With all of us headed home from our extended tour of China I have some time to highlight the non-basketball related aspects of the trip. We have been through most of the country. We spent time in PingXiang, Chengdu, Changshu, Qinhuangdao and Beijing. We flew in and out of airports in Beijing, Guangzhou, Changsha, Chengdu, Shanghai and Changshu. It was quite the trip.
PingXiang is a smaller city (1.8 million) and very hot and sticky. Not a lot to do but they did have a Super Wal-Mart and our interpreters, Olina and Fiona were very nice. Our hotel, the Number One Metropolitan Garden Hotel probably had its high point in the 80’s. It wasn’t terrible but the food was very repetitive. Chengdu was a nice city with a good downtown shopping area and famous as the home of the Giant Pandas. We stayed at the training hotel for the local professional basketball team. The hotel was fine but on the outskirts of town and we had an issue whenever we wanted to go anywhere. We hit the jackpot in Changshu with a 5-star hotel in a downtown area within walking distance of a shopping center and an interesting local restaurant. Qinhuangdao was disappointing. A four-hour bus ride directly east from Beijing, it is a beach town, but not one that most Americans would visit for a vacation. It did have the best Italian restaurant in China though, Pizza Hut!
One of the trip highlights was the visit to see the Giant Pandas in Chengdu. It was a little chore to get there. We asked our hosts if we could take the group bus there and we were told it was too far and too expensive to go. But how could we travel 10,000 miles and not see the Pandas? There was the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding a mere 6km from downtown. But we were on the opposite outskirts of the city, over an hour away. We went to our interpreter to see if we could make a deal. We were told we could rent our own bus for 1500 RMB, about 250$. Me and Scott, our trainer, went to see our friends the Hungarians to see if we could reduce the cost by splitting the bus. One shot of Hungarian wood alcohol and a beer later and we had a deal. The next morning we skipped our shoot-around and all went to see the pandas together. We’re very glad we all had that experience.
We had a similar us experience in Chengdu when we wanted to o downtown shopping. They told us the bus would leave at 10:40. Problem. Game 7 of the NBA finals was taking place and would be over about 11:40. Since we were the only group on the bus we asked if we could leave an hour later. The answer was no, even if we came back the original time (3:30pm). We tried explaining that it wouldn’t make a difference to them but had no luck. The boss says his bus must leave at 10:40. So we left then with the idea that we would all go somewhere to watch the 4th quarter together after we reached downtown. Which would have been fine until the bus driver got lost going downtown and turned a half-hour trip into a 1.25 hour trip. For a local driver to get lost going to the major shopping area in a small city is quite an achievement. But then again, it was not surprising to us at that point.
Leaving China was also somewhat of a challenge. Our first flight, from Beijing to Guangzhou sat on the runway for 2.5 hours. Luckily we had sufficient time for the Guangzhou-LAX flight as that flight was 1.5 hours late departing. That was because it was the same plane! The first flight landed at Gate A106, our gate. However we had to take a bus that dumped us off at baggage claim with no signs or information booth to tell us where to go. We made it through China customs, through security again and then back to the gate that we landed at. Since the flight was 2.5 hours late arriving in LAX several of us had to rebook flights or stay the night at an LAX hotel. But we are all home or close to it at this point. Finally!