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Bob's Shanghai blog (Friday)

NEWS STORY
17/10/2008

So here we are in Shanghai - well, most of us. We're pleased to see a Canadian colleague who has been chasing his visa around the world; presumably he's finally got it, while a photographer sent the passport with his visa back home with his brother and kept his other one. When he arrived in Shanghai, he was sent away and after two trips to Dubai, is finally here.

But that's jumping ahead. Japan and China might seem a very similar long way away for most Pitpass readers but they are very different. One is a prime example of organisation and order, and the other - well, different. Just compare the driving standards, for instance, a hot topic on and off the race track.

Monday morning and Mount Fuji is already smiling down on us in the haze. It's a public holiday but we still have a two and a half hour bus trip to Narita and the flight to China. Curiosities we see on the road include a Wolsley Hornet - or was it a Riley Elf? - not going very quickly - even by Japanese standards.

However, it has better styling than some Japanese cars. For a nation that produces so many vehicles, they sure need help with their styling. There is something called the Cube - not sure who it's made by and don't care. Well, they'll never be done for trades description, because that's exactly what it is, a Cube. Are the two adults and two children stick-on pictures on the window? Many Japanese cars, I'm afraid, are very boring but ideally adapted to vehicles for the handicapped. I'd better say no more before I get into trouble.

Talking of Cubes, there is one outside Narita airport - at least, the bit that I saw - which is the modern equivalent of the gas chamber. It seems they are polluting the atmosphere so much in Japan that they do not to allow you to contribute more to the pollution by even smoking outside, let alone inside. Instead, there is a perspex cube in which you may smoke. There, you and your fellow smokers can inhale one another's smoke and get an even bigger hit - and we non-smokers can look in and rescue those who keel over.

It's a two hour flight to Shanghai and I could then fast track the trip into the city by using the MagLev, which is a train which works on magnetic levitation and travels at 425 kph, but only for about three or four minutes. I used it a few years ago, and it gets a bit shaky at maximum speed, but it is about as quickly as you are ever likely to travel on land or just above it - even for F1 drivers.

For maximum thrills and danger, however, I took a taxi! If you don't have a Chinese driving licence you are not allowed to drive in China, which is probably a good thing. Driving in China is appalling, at least, by European standards - these things are relative, you see. I had several examples of its excesses on my trip into Shanghai. My driver was clearly an enthusiastic skier, because he treated the trip as a 60mph slalom, with the other vehicles conveniently used as (moving) gates.

Quite often we would come across something very slow or expiring in the fast lane, which is where old - usually blue, they were all blue a few years ago - trucks go to die. This way, of course, they get removed faster from the motorway. If you die in the slow lane, no one notices. However, you cause maximum disruption in the fast lane, so that way you are recovered quicker. So you drive slowly in the fast lane, and overtake in the middle and slow lanes. You then go back into the fast lane until another obstacle appears ahead of you. Got that?

My man was brilliant, cutting up the rest of the community with great gusto to a cacophony of airhorns - sometimes his own, sometimes other peoples' - and seemed to get a power boost of even greater enthusiasm when we saw an uncovered new Ferrari California on a non-descript lowloader heading for the city. I got the big thumbs up and an extra 20kph after that. You are asked in a pre-recorded message, to put on your seat belt. Seat belts are provided, but only the belt, not the buckle. Oddly enough, when he got into Shanghai itself, still on the elevated motorways, he was quite well-behaved and we arrived safely with a bill of about 17 for a 40 minute ride. And not once did he refuse to go that side of the river at this time of day, guv.

I arrived in Shanghai just in time to receive the following e-mail about banking problems in Japan:

Following the problems with Lehmann Bros and the sub-prime lending market in the USA uncertainty has now hit Japan.

In the last 7 days Origami Bank has folded, Sumo Bank has gone belly up, and Bonsai Bank announced plans to cut some of its branches.

Yesterday, it was announced that Karaoke Bank is up for sale and will likely go for a song, while today shares in Kamikasi Bank were suspended after they nose-dived. While Samurai Bank is soldiering on following sharp cutbacks, Ninja Bank is reported to have taken a hit, but they remain in the black.

Furthermore, 500 staff at Karate Bank got the chop, and analysts report that there is something fishy going on at Sushi Bank where it is feared that staff may get a raw deal.

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