This is my third trip to China in four months, and if I've come to understand anything about this fascinating, enormous, staggering country, it's that I've got to take a sleeping pill on the third night.
It's the same thing every time: I get off the plane, I force myself to stay up till a realistic bedtime, I take half of my doctor-prescribed, heavily-advertised sleep aid, I sleep through the night. I feel sort of miserable all day the next day. I do the same thing the next night and I hit my stride when you wake up. I get all of my work done -- I'm a foreign-correspondence machine -- I fall in love with travelling all over again, I feel great at the end of the night and I settle in after a long day ready to sleep the sleep of the dead. And I forget to take the half a pill.
So I spent the hour of 4:45-5:45 a.m. yesterday morning wondering why I never learn. Then I spent all but fifteen minutes (a frozen walk to the convenience store down the block) of a day that finally ended with a 1:45 a.m. e-mail to the office in L.A., here at the PuJiang hotel, working to get ready for the big day-one broadcast on Monday. All the while feeling brutalized by jet-lag.
Today, I woke up at mid-morning (having not repeated my sleeping pill mistake of the night before)and took a quick walk to find a late breakfast before starting what I knew would be another long day in Room 206 working at the computer.
I bundled up against the cold and walked out of the hotel thinking I was glad I'd been able to see a lot of Shanghai on my previous trips to China, because who knows what I'd get to see this time (what with the deadlines and all the work to do).
I was out and about for an hour tops. And I was reminded of just how much you can see in an hour here: I saw men defying all manner of international treaty by walking down the streets selling pelts of tigers and various endangered species. I saw billboards enclosing a construction site extolling the virtues of the new mall being built within: "Wealth! Team! Sparsity!" I saw a businessman get a straight-edge-razor shave in a barber chair in an alley (in 25-degree weather). I ate sitting at a plastic table outside at one of the tiny restaurants in the alleys in one of the city's old neighborhoods. Had a huge bowl of noodles and and cilantro with a group of migrant workers from the "Wealth! Team! Sparsity!" construction site. Fumbled through the rudiments of a conversation in Mandarin. Lunch was 3 RMB -- less than half a buck.
Had a couple of days worth of adventure in a little more than an hour. Now I just need a little sleep.