Your intrepid salesman continues to travel the world spreading the word about filming in Canada. This year I'm meeting with production companies in Shanghai.
Alas I've had to move to a new blogging program that definitely looks slicker but isn't as versatile as good old iWeb. So apologies if I can't give you the full show this time. But if you click on a picture it gets bigger. That's nice.
First you need to get a visa. Although I'm here for business meetings I was advised to get a tourist visa. Wish me luck!
Southern China Airlines were quite generous with the beverages so I was able to get a restful sleep on the fully reclining seats (when I asked for whisky almost everyone in the business section started whispering "whisky, whisky, whisky" and chuckling - not sure why?)
Then a quick 15 minute ride on the special VIP bus for Business Class (I'm pretty sure we went in a giant circle) and then an indoor bus and then a little wait. Hello China!
I had arranged to be picked up by a car sent from the hotel. Two guys came for some reason. I called them Mr. Sniffles and Mr. Wheeze. I took four drops of Oregano Oil right away, Barb!
I arrived on Halloween! It was more popular than you'd think here in China. There's a guy in a paper Sumo suit in the top right photo.
I'm staying at the Villa Moller Fantasy Castle Hotel. It's very unique. Like staying in Austria (sort of). The Moller is very close to all the TV commercial production companies and it's quite reasonable.
This trip I have a Special Guest Star traveling with me. Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present Mr. Erik (2 T's) Whittaker (or "Too Tall For China" - "TT"- as they call him here)
Erik arrived a few hours before me so when I checked in there was a note on my pillow instructing me on how to find him and his friends at a local bar. Erik's friends Cheryl, daughter Laura, and Cheryl's sister Karen are touring their ancestral stomping grounds. And they all speak Chinese! Hoorah! Very convenient. A little under-proof Tsingtao and then off to bed. Tired!
And I should mention this fantastic app called WeChat. Everyone in China uses it and so should we in the West. It's saved our pork dumplings (bacon in Chinese) more than once. And the Chinese government hackers can help you by monitoring your every thought and action. Don't leave home without them, er, it!
DAY ONE - SUNDAY
We ended the day with a little dinner of chicken plunged into an ice bucket. Erik liked it (yech). And it was cheap!
Then it's off to sleepy-time at the Moller. Erik is kindly sharing my room so I don't feel loneley. They have HBO (but it's pretty crappy). All the other channels are frozen on a shot of a ferry accident.
DAY TWO - MONDAY
Much nicer weather today!
Erik always accepts a free coffee when offered (he gets some strange looks when he asks them to fill his travel mug, though). After our first meeting he's almost as good at my pitch as I am. I'm so glad he attends the meetings with me. Otherwise I'd forget what to say. What an impression I must be making!
It turns out that Chinese TV commercial production companies shoot over-seas all the time! Mostly in Australia and New Zealand but also the US and Europe (for the bigger jobs, like cars). I think their next stop might be Canada.
Before I left Vancouver I ordered a SIM card for my phone to be delivered to the hotel. That way I have a local phone number and internet. It was a little expensive but worth it. Erik planned on finding a less expensive option on arrival. This hasn't worked out very well. So Erik and Xiauluo accompany me to my meetings for a brief introduction and then head out to find the illusive SIM.
Erik also needed a haircut so we took a little break and a nice young man named Teddy did the trim. $6! There was a lot of laughter.
And that was it for meetings that day. There are about 10 or 12 big production companies in Shanghai (and one or two in Beijing) and I've got appointments to see 7 of them during my visit (3 of the other EPs were out of town and another 2 or 3 are proving to be difficult to get a hold of. I'll have to come back!) Next stop the National Art Museum to absorb more culture.
It was a very big, fancy museum and not too crowded. Erik recommended it as it was free.
Noses hold a very high status in China. Seriously. As a result Erik is a bit of a Nose Celebrity.
We ended the day with a magnficent sushi dinner with Ann Marie's cousin's cousin, Desmond. Wonderful guy (paid for dinner) and very informative. We had a spirited discussion about Chinese sub-lease office rental policies under the new 13th five year plan.
DAY THREE - TUESDAY
Erik's search for a SIM card became a regular part of our days. Here he's begging a street vendor for help. Eventually she offered him a SIM but with no data. Learning other cultural practices can be a challenge. The hunt continues!
Erik mentioned that he really wants to find an affordable Selfie-Stick. I told him he can't use Xiauluo for that as I'm paying her.
Two meetings today. One with Black + Cameron where I met with the kind and curious Carol and then off to see Denise at Labbrand. Carol's company is Australian owned and shoots over-seas a lot. We had a great chat (over an hour!) talking about production in Canada and China. Denise is an old friend of our friend Hilary Strang. She's been in Shanghai with her husband since 2005 (they thought they'd stay 6 months!).
Part way through 'our' meeting with Carol Erik and Xiaoluo headed off to find a SIM card. I waited on the street for them to come back so I could go to my next meeting (kind of the reason I'm here, hired Xialuo, etc). I was so happy when they returned an hour later (but with no SIM). I was only a little late for my next meeting. What would I do without my friend Erik?!?!
We spent a lot of time in taxis (they're cheap) and walking around (it's more fun), seeing this unbelieavable place. Shanghai is a huge mix of street sweepers and über rich, Ferraris and scooters hauling wheelchairs, expensive clothing and squid stores (I might try bbq'd squid on a stick tomorrow). But everything works pretty well. Very sophisticated.
Breakthrough! Erik has a SIM card! But it doesn't have enough data and he can't Wechat. Sigh. Above you can see Erik and Xiaoluo planning tomorrow's SIM strategy.
Off to dinner again with Cheryl, Karen, and Laura. This time at a Uyghur restaurant. Incredible food (try the dandelions). Fun dancing! And Uyghur music! Plus a little nose foreplay (I had to promise not tell who was involved, though. Sorry).
This blogging program doesn't allow for video. I'll try and figure something out. I have some stuff that's really worth sharing.
DAY FOUR - WEDNESDAY
We went looking for the French Concession (no luck, or maybe we were already there, hard to say) then met up with the ladies for one last meal and some kind of grapefruit juice. The juice was delicious and only $2. I hope I don't have to find the diarrhea clinic for men, though (Kerryn Williams warned me about eating street food but the ladies said it was OK). The ladies are off home tonight. I will miss them! Who's going to show us where (or what) to eat? No more ice-chicken for me, please.
DAY FIVE - THURSDAY
Erik and I always spend a few minutes after breakfast sitting in the hotel garden. Today we discovered blood. Murder? I think the gardener did it (to the chef). Erik thinks the cat did it (to the rats).
Two more meetings to go. First with Jud Wilmot from Will Mountain and then with Maggie and Teresa at Godmother. Oh, and more SIM searching, of course.
Did I mention that Erik was with me on the trip?
Jud is an expat who's been in Shanghai since 1997 (!). He's from Boston and has done many, many things in the Chinese film and TV industry. Very interesting guy. He had some more advice on working with Chinese production companies. Look for his documentaries on the history of Tai Chi and Rock and Roll in China (different films, of course).
Victory! Erik now has 1.5 gigs of data and for only 130¥ (plus 600¥ in taxis). A great day. Long Live the People's Revolution! What will we possibly do with our time now? Oh, right, Selfie-Sticks.
Maggie at Godmother is a veteran of the TV commercial industry in China (and she's part of the Malaysian Mafia so watch out). I learned a lot from her. She promises to send us some boards. Hoorah!
There's actually one more visit. Erik's friend Mark has been here since 2003 (and is a friend of Raymond Massey. They worked with Peter O'Toole,together!). He's the founding chairman of the China Canada Chamber of Commerce. Very connected and informed guy. I feel like I've had a crash course in China from all the people I've met (although people do say opposing things so I'm a little confused. But maybe that's just China).
Then it was time to say thank you and good-bye to Xiauluo. She gave me a Shanghai tourism book in Chinese (and a little English). Good-bye, Xiauluo! Good luck with that job interview tomorrow (and don't forget to get receipts)
All done! A little time for some tourism plus a quick visit to Desmond's building.
Erik is seeking Desmond's help to monetize his massive real warehouse holdings. Apparently I wasn't very helpful and this made Erik despondent about mankind.
Erik cheered up when he found the hotel he stayed at the last time he was here getting bronzes cast of cowboys having sex with 1980's cell phones. It was only $20 a night and "very clean" (the hotel). It's too bad we couldn't stay there this time.
We made arrangements to meet with Desmond and his wife Anna for dinner that night. The restaurant was called "Safe and Green". They served very delicious organic Hot Pots
The address of the restaurant is inside a giant, high-end shopping mall. We were told to go to the 4th floor. Well... It does say organic. Hmmm.
Some of the staff wander around betting whether you should get a free beer or a free crab by throwing dice in a bowl. Erik won a crab. The kid next to us won the beer.
Bye bye, Shanghai! Can't wait to come back. Erik and I have looked into the cost of staying in Shanghai for a few months. Maybe Barb and Ann Marie would like to come. I want that suit!
The State Airport Hotel was near the airport (lucky coincidence) and so after checking in we headed off to drop my extra bag in the long term luggage facilty. I'll get it on my way home (fingers crossed!).
Now off to the ancient and quaint town of Suzhou for a little tourism and to meet Scott's friend Jody. Jody was super helpful (via WeChat) during our Shanghai expedition. She also helped Erik with his SIM search.
On arrival in Suzhou we took a couple of motorized rickshaws to the old town. It was fun (and terrifying) but the drivers (an old woman and her husband, I think. Or maybe friends of Satan) took us to a tourist rip-off joint so we said Xei Xei (thank you) and Good-Bye (by-by).
Suzhou is one of China's famous "Water Towns". It was very pretty. I think I might be eating too many dumplings judging from that photo, though.
We met up with Jody and then headed off to dinner (that's Squirrel Fish I'm attacking. Delicious). The restaurant had a live band playing beautiful tradditional music. I have a video but still can't show you. Sorry.
I had my palm read by a computerized ancient Chinese god. It said I could cure all my ills with a good attitude. What a relief!
Erik wanted to see a lake in Suzhou. That's when we discovered that Suzhou is a quaint little village of 13 million. Then the train back to the State Hotel before setting off on our mountain adventure.
DAY SEVEN - SATURDAY
It was a relief to leave the hustle and bustle of urban China for the countryside and mountains. A little like home. Again we took the HST, this time for about 5 hours at a speed of almost 300 k/hour. Exciting.
Another great victory! Erik finds a Selfie-Stick for $2. After a lot of bargaining on Scott's part the merchant called in help, grew weary and gave Erik two for the same price. China has no idea what it is up against.
Erik (wait a second, who's blog is this????) insisted we search high and low for an "authentic" Chinese restaurant. Scott mentioned that there were no "Hey Guy" diarrhea clinics in Huangshan. I get a little cranky when I'm hungry but Scott & Erik were very supportive and only got angry with me a few times. Ah, friends.
After many trips down some pretty sketchy streets with no sign of any kind of restaurant (lots of pricey Selfie-Stick stores, though) we finally found an amazing place. Althoug it looked and felt like an abandoned bus station the food was fantastic. As always we ordered way too much but ate it anyway. Better get that rowing machine warmed up, Barb.
Now off to bed. We have a very big day tomorrow!
DAY EIGHT - SUNDAY
It was raining as we rose out of the clouds in the valley and raining when we got to the top.
Finally we've arrived in the Huangshan mountains, 1,800 meters (about 6,000 feet) above sea-level. So colourful. So quiet. So peaceful. Ahhhhh, nature!
The tour guides carry extremely loud public address systems. Not peaceful but at least you can take the tour without paying. If you speak Mandarin, of course.
It was a little crowded and wet but we persevered. Scott had a vague idea of what the signs said (and we all agreed to disagree on which way to go).
Incredibly all the hotels, weather stations and nunneries are supplied by porters. These guys are carrying around 80 kilos (175 pounds) up and down the 60,000 steps of the Huangshan mountains. Cabbages, garbage, carrots, fish, toilet paper, laundry, beer, you name it, are on the ends of their bamboo poles. Man, are they fit!
It was very beautiful in the mist (and don't forget to click on the photos to enlarge).
A little Macau Cable TV (excellent), some sock and shoe drying (smelly), and a well-earned sleep. More mountain conquering tomorrow!
DAY NINE - MONDAY
All conquered. Time to make our way to Tangshuin in the valley below.
Erik was a little tired after our big day.
Once again CTRIP helped us find a hotel. Scott said it was the best hotel yet. $50 including breakfast. We headed out to get groceries for the big train trip to Shenzhen tomorrow and stopped at a little market for a snack (above). The black stuff is fermented tofu. Scott said that once you've eaten this you will never eat any another kind of tofu again. It tasted like urine.
One last thing to do before heading to bed. Aside from a SIM card and a Selfie-Stick Erik has often talked about getting a foot massage. So why not after our long hike in the Yellow Mountains?
Tomorrow the train to Shenzhen (it's right next door to Hong Kong)
DAY TEN - TUESDAY
Huangshan to Shenzhen by train was about 8 hours and kind of boring at a crawling speed of 275 k/hr
Even with his excellent Mandarin Scott sometimes has trouble communicating with the locals. Here you can see him having a very long conversation with the train ticket lady (eventually 3 ladies and a guy came to help). The delay made the people lining up behind us quite angry. We finally got our tickets just as they were lighting their torches and sharpening their pitchforks.
China has the largest HST network in the world and 60% of the lines are in tunnels. The stations are all huge and mostly empty when we were there.
There was a little CTRIP confusion at the Shenzhen hotel but it finally worked out. Erik had to try some meditation. The water Colour app is called Waterlogue. I like it (and make no money off this endorsement whatsoever*)
The horror! Sometime during the train trip Erik lost all of his data. From 1.5 gigs to nothing in a few minutes. Poof. Many theories abound but it's likely due to State interference in the time-space continuum (according to Scott & Erik). Now Erik has to use my phone to communicate with Ann Marie (who will be joining him in Hong Kong on Friday). This leads to many humorous moments.
DAY ELEVEN - WEDNESDAY
Then a tour of some of Shenzhen's more modest structures
Erik has an amazing nose for good restaurants. He found this wonderful BBQ joint on a quiet side-street. They gave us three free pitchers of beer, too (Although the bills are always in Chinese so it's hard to check). Anyway, the pitchers kept coming. Coincidentally it was right next to a store that sold discontinued light-bulb fixtures. Erik bought five.
After dinner we did a little wandering and continued to discuss the time-space continuum and how humanity is deceived into thinking we exist. Heady stuff. Apparently I had a funny comment on Erik's and Scott's theories. We also met a nice fellow who once sold agricultural machinery in Canada (typical spy cover story!).
DAY TWELVE - THURSDAY
Our last day together in China. Sigh.
Erik spotted some local squalor from the hotel room so we headed there in search of dinner. It might be one of the last original neighborhoods in Shenzen. We wandered down some very narrow alleys crowded with folks coming home from work. Scott felt the last day was probably not a good time to get stomach problems so we widened our search. But, really, when is a good time?