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Posts by Terry Heifetz
It started innocently enough. Suzy went to Delta’s website to check on our seat assignments for the flight home. What she discovered is giving us our latest challenge! Our flight home has been delayed, and not just by a few hours. Our 9:15am flight to Detroit is now scheduled to leave at 11:59pm! Yes, that’s nearly 15 hours late! That means we will arrive in Detroit in the middle of the night. Needless to say, we’ll miss our connecting flights to Indy. We’re still working on the details of what happens next. But we’ll have details soon, I hope!
This story took an interesting twist during the day on Sunday. As we tried to determine our flight options, we contacted Delta in the U.S. since the Hong Kong office is closed on Sundays. Suzy and I told the customer service agent about the situation, and that it was important that if we have to be rebooked, that all of us are on the same flights. His response was “What would you like me to do?” That was puzzling. It seemed quite obvious to me. Make sure all seven of us are on the same flight. So I explained that this was a school group and that, as a faculty member, it is important that I can track all student travel. The agent then asked if they were minors. I said it depends what you consider a minor. All are over 18 but some are under 21. The agent’s response included the phrases “so what’s your problem” and “they’re not going to get kidnapped.” Needless to say, that did not go over well. I asked to speak to his manager. But that never happened. After waiting on hold for 10 minutes, we lost the connection.
We called back and spoke to a great rep who took good care of us… at least we thought she did. After some tinkering, she gave us great advice about options and recommendations for flights from Detroit to Indy. We were back in business, at least until I went to check my reservation online. The Delta website couldn’t find my reservation anymore. So I called again and spoke to another very helpful agent. She did some typing and determined that my reservation had been deleted! Oops! Somehow,the last agent must have done it. But no harm done. She reinstated it.
But I buried the lead. It was actually good that this all happened!!! All of it! As I was speaking to this agent, she agreed to manually move everyone to the same flight from Detroit to Indy. That accomplished the original goal – to keep everyone together. She went through each person, but Sarah’s reservation wouldn’t come up, no matter what she tried. After some research, she discovered why. Sarah was booked on the wrong day! Her ticket was for Saturday, not Monday! So technically, she missed her flight. And Delta couldn’t do anything about it, since Delta didn’t book it. After we finished our conversation, I sent a frantic email to Marsha, our travel agent in Muncie. Thank goodness she checks her email on the weekend. She was able to repair the reservation, and all was well. Too bad she can’t make Delta run on time.
The Ball State crew took a trip out of the country on Thursday, sort of. We went to Macau, about a one-hour ferry ride from Hong Kong. Like Hong Kong, Macau was returned to the central Chinese government about a decade ago. But before that time, Macau was part of Portugal. Getting there is an international adventure. We had to go through immigration and customs, again, as if we were leaving the country. Maccau has its own currency, even though Hong Kong dollars were accepted just about everywhere.
Even though it’s close to Hong Kong, the feel is a also bit different, thanks in part to its Portugese heritage. Many of the signs are in Chinese, Portugese and/or English. And then there was another sight that may be familiar to Americans, signs such as MGM Grand, Venetian, Sands, Hard Rock. Gambling is big business in Macau. So, of course, we had to visit. Others will probably discuss the wins and losses, but the biggest thing I noticed is the difference in gambling style. There were lots of slot machines. But it was not easy to find blackjack or poker tables. And there were baccarat tables everywhere! A worker at the Sands told us that is the most popular game in the East. And it sure looked that way.
It was a fun way to spend a day. And even though most of us lost a few bucks, we have another stamp in our passports to show for the visit.
We said our goodbyes to Beijing on Wednesday, after a great week and a half. Again, the trip out was full of drama. If you thought flying in the United States could be challenging, it’s even tougher here. Thank goodness we got to the airport three hours before the flight. Even though we stayed in China, going to Hong Kong is like traveling to another country. We had to go through customs, immigration and extra security checks (Sarah will have more on that). We had a great flight on Dragonair. It was a spacious plane with good food and it was quite smooth.
The arrival in Hong Kong was also really smooth. Immigration was short and sweet. The bags were waiting for us. The ride to the hotel was quick and easy.
Then the shock set in. Hong Kong is truly a different place than Shanghai and Beijing. It’s hard to describe. My first impressions… Hong Kong is Shanghai meets New York meets Los Angeles meets Miami.
Here’s why I bring up that eclectic mix of places. It feels like Chinatown in New York City. While all of the signs are in Chinese, there is plenty of English too. It also has the energy, bright lights and crowds of New York. But wait, then there is a big difference – the mountains! They’re everywhere. Suzy compared it to Southern California. It is beautiful. But wait, there’s more. It’s tropical, aka humid! So, so humid. Think Florida in the summer. This is going to be a neat town to experience. We’re going out to explore much more of Hong Kong today. So more details are ahead.
Every day, it seems like we hear about newspapers cutting costs, laying off employees, or shutting down. But here in China, we found one newspaper that is in expansion mode. The China Daily is the English-language national newspaper, published by the Chinese government. It’s based in Beijing. And we got an awesome look behind the scenes, thanks to Bill Gaspard, the design director (and a friend of Jennifer Palilonis at Ball State).
Bill has worked in the big cities like Las Vegas, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Now he is working his magic at the China Daily. It is one good-looking paper. And it is getting bigger. It recently added an American edition and will soon expand to Europe. That means jobs. And we met some folks who have recently taken jobs at China Daily, which recently celebrated its 29th anniversary. We met Annette Fuller, a veteran of newspapers in Indianapolis and Dallas, and Todd Balazovic, a graduate of Central Michigan University, who had previously interned at the China Daily. All three explained to us why they left the comforts of home to come to China. The common theme – they wanted a new challenge. And they found it!
Bill also introduced us to his boss, Qu Yingpu, the deputy editor-in-chief. He explained the newspaper’s mission and the plans for the future. From the looks of it, the future should be bright for the paper, and its staff.
I have known Tony Perkins for more than ten years. We both worked at WISH-TV in Indianapolis, although he arrived there shortly after I had left. Little did I know our paths would cross again, this time in Beijing, China.
Tony now works as a sports anchor and reporter at CCTV, the state-owned media outlet. As soon as I heard we were going to China, I contacted Tony. He gave us some great advice about how to navigate Beijing; today he gave us a great tour of CCTV. Tomorrow we’re meeting for dinner and we plan to vist the Great Wall together next week. Thanks for being such a great host, Tony!
Meantime, I know everyone is probably getting sick of hearing me gloat about our students. But their latest story about Weaver Popcorn securing new business in China is a hit! Not only did it get picked up by Indiana Public Radio, indystar.com and several other news outlets, it was distributed by the Associated Press (AP). That helped the story appear in print or online in the Muncie Star Press, The Lafayette Courier and Journal, WISH-TV and WTHR-TV in Indianapolis, WKRC-TV in Cincinnati, WANE-TV in Ft. Wayne and WNDU-TV in South Bend. It also went on the website for THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE!
I can’t say enough about the great work our students have been doing. Now others are recognizing it, too.
Greetings from Beijing! You may have noticed that several of the recent posts have come from Suzy Smith or me. It’s true. But it’s not because the students are lazy! They have been really, really busy gathering stories and presenting them.
Monday, we met with Indiana Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman. She’s in Beijing on a trade mission right now. And our students got to sit down and chat with her. What a great experience for them. They all filled various roles with the interview and story development. It was a tight deadline and they did not disappoint!
The latest story appeared on theindychannel.com
Their video aired on Indiana TV stations and their audio aired on radio stations back home!
How great is that?
Dominic, Sarah, Kevin, Jeff and Jack all deserve a huge round of applause for their great work!
More to come! And yes, I’m sure they’ll be blogging again.
After a day of travel, we are now in Beijing. The short flight from Shanghai was a bit more challenging than we expected. Air China’s baggage rules are quite different than U.S. airline rules. So we had to pay extra fees and move some things around. Now I see why we had to be at the airport three hours early for such a short flight. The flight, itself, was pleasant, although it was late. That felt just like home!
Now to the pleasant surprise. Our hotel in Beijing, the Dong Fang, is the best hotel we’ve stayed at, yet. The rooms are clean and comfortable and have good A/C! And there are three or four English-language TV channels, including BBC and HBO. This hotel is off the beaten path, in the middle of a neighborhood. A quick walk down the street gave us the sights, sounds and smells of the real Beijing. People were playing games on the sidewalks and street vendors were cooking and selling meat dishes. It doesn’t feel like we are in the middle of a big city. It feels much more relaxed.
Probably the coolest thing about this hotel is the courtyard coffee shop. While it’s pretty expensive, even by American standards, you can’t beat the setting. Tables are set up on a brick pathway. They serve coffee, Chinese and western dishes. We had drinks and food with my old buddy Tony Perkins. It was a nice, relaxing way to end the day. Tony now works for CCTV in Beijing and we’ll get to spend some quality time together during our visit.
Today, we’ll head into the heart of Beijing. Let the adventure continue!
We’ve had a great time in Shanghai and at the World Expo. Now it’s time to move on. We fly to Beijing this weekend. So it’s time to say goodbye to Shanghai. We’ll miss our pastries at the Sharing Commune coffee shop, our favorite restaurants and the HKBU students and their faculty members, especially Huang Yu.
Most of all, we’ll miss Dan Cooper. He’s the Ball State grad student on the trip. And he’s on his way back to Indy. We can thank him for all of the great work behind the scenes of this blog and interactive pieces such as the silk story. Dan, we’ll miss you… but we’ll see you in a month. And Skype us along the way while drinking a Margarita at Puerto Vallarta in Muncie!
While we have really enjoyed almost everything about Shanghai and the World Expo, it’s been a tough couple of weeks for the journalists in the group. We’ve been searching high and low for stories with legitimate Indiana angles. Until now, we haven’t found much. But today, we attended a lunch hosted by our friends at SISU, Shanghai International Studies University, and the guest speaker was Jose Villarreal, the commissioner general for the USA Pavilion. And one of the first things he said was that he is a Hoosier! Instant story! Sarah and Jack jumped into action, and set up an interview right after lunch. Great interview! Great job, guys!
Next, we have set up an interview with a student ambassador at the USA Pavilion who is from Indiana! Suddenly, things are falling into place. That interview is set up for Tuesday. And on Thursday, we’re interviewing a Columbus, Indiana economic development contact who works out of Shanghai. Suddenly, we have three great news stories this week.
Thursday was a quieter day for the Ball State crew. We didn’t meet until the early afternoon. And when we first connected, we spent lots of time people watching from a streetside cafe. It was one of those comfortable places that you just don’t want to leave. We could have stayed there all day, drinking tea and coffee and eating pastries.
When we finally built up the motivation to hit the road, we headed for the center of the city for one of the tallest buildings in the world, the Shanghai World Financial Center. Like the Sears Tower (yes, I know it’s not called that anymore) or the Empire State Building, you’re charged big bucks for the view. But here, it was worth it. While the views were filtered by the haze during the afternoon, the sights turned spectacular after the sun went down. I’ve posted a couple of pictures here. But there will soon be many more posted.