Travel to Zhucheng, Shandong Province

This morning the entire team assembled in the splendid marble and carved wood lobby of the Xiyuan Hotel. At a hasty breakfast (and perhaps our last coffee for a week or two?) I learned my place. There is a series producer, Pip Gilmour; a field producer, Sally Williams; two film men, Alex Hubert and Rob Grossman; Adrian Kubala, the sound man; the quiet Daming, a camera and lighting assistant; there is a fixer, Eric Huan, a Chinese transplant to New Zealand, and Kelly Kong, whom we met yesterday, the production assistant. Then there are two BOFs. That would be Phil Manning and myself. What is a BOF, you ask? It means Brilliant Old Fart or Boring Old Fart, depending on whom you listen to (and I told Adrian that if I wanted his opinion next time I would ask!). Officially, Phil is Leading Scientist and I am Visiting Scientist. I must say that the planning that goes into a project like this is extraordinary. A month of field reconnaissance preceded my arrival. Nothing is left to chance. Every film venue has been visited, every hotel scoped, every flight booked. Despite meticulous planning, things still go wrong. We decided to send suitcases and camera equipment by land instead of by air. On the way to the airport Adrian recollected that he had sent his passport in the land vehicle, and thus would be unable to provide identification to fly. He cheerfully solved the problem by opting to join the 8 hour drive to Zhucheng.

The Forbidden City in Beijing, China

The Forbidden City in Beijing, China

Off to the splendid new Beijing Capital City Airport, one of the architectural wonders of the modern world. This immense soaring and graceful structure was the largest enclosed space in the world when it opened it last summer in time for the Beijing Olympics. It has since been relegated to number 2 by Dubai’s new air terminal. Despite the immense size and passenger volume, the terminal is a pleasure to encounter. With its soaring ceiling, it feels neither crowded nor cramped. Unencumbered by baggage, we flew Air China to Qingdao, an easy one hour 20 minute flight across the Sea of Bohai and the Shandong Peninsula. We did a nice fly-by of the prosperous port city of 3 million plus, coming past the rugged slopes of 1100 meter Laoshan, whose springs provide the water for Tsingtao beer. At the airport we boarded a comfortable small tourist bus and headed inland for Zhucheng, 40 miles west. We at first passed fish ponds and then corn fields with columns of drying stalks. I was frankly expecting a rude rural town, but Zhucheng has a population of just over a million, and seems reasonably prosperous (as is all of Shandong). Its industrial base is clean and modern—electronics, machinery, garment manufacturing, not smokestack industry. The Mizhou Hotel greeted us with English-language signs, which is always reassuring. As is so often the case in Asia, the hotel pays great attention to esthetics. It has buildings on three sides of a courtyard with a centerpiece garden and sculpture. The lobby presents an elegant two-storey tall etched glass waterfall, which is really quite arresting.  Before we checked in, each of us received a forehead scan with an infrared sensor—no good saying you feel fine if you really do not. I thought once I entered the country it was OK to feel sick. It is not! After the SARS debacle, China is taking infectious diseases very seriously indeed—very commendable.

Map of Shandong province

Map of Shandong province

Today is a designated travel day. Unfortunately a conference with local officials is required before filming begins. Tomorrow we see some bones! Tonight we enjoyed an excellent group meal at a modest little family restaurant not far from the hotel. The food was simple, ample and tasty: beef, spicy pork Xinjiang style, a shrimp dish, egg with onion and pepper, broccoli, pancakes (bing), peanuts and spinach, celery, an unfamiliar melon, rice, soup, and others I don’t remember. We also had green tea and Tsingtao beer. A very satisfying meal. The bill for eight people? 231 yuan, about $33! What is not to like?

Dinner in Zhucheng

Dinner in Zhucheng

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