Have to Laugh in Shanghai

Back I go into the great circus of China. As the plane approaches Pudong International Airport, I only partly listen to the usual announcements about the state of my seat back and tray table, but then something stands out from the usual checklist. She says a bit about something being approved by the Ministry of Health… going through the cabin… people with contacts may want to close their eyes. NOW I’m paying attention.

I see the flight attendants at attention at the front of the plane with aerosol cans held high. They let loose with a cloud of spray and walk the full length of the plane, and then back again making the entire place foggy. I tell David, a fellow business traveler, “Anytime I hear that something is approved by a ministry I can only believe it’s trouble.” If we need to be convinced, then I am doubting its benign nature.

I hold my breath as long as I can, but it’s not like the air is going anywhere. Seriously, what the hell was that? “Hoof and mouth disease” someone tells me. Say what? So now we are being fumigated like beasts in need of delousing?

It’s a hero’s welcome back to Shanghai. Funny thing about all those guys holding up names at the arrivals? A good number of them are hawkers with fake names on their signs just so they can get past security to offer overpriced rides into town. I take the Maglev, because it levitates on magnets and that is about as freaking cool a Star-Trek-has-become-real experience as you’ll find here. An hour later I am down on Nanjing Road hauling my leaden suitcase with an uncooperative wheel to the Charms Hotel, a misnomer if there ever was one. At my heels are various watch/bag hawkers and prostitutes, already harassing the heck out of me. (see my previous video about Shanghai)

It’s China, so one needs to remember to adjust the sense of humor. A group of American guys waiting for a light to cross the street are being worked over by a You-want-lady-massage guy and just finding it humorous rather than getting surly with the pest.

At the hotel I remember that in China, even in some of the finer hotels, service with a smile hasn’t really sunk in yet. They may not even be unhappy or displeased to see you. They just don’t smile. I say “Ni hao” and the response is a curt “Check in?” without a glance up from the computer. I am being “served” today by Number 3014. That’s what her name tag says. One is only a number here sometimes. Another clerk comes over and says “200!” Excuse me? “200 RMB. Deposit.” Yes, ma’am, and I give her my card.

Before I take my key card I say, “That’s a non-smoking room like I requested, right?”

“Yes, we can do that.”

“Great.” But I squint one eye at the way she phrased that.

I am paying more than usual, slightly more upscale than my $50 hotel for convenience sake and tricky flight time on Friday. So of course I can expect double the bill and half the service. Everyone stands staring at me as I drag and stumble my luggage across the lobby when I come in and when I depart for the elevator. Granted that means I don’t need to tip anyone and I kinda prefer it.

I get on the elevator and a housekeeping woman stomps in right after me and crowds me back into the corner. She gets out on my floor ahead of me, like she’s got business to take care of. I orient myself with the numbers on the wall; my room is left. Down the hall I hear a quick knock and “How keepeee” and come around the corner to see she is in my room in the dark, no time to get out a keycard. I put my card in the power slot and the lights go on. She says Ni hao and comes back out with the ashtrays in her hand. Nonsmoking now. Yes, we can do that.

6 thoughts on “Have to Laugh in Shanghai

  • March 15, 2011 at 1:21 pm
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    Kevin – A great read, many thanks I’m still laughing…

    • March 15, 2011 at 8:04 pm
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      Thanks, Alan. I’m typically road weary when these things happen and then I become the Grumpy Traveler. But it doesn’t take long to realize how funny the whole thing is.

  • June 3, 2011 at 7:09 pm
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    Shangai is the most advanced city of the China. It is famous for its high rise buildings, shopping malls, night life and many more. You can get full enjoyment while its visit.

  • September 23, 2011 at 6:47 am
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    Funny story!

    What airline did you use to fly into Shanghai?
    My teenager is allergic to the spray. I found that out when we flew to Malaysia and she had severe nerve pain in her face after they sprayed.
    I need to avoid the airlines that spray with passengers on it.

    Many thanks.

    • September 23, 2011 at 3:47 pm
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      Into Shanghai I used Vietnam Air. But as I understand it, everyone is doing it. Last time I was on Korean Air, last week, as we were arriving in Seoul from the US, I only partly heard the announcement about the spray. But no one walked through spraying, though I did smell something of a deodorizing nature, so I wonder if they just pumped it throughout the cabin air vents. Severe nerve pain? That sounds scary. Do you know of others who have experienced reactions? It’s very disturbing, really. I Googled and found this article about the matter. It may have been an insecticide: http://www.allergyuk.org/art_aircraft.aspx

  • September 24, 2011 at 4:29 am
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    Thanks for the quick response.

    To answer your question, the stewardess gave me the one ingredient:
    d phenothrin. It is a toxic neurological insecticide. Basically kills the bug’s neurological system. Yes, very scary. Especially when my teenagers started crying and screaming in pain. It went away after I gave her Hydroxyzine. Which knocks down allergic reactions. However, I’m just worried that the next time it might be anaphylatic shock. I’m looking into getting a doctor’s note so they won’t spray. Also using either a n-95 mask or those heavy duty gas mask that you can buy when painting. Perhaps she can also hide out in the bathroom and wear the mask. Of course, we hope with the note, they will not spray at all.

    I can tell you the stewardess were worried about their own health too. They don’t like spraying. They are exposed on a daily basis. Unfortunately it makes them sensitized to the chemicals. See youtube.

    The U.S. bans using insecticides on airplanes. So they don’t spray any of the incoming flights. They have other methods they believe is more effective. So thankfully, flying in the U.S. is fine.

    One method is to shoot Co2 for 6 minutes into the airplane. That kills every living germ on the plane. It is cheaper than spraying. Most importantly it is not dangerous for airline crew or passengers.

    The spray was shocking when it happened. Than nothing happened. Everyone acted like nothing. Then my teenager started screaming. I never want to go through that again. As a parent I couldn’t have forseen this problem from happening. Luckily I had her hydroxyzine (which my husband put in a 2 ounce bottle) and it worked.

    So now I’m researching about this stuff.

    In Malaysia, Malaysian Airlines, and China Airlines did not spray. My mother and siblings flew on those 2 airlines. I flew Cathay Pacific and they did spray!

    On the net there are a few people who have come out to talk about their adverse reactions. So hopefully the world will get on board and just do the cheaper Co2.

    Afraid to fly internationally again. What a shame!

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