Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Shanghai, China

Orlando and I went to Shanghai, China this weekend to check out the Formula 1 race there. This is our second race in back to back weekends. In all honesty, I figured that we are only in Japan once and should take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves because you don't know what will happen (in my mother's words: "la luz delante es la que alumbra"). We took a flight from Hiroshima to Shanghai and we where there in a measly 2 hours. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would ever visit China but apparently I was wrong. Once we got there everything seemed pretty normal, the airport was nice, shiny and new. We had booked a package with our travel agent (he is not exclusive but is one of the few ones that speak English around here) that included the flight, the airport transfer and the hotel.
Our adventure began the split second we got into the bus from the airport to our hotel. The Shanghai airport is about 1 hour away from downtown and it was the longest hour of my life. Apparently there are no driving rules in China. The white lines on the road are merely a "suggestion". You don't have to actually stay in your lane because if you do the other guy in the lane next to you will never let you pass, so you drive somewhere in the middle of the "imaginary lanes" on the road. Hence there was a lot of cutting in front of another car and missing their front bumped by 2 inches (in Spanish we call it "corte de pastelillo"). Speed limit? What speed limit? The faster you can get to a place the better, even if you don't know where you are going and have to cross through 4 lanes of traffic to get to your exit. Also traffic lights are just there for decorative purposes only. Did I mention there where no seat belts on the back seat of any of the cars we where in? Safety first always... I was shocked at seeing the basis for the Crazy Taxi video game in front of my eyes every time I got into a motor vehicle so I decided to do some research. It turns out that (according to wikipedia and if it's on wikipedia it must be true off course): "The Road Traffic Safety Law of the People's Republic of China is a law which was passed by the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China on October 28, 2003, and took effect on May 1, 2004 on all parts of mainland China. It is the People's Republic of China's first-ever law on road traffic safety, and was intended to address an alarmingly high traffic fatality rate, which is four or five times greater than other nations." Ahh this explains it. I was visiting a country which has a traffic law that took effect only 3 years ago!!! Hello I have T-shirts that are older than that!!! It's a miracle we did not get into any accidents.
Once we arrived downtown we took a taxi to the race track to see the qualifying session. We where able to see the cars up close and they where loud!!! Here is Orlando with a big smile the dya of the race. I bet this is the first Colegio (our university's nickname) hat to have made it all the way to China, who knows maybe it was made there and it was just a homecoming for it.
At night we took a tour of the city which took us on a river cruise around the Huangpu River. The crazy thing was that one side of the river you had all the old English settlement buildings and on the other side all the modern skyscrapers. Old school buildings:
Star Trek inspired new school buildings:
After the cruise we vivisted Nanjing Road which is one of the world's busiest shopping streets. I really think you could buy ANYTHING there, no joke. Check out all the Pepsi signs, globalization at it's finest.
The last day we where in Chin we visited Yuyuan Garden which is located in the center of the city and is considered one of the four finest Chinese gardens in the world.

Everything was going well until a little old typhoon named Korsa decided to pay a little visit to China while we where there as you can see here:
As a result of the typhoon our flight back to Hiroshima was canceled at the last minute. We where actually on the plane ready to go when the pilot made the announcement. Personally I was glad the flight was canceled since I did not take it as a good sign that the plain was rocking back and fourth just sitting on the runway!!! So we where officially stuck in China with a group of Japanese tourist. Lucky us. So now we had 2 problems:

1. Stuck in a foreign country with a 1 entry only visa. I seriously thought we where going to be stuck in the airport like Tom Hanks in the movie "The Terminal" but without Catherine Zeta-Jones talking to us while we waited. In the end our exit date was canceled in our visa and we where able to go to a hotel where absolutely no one spoke English (paid for by the airline off course) and come back to the airport the next morning.

2. Our only source of information was our Japanese companions. Who needs to take a Japanese language proficiency test in December when you can count on real life to test you for free??? I am seriously proud of Orlando and I because together we where able to make a semi-competent intermediate Japanese speaker and more or less figure out what was happening. If we could take a "cooperative language test" then all our problems would be solved!!!
The next day we went to the airport and got a flight back home in the morning but by then we where so beat from all the chaos in the last 24 hours that we simply stayed home.

Now look where the typhoon is headed...straight for us. Why are we sooooo lucky?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Formula 1 Race in Fuji Speedway

This past weekend (9/30/07) Orlando and I had the opportunity to go to the Japan Formula 1 Grand Prix in Fuji Speedway. I say opportunity because we needed allot of help to get the tickets at face value and to plan the trip from Hiroshima all the way to the outskirts of Mount Fuji where the race track was located. We went with our Japanese friends Yoshi (like the Nintendo character) and Yoko (every girl around here is named either Yoko or Ryoko or Keiko or anything that ends with ko) who basically arranged the whole trip, we basically just tagged along. Sincerely without their help we would have never made it to the race unless we paid a whole lot of money for a tour. Just imagine having to take a plane from Hiroshima to Tokyo, staying one night in Yokohama (a suburb of Tokyo), the next day tacking a train for 1.5 hours, driving 1 hour and then taking a bus to the race track that took another hour!!! We got to the race 20 minutes before it started!!! Lesson learned: Mt. Fuji is really, really far away!!!! And to top it all off it was raining all day non stop!!!! This was our sexy look for the day:
The actual race was pretty cool because the cars kept spinning out and crashing into each other.

As I mentioned we also has a chance to checkout Yokohama which was actually a pretty cool and very modern city. We went to its Chinatown (this proves you can find one anywhere):

We found this super funny Panda store with every panda product you can imagine:
Here is Orlando goofing around with Yoshi.
We actually staying in Yoshi's parents house after the race and his mom and dad where soooooooo nice to us I can't even begin to describe it. Once we arrived at their house around 9 pm his mom had huge dinner ready for us!!! Hello for total strangers!!! Once again we got to sleep in a tatami room on some futons, which is always an adventure by itself.

You never know what you will find in Japan just take a look at what we found in the airport on the way back to Hiroshima:
Yes people this is an actual Pokemon airplane!!! , you have to have your camera ready to go at all times!!! There is never a dull moment around here.

Monday, October 01, 2007

More interesting car names

A few weeks ago we went to a BBQ with some friends. Instead of taking pictures of the actual BBQ I went around the parking lot taking pictures of more interesting car names in Japan. Here is what I found:
What are you waiting for? Let's...
Why don't you get a..

Let's go (Vamos) and quickly.
And the number #1 most interesting car name:

Enough said...this country has officially lost it.