One way ticket to Shanghai

I am joining our SharePoint Tools team in China for the next 5 months.  The back-story here is that SharePoint has been so wildly successful that customers want to stretch it beyond the limits of its current design.  We want to make sure our current customers our happy with the product so that by the time our next version comes around we still have customers to speak of.  Towards that end, we started a team of developers and testers in China that’s staffed to build tools against our in market product.  Up until now, they have had only spare resources from our Program Management team and even then only someone who’s half way around the globe in Redmond.

I left Monday morning from Seattle on Northwest Airlines.  I have never been outside of North America, so needless to say this was my longest flight ever.  I was near certain it was going to be a miserable experience being stuck on a plane for 10+ hours.  The company flew me out business class, which turned out to be a huge difference in experience.  The business class for international flights might as well be first class, if not more.  Your seat reclines nearly to the point of being fully vertical, and you have quite a bit of space.  I was for the first time the guy who got to board first and skips through all the nasty TSA lines, which was a great feeling.  The meals served on the flight as good as you can get with the cooking facilities on an airplane.  It was mainly just nice having a stewardess that was always there anytime you needed anything and it didn’t feel like you were taxing her along with 80 other people she was assigned to.  The main thing is having your own personal space to just relax and read without some guy’s elbows pinning you down.

I took a couple short cat naps, but spent most of the time diving through books my family had bought me.  A few nights before leaving I started to put together the details of how I was going to get from point A to B for my customers visits once I got in Shanghai.  I was quickly daunted since the only good mapping software for China is of course in Chinese ideograms, not pinyin or English.  Both Google Maps and Live Local were a disaster in terms of finding locations—whether by name or street address.  So even after boarding the plane I had no clue where my hotel actually was relative to the city center and whether a cab driver should be charging 10 RMB or 100 RMB.  Furthermore, I was told the cab drivers speak no English at all, and needed the location in Chinese ideograms.  Needless to say I was not happy with this and pretty stressed out.  The thought of being lost in some random city without a working cell phone, anyone I can talk to, etc. was entirely unappealing.  On the plane ride I finally reverse engineered where my hotel was from one of the maps in my book and this felt light years better.  I chatted up one of the stewardesses that lived in Shanghai and she helped me figure out the Maglev train out of the Shanghai airport followed by a shorter taxi ride was actually my best bet.

When the 10 hours for my flight from Seattle to Tokyo were over, I was in a hurry to get to my connection (we had left late from Seattle).  This was a bit of a bummer, since I wanted to explore the Tokyo airport and at least feel like I saw a tiny nibble of Japan.  Much to my pleasure, most everyone I worked with at the airport spoke English and was quite helpful when it came to getting to where I need to be.

The last leg of my trip was a relatively short 3 hour flight from Tokyo into the Shanghai airport.  This was the first 747 I have ever flown in, which was kind of cool.  My seat was right up in the nose of the plane.  Since the cockpit is on the 2nd level, we truly were right at the head of the plane.

When I got to Shanghai, I was relieved since almost all the signs had an English translation.  So it was easy to find my way around, get my baggage, and go through customs.  All of which was pretty uneventful.  I will say a 747 fits a ton of luggage, because despite it starting to crank out as soon as I got to the carousel, it took me forty minutes of waiting for my bags to pop out.

With 130 pounds of luggage in tow, I followed the signs to the Maglev train.  When I got there I noticed the detail and craftsmanship in the uniforms the attendants were wearing.  I will have to go back and take a picture some time, but suffice it to say I have never seen any uniforms in the U.S. that looked so nice, no doubt a result of having lots of hands available to do the work.  The train ride itself was great.  It got up to 300 km/h, which was pretty impressive, especially as you watched the oncoming traffic below the railway coming at you.  In 4 minutes we were near the core of Shanghai and I took my taxi to the hotel with ideogram address in hand.

The taxi was a Volkswagen of some sort, and 80% of the cars I saw were also Volkswagens.  I think I have seen 1 or 2 Japanese cars so far.  This was a bit of a surprise.  Inside my cab, the seat belts in the back were covered up by some sort of reupholstered seat (this appears to be a pattern in the other taxes I’ve ridden so far).  And the cab drivers take it as an insult to their driving if you sit up front to take advantage of the one working seat belt.

Tomorrow I will be off to the quarentine bureau to get checked out.  For now time to get some sleep, since I’ve been up for more than 20 hours now.

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