Monday, July 25, 2011

Hong Kong July 24-25


I'm sitting in a Chinese government guest house in Shenzhen eating french fries and drinking watermelon juice -- an appropriately weird end to this very long and sort of weird trip.

We arrived in HK late last night, which was a shame because that meant I missed a Sichuan restaurant that David and Rachel Schlesinger had booked. They sent me pictures of the food, which struck me as a little cruel under the circumstances. But I'm sure I'll have another chance at some point.

Not much to see of HK at night. We stayed at the Shangri-La, which I'd never be able to afford on my own. But the time was so short there was no time to enjoy it: just arrive, fall into bed, get up, repack, and leave. Good breakfast tho...

Clinton gave a speech this morning to the American Chamber of Commerce. The idea was to drive U.S. "economic diplomacy" and assure Asia that we are in the game for the long haul. Unfortunately the message was completely overshadowed by the budget/debt limit crisis and it hard to see how her audience would believe her when the news out of Washington is so dismal. Default? Seems incredible.

After the speech we got in the motorcade and drove to Shenzhen. I've never done that before, and it certainly takes one through some pretty impressive territory. Row after row of cargo loading cranes, all working feverishly. Long bright tunnels through mountains. An immense bridge, part of it suspension, crossing a river that was dotted with little rafts that we figured must have something to do with fish (or shrimp) farming.

We were alone on the road the whole way -- the benefits of an authoritarian gov't. And even Shenzhen felt like a ghost town. Not many people on the streets, no traffic, just cops keeping the motorcade moving. We ended up at this gov't guest house which looks and feels a lot like Diaoyutai in Beijing. We were expecting a cool (or at least ambivalent) reception but the Chinese have put us into a nice ballroom with tables and a sort of odd East/West minibuffet including french fries, melon balls, spring rolls...

She's here for a couple of hours and then the motorcade heads back to HK directly to the airport. Then -- the plane, for about 17 hours. I'm not looking forward to that but I am looking forward to getting home. This has been a really good trip: so many interesting places, a fair amount of news, and only one overnight (tonight, unfortunately) on the plane. It could be easy to get used to traveling like this, but I'm sure the next trip will revert to type and be a huge rush...

UPDATE: well a little bit of last minute excitement. As we were leaving the gov't guesthouse compound, the press van stalled out -- dead. Clinton's motorcade swept out of the gates and we were left stranded. Luckily there was one embassy car behind us, and one of the embassy guys jumped out and got us all to pile in. We then took off again, but as soon as we left the compound we realized that the motorcade traffic controls were off and the streets were FULL of traffic..bumper to bumper with buses, cars, people. It seemed hopeless. The embassy guy was really pretty heroic -- at every intersection he jumped out and negotiated with the Chinese police (using sign language..he didn't speak Chinese) to try to get us waved thru. He pressed the driver to speed up, and we were swerving hercky jercky through the traffic trying to catch the motorcade before the border. I'm not sure what would have happened if we didnt make it -- none of us had our passports on us -- but as it turned out the motorcade realized we had dropped off and was waiting for us at the border crossing. Phew.

As a reward (?) we were treated to the following for dinner -- behold: "Peking Chicken", as envisioned by the U.S. Airforce