Here’s a math problem for you:
There are 24 main time zones on Earth, one for each hour of the day. To get to China, I crossed 11 of them (plus the International Date Line) and landed in a time zone 13 hours ahead of where I started. So if it was 11 a.m. when I took off from my layover in Dallas (CMT) on September 30, and the flight was 13 hours and 45 minutes long, what time and day was it when I arrived in Shanghai?
Bonus question: If it’s 12:15 a.m. now in Shanghai, and my body still thinks it’s on Eastern Standard Time, where I live, what time does my body think it is right now? (Answers at the end of this post.) If you guessed correctly, then you’ll understand why it’s been difficult for me to string a coherent thought together this week.
Ten days in, Barrington and Tom are only now returning to a semi-normal sleep schedule. As pilots, jet lag poses a greater challenge for them. Flying west with the sun across multiple time zones creates super long days; flying east creates super short nights. Both disrupt natural biorhythms and make it hard to sleep.
Even without jet lag, sending a message home from China wouldn't be easy. Facebook is blocked here. So are Instagram, Gmail, Google, Twitter and Dropbox. And Flying Classroom’s blog has not been available on some Wi-Fi networks. Call it censorship; call it social control. I call it a total drain on our already depleted mental batteries. But it’s not like we can call up Beijing and say, “Hey, turn the Internet back on!” So instead of staring at our phones, we’ve been exploring this city of superlatives.
We have ascended tallest buildings, crossed longest bridges, ridden the world’s largest subway system, visited China’s only propaganda poster museum, conducted Skype in the Classroom sessions, spoken with students from Shanghai Civil Aviation College, and drank record amounts of coffee to keep going.
An old college friend of mine named Marie has lived in China for ten years and Shanghai for two. Before we conducted our official engineering and architecture expedition, she offered to show us some lesser-known sights. We started by walking through a match-making market in People’s Park. As Marie explained, China is currently in the middle of a seven-day national holiday or “golden week.” Parents and grandparents have taken advantage of the days off to come to Shanghai in search of possible spouses for their children.
It’s sort of like speed dating for arranged marriages. Each family sets out an ordinary rain umbrella upon which they affix laminated descriptions of their children. Boys were listed in blue type; girls were listed in red. A few parents were wise enough to include photos. Marie translated one for us: “She was born in 1983, is 160 centimeters tall, has a Bachelor of Arts degree, works for a foreign company, and is a supportive and nice person with a good heart. She’s looking for a man between 30 and 38 years old, who is at least 170 centimeters tall, with a Bachelor of Science degree, and is responsible and has a good heart.”
Next was the Han City Fashion and Accessories Plaza, or as everyone kept calling it, the “fake market.” Inside, you could find knockoff headphones, shoes, handbags, Rosetta Stone language-learning software, and every Apple or GoPro accessory you could ever need. Barrington, who was looking for gifts for his kids, got sidetracked by a store filled with scale models of all the major airlines. “Where’s Air Jamaica?”
We continued down Nanjing Road to a large commercial center with U.S. stores like Sephora, the Gap, and Starbucks. I ordered a tall black coffee for the walk back to our hotel, where I laid down for a quick nap before dinner and woke up six hours later.
UP NEXT: Engineering Cities – a Flying Classroom expedition
Update: Due to the protests in Hong Kong, we have modified our itinerary. We will spend another few days in China, riding high-speed trains and studying the engineering that keeps this city of 24 million sustainable. Then it’s off to Vietnam on Monday. Mercifully, it’s in the same time zone.
ANSWERS I arrived at 1:45 p.m. on October 1, which, as it turned out, was a big day for China. It was National Day, which celebrated the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
BONUS 12:15 p.m. Shanghai is exactly 12 hours ahead of cities in Eastern Standard Time like Detroit, New York, and Miami.