t know anything else and couldn’t do anything about if they wanted to? I arrived back in Shanghai around 7 pm and was met at the airport by a hotel rep. Linlai had booked a hotel near the airport since I had to leave early Fri for Hong Kong. When I arrived at the hotel I was a bit disconcerted to discover that not one hotel staff spoke English! Any English! Fortunately my Shanghai tour book had an extensive vocabulary section that I was forced to refer to. With a lot of laughs with/at each other the staff and I selected the necessary words and phrases to check in and arrange a wake-up call and shuttle back to the airport in the morning. Then the next challenge – dinner.
No English menu as expected – it all looked Chinese to me (ha, ha!). Rather than try to recognize the Chinese symbols I made it simple. I looked up three words: yu (fish), baifan (steamed white rice) and baiwei (beer). I had no idea what I was going to get but it turned out to be delicious. And I got to improve my skills with chop sticks eating a whole steamed fish covered in a delicious sauce. The hotel with dinner and breakfast cost a total of $33! As I said you can travel cheaply in China if you are adventurous and stay/eat with the locals!

Now it was time to catch a flight to Hong Kong and move on to the next chapter in the adventure.

Stay tuned!

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