Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Back 'in-country'

Sorry for the dearth of posts last week. I was actually in China (my job takes me there several times a year). Our office is in a beautiful city called Hangzhou. It is about 2.5 hours southwest drive from Shanghai. The city is someplace to see if you've never been. The centerpiece of this city is West Lake and surrounding tea gardens - an absolutely great place to spend a weekend day walking around. Lots of shops, attractions and wonderful things to see.

Sadly - I often find my schedule pretty jam packed while I'm there (working two time zones), but I usually get in on a Saturday night and get to go for a long run on Sunday as well as many morning runs throughout the week. And of course I get to spend a lot of time working with and having meals with my colleagues over there that I've come to know as great friends.

This past week the weather was absolutely the nicest I think I've ever experienced. Cool, sunny and clear. Very pleasant running weather all week - especially on Sunday!

The travel time and time zone shift (+15 hours from MST) is less onerous to me than most people would think. Probably has to do with this being somewhere around my 10th trip there over the years. I arrived on Saturday at my hotel - right around 5:30pm or so. Got checked in and headed to the hotel gym. Ran 3 miles on the treadmill just to shake off the 24 hours of sitting around it took to get there. Tried doing km/hour conversions to minutes / mile pace in my head and gave up. Too much fog in my brain. Just enjoyed an easy run in an empty gym. Went back to the room, showered and ate some dinner. Then hit the hay at about 9pm or so.

I generally sleep really well the first night and in fact usually only have one day where I feel a little tired at around 2pm. Other than that, going eastward in generally pretty easy for me. All your points of reference (meals, light of day, running) I think help. The worst thing you can do actually is try to stick to your previous time zone schedule or get out of bed at 3am to check eMail. Time zone tip - if you wake up, just lay there and enjoy the quiet mediation time - soon you'll be as right as rain.

On Sunday I worked a little in the morning and then headed out for a 16 mile run at about 10am. There is this awesome cement boardwalk that follows the river about 8 miles in either direction. It actually goes further than that, but you'd have to brave some dicey road sections - and yeah, I don't. Traffic is very different in China. I once described it to someone as stepping into the business end of a particle accelerator. You know - the part where the hyper-charged particles all slam into each other and scatter in completely unpredictable directions and velocities). My peripheral vision has improved over the trips, and I am good at knowing when someone is going to stop vs plow me over. One steadfast rule - never step in front of a bus (they have the right of way over pedestrians) or a taxi cab (they will act as if they do).

But my route keeps me out of harm's way so I can mostly just focus on the run and the scenery it brings. During my whole Sunday run, it was so nice out that all the families were out on the boardwalk and in the couple of parks I run through. The little kids reminded me of my kids - smiling and waving and laughing. People are also very interested in watching me run by. Westerners aren't nearly as common in Hangzhou than in Shanghai or Beijing. While recreational running has become more popular in the last few years, I'm sure it's still pretty interesting enough to watch a 6'1" American run by at a good clip.

side-note: Unlike in the US, I've never been heckled running in China.

The one park near the 5 mile mark has these two very cool giant dragon boat sculptures. They stand a couple stories tall and are very imposing. I'm sure there is an interesting story about them, but I don't yet possess it. They are in the middle of a large cement park by the river with structures that for some reason remind me of the village architecture in the old computer game 'Riven'. Large 'clock' oriented looking structures and gazebos. I really love running through that park.

On the way out and back I pass several bridges that connect the downtown 'proper' area to the district we are in (which is more technology park oriented) across the mile wide Qiangtang river. I've wanted to make a route that crosses one of the bridges and do a loop around West Lake - but I never seem to have the time. Plus, I'm happy with my routes and the sights along the way.

I often listen to my iPod while I'm running out there. My playlist sometimes casts some funny contrasts with the sights I pass. Passing a few older fisherman on the warf while High Plains Drifter by the Beastie Boys is playing, or some folks practicing Tai Chi by the pond to the tune of Where is My Mind (Pixies) makes me smile a bit. Some collages such as Lose Yourself (Eminem) or Comfort Eagle (Cake) are perfectly matched to some of the more industrial sections I run though (the other way down the river). Or they can overcome a little self-consciousness that can sink in when I stop at an intersection, waiting for the particle accelerator to clear - and 5 or 6 Chinese folks are staring straight at me the whole time. They are just interested and I don't take it as impolite (culturally) there. But it's a little unnerving. Nothing a little Trent Reznor can't help with. And it's nice to have those visuals replay like a minds-eye slideshow the next time I'm listening to each of those songs. It passes the time on long runs on routes here in the US I've done a million times.

After my run, stretching (and shower) I took a 2 hour nap - no 3 year old to tend to. Then got up, and
headed to Starbucks. The one mile round trip actually makes for a nice recovery walk. The rest of the day was cranking through a bunch more work related stuff. Overall - a very productive day - personally and professionally. Got to bed a little late, but slept like a stone.

I really like running when I travel (both domestically and internationally). I've run I think in 7 countries (counting the US). I like the simplicity of it and the way it connects you with your surroundings. You get to see things that most tourists don't see and experience a city in a more personal way than from a car window or with a tour guide dragging you along. I like the solitude and the company all at the same time. I have really terrific memories that make me feel lucky for the opportunities I have to experience the world and the people in it. It also helps with jet lag, keeping in shape while traveling, and allows you to sample more of the local food in a guilt free way. And it beats plopping down in front of the TV just to burn through those hours between your arrival there and the trip home - especially when you are really missing your loved ones.

Travel is a gift I would wish on anyone that would value it's receipt. And running is the perfect way to accessorize your travel - no matter where it takes you.

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