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December 5, 2014

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Watson From page 1 and regular meal and beverage ser- vice-never cease to amaze me. Only 5 feet from me outside the window it's a perilous place. As the Chinese would say, daoshanhuohai--mountains of swords and oceans of fire. Environmentally speaking, it might as well be the moon out there, but we scarcely know it inside. And all this in one of the world's first "plastic" airliners, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The fuselages of these planes are made not from shiny sheets of alumi- num, but rather from carbon fiber composite, a project my aerospace engineer brother Fritz has worked on extensively. In case you were wondering, I am on my way to the People's Re- public of China, first stop Shang- hai. My ultimate destination is the busy bustling byways of Beijing where I will open yet another chapter in my lifelong pursuit to master the Chinese language by attending a language school there for a month. Although my Chinese classes don't officially start for a few more days, my Chinese lessons have al- ready begun. On the video screen in front of me here on United Airlines Flight 198, I can effortlessly flip between English, a language that evolve.d only a few hundred years ago in the teeming, cobblestone streets of London, and Chinese, a langoage daat devel0ped thousands of years ago in the broad plains of northern China. Even though the Chinese lan- guage has been around thousands Jim Watson Columnist of years longer than English, it has remained largely unchanged, es- pecially the written language. If the Chinese passenger sit- ting next to me had been suddenly transported to his seat from 4,000 years ago, he would have only a little difficulty understanding the Chinese subtitles on the American TV show he is watching. Me? I have a hell of a time understanding Chaucer. Although Flight 198 took off from LAX at just after noon and even though the flight is 14 hours long, it is daylight for most of the trip ow- ing to the fact that this old earth spins around a little bit faster than even a Boeing 787 can fly. But by the time we land in Shanghai it is dark and rainy. I am expecting cold, wet San Francisco-style weather, but when we step off the plane it's like step- ping off the plane in Hawaii--nice and humid and warm. I am beat so I go straight to my hotel and sleep. Nothing like sitting for 14 hours to wear a guy out. OUT WITH THE OLD ... My mission the day after my arrival was to make my way across town to the bullet train station. My train left for Beijing at 2 p.m., which gave me enough time to see parts of the old town in the Nan- jing Road area. Since the very name "Shang- hai" is synonymous with unscru- pulousness and shadiness afoot, I was on my guard, especially since I had all my bags with me. But there's actually very little crime here, at least of the violent sort, and that goes for anywhere in China. My taxi driver told me the rea- son for this is the large number A KILLER WAY TO ,][] ADVERTISE IS00I]I00D6B &BLAIR of undercover police everywhere. They pose as everything from util- ity repairmen to beggars and no one dares mess with the tourists. There is, however, an interest- ing scam in Shanghai that I read about and in the space of about five minutes it got tried out on me twice. I'm glad I did my homework first. It goes something like this: a group of people--always includ- ing at least one attractive young woman--comes up to you and asks you to take their picture or help them learn English or some- thing. After a few minutes of com- pliments and talking about where you're from, they invite you to a "traditional tea ceremony" at a place that just happens to be near- by. I know what you're thinking. They get you there and knock you over the head, but that would be too direct. So instead, you sit through the ceremony and at the end you get stuck with a bill of $200 or more. Your new-found friends are, of course, in cahoots with the restau- rant owner and get a cut and it's all apparently legal since there was actually no outright theft in- volved. As I say, I was approached twice and as soon as I heard "tra- ditional tea ceremony" I politely backed out, saying I'd already had my fill of tea for the day. It's all very lame and pedestri- an and I was frankly disappointed that they didn't try to lift my wal- let or something while I wasn't looking. A pattern I noticed right away with China is that it is very clearly a country that quite suddenly has gone from near-Third World status to the very model of m0dern!ty. The sudden and enormous anount of wealth that has hit this naion of 1.6 billion people over Shanghai reflects the current trend toward modernity in the People's Republic of China. According to Mysterious Island columnist Jim Watson, the thinking in today's China is out with the old and in with the new. Photo by Jim Watson the past decade ortwo has left the country scrambling, like a man dying of thirst in the desert caught in a sudden downpour. Unfortunately, this has meant that a lot of old Shanghai is on the chopping block. Much like the California way of thinking, the idea is jiudebuchu, xindebulai--if the old doesn't go, the new can't come in. Nowhere was this blitz of modernity more evident than in Shanghai's new subway system and the bullet train system that connects the city with Beijing. The bullet train station was enormous, nearly as big as LAX it seemed. The passenger loading areas themselves were straight from a science fiction flick and I was thrilled when I learned that my seat was in the front car. I had a nice comfortable seat thinking what a cool trip it was go- ing to be in the front car speeding down the rails at speeds equal to many commercial flights. But when the train started to pull out, I realized we were going the other way. Rather than being in the front car facing forward, I was in the rear car going backwards. And backwards I went, at 250 miles per hour, headed toward the busy bustling byways of Beijing. NEXT WEEK: THE NORTH- ERN CAPITAL. November 14 through December 11 Shows Nightly at 7:30pm Rated PG- 13 Admission: Adult $15.00, Senior or Child $13.00 Matinee - Saturday & Wednesday 4:30pm Admission: Adult $10.00, Senior or Child $8.00 Every Tuesday $8.00 Admission THE CATALINA ISLANDER Friday, December 5, 2014 i 13