Lost in Space –
My first trip to China
Even though I am Your Intrepid Traveler, it does not mean I am eager to go to every country on the planet in order to experience new cultures and ethnicities. Hardly. I couldn’t care less about most cultures. I don’t even understand my own culture. I still don’t know why we need to set a table with salad and dinner forks. Isn’t one enough? And why two sizes of fork? Our mouths don’t change size during the meal, so why does the fork need to change?
China is one of those countries that, as far as I am concerned, can keep its culture and its 5,000 year old history to itself. I can’t be bothered. I am very busy being ignorant. Believe me, that is a full time job. However, an overseas company approached me with a multi-million dollar project financed by the Chinese National Petroleum Corp, (CNPC). We began a series of discussions which all led up to me going to Chengdu, China for face to face meetings with the decision makers of this massive project. Suddenly, visiting China didn’t seem so bad.
It was a rushed trip and I barely had time to get a visa for China. I had to leave the Friday of Memorial Day weekend and would be gone eight days. It is a long way to China, as you may know. In fact, it is directly on the other side of the globe from me. I always heard that you could dig a tunnel thru the earth and come out in China, but since I had to leave by Friday, I would not have time to prove out that theory. I would fly instead.
To get there from Houston I had to stop in three other cities, Los Angeles, then Shanghai, then to Chengdu. I landed in Shanghai after traveling over 18 hours with no real sleep. I went thru Customs, since this was my entry point into the country. Typically you have to collect your luggage, get cleared by Customs, then re-check your bag and get on another plane. That procedure did not happen on this stop, but I was not concerned since United Airlines told me my suit bag would be sent all the way to my final destination. (That should have been a red flag for me since the ticket agent in Houston said my bag would get to Chengdu, no problem)
Well, as you can probably guess, I arrived safely at my final destination, at2 inthe morning, but my suit bag, with all my clothes, did not. I spent another hour filling out paperwork for lost luggage, and then headed to the hotel. After only three hours of sleep, I had a breakfast meeting with my contacts in Chengdu. We spent the entire day going over details of the project and completely missed lunch. By 6pm my bag had still not arrived. The airline now said they did not even know where it was. I was still wearing the same hiking pants and fishing shirt I wore for traveling. On the plane I dressed for comfort, not for style.
My presentation to the decision makers of CNPC was scheduled for the next morning. I HAD to go find some clothes. So I told Jack, my interpreter, to find a shopping area where I could get something to wear. I am tall and much larger than most Asians. In fact, I think my shoes are larger than some Asian countries. Jack was doubtful we’d find anything. He acted as if I were a freakish Herman Munster sized person. I told him that in a city of millions of people, there had to be some store that had my size. He looked at me like I was crazy. I get that look a lot.
We went to a dozen or more men’s clothing shops before we found a pair of dress slacks that would fit me. The pants were found in the storage area where they keep the inventory that doesn’t sell. The only reason these pants fit me was because the hemline was not yet tailored and there was plenty of length in the legs. I did not ask the price, I just had them sew the hem and wrap them up. We started the process all over again by looking for a dress shirt. Finding a shirt had to be easier to find than a pair of slacks, right? At least you’d think that. But none of a dozen other clothing stores had a shirt my size. I even tried on a 3XL size golf shirt which was made from stretchy material. It felt like it was painted on. No thank you. I know that science fiction movies predict that all of us will be wearing spandex in the future, but I HATE tight clothing. Finally, I found a store that had ONE short sleeve, button down dress shirt that nearly fit me. But the fabric was so thin you could see my chest hair thru the shirt. I would like to say you could also see my ripped abdominal muscles thru the shirt but they were with my missing luggage. So, I reluctantly spent the $60 dollars, (ouch) for the polyester shirt, knowing that I would never again wear it after this presentation.
I took my new “wardrobe” back to the hotel. Then I realized that I had no underwear. The hiking pants have built-in mess “briefs” so tomorrow I would have to go commando. Oh, great. When I stand up to do my presentation not only will they see my chest hair and flab thru the shirt, they may see more than that with those clingy slacks.
I then had to get the wrinkles out of the clothes. The hotel would not loan me an iron and the laundry was closed for the night. I tried steaming the shirt in the shower but it was not helping much. I went to bed, knowing that tomorrow I would be wearing jogging shoes with those slacks, no belt, and a wrinkled see-thru shirt while hoping to convince the big shots with CNPC that I knew what I was talking about. Maybe they’d think I was eccentric and smart. OK, maybe just eccentric.
I crawled in to bed, praying that the magic clothing fairy would visit me in the night. Of course, she probably wouldn’t have my size either. But un-believably, Jack knocked on my door at one a.m. with my suit bag. He’d called the airport one last time and sure enough, it had arrived. Now all I had to do was un-pack and steam the wrinkles from my good old trusty natural fiber, permanent pressed, wrinkle free, (probably made in China) men’s wear. Underwear too! So, the day came for the presentation, all went well, and I did not get arrested for indecent exposure. Jack’s visit was much appreciated, but I can’t help wondering what the magic clothing fairy would wear? And can I make her a red hot deal for a wrinkled polyester see thru shirt and unworn slacks?