Yesterday, I’d landed in Shanghai. Even amidst the torrential downpour, Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG) was a gleaming marvel of steel and glass, nothing like the third-world, backwater Podunk travesty called LaGuardia that I’d flown out of just thirty hours prior. Everything about PVG had struck me as excessively new and modern. The first I thing I’d noticed when I deplaned was that since I was an American, I was actually a solid head and shoulders taller than everyone else around me. This was nifty and quite convenient because it allowed me to navigate around more easily.
The second thing I’d quickly noticed was that I also stuck out like a sore thumb. The moment I alighted, I was immediately intercepted by two stern, uniformed airport security officers who’d led me to an enclosed side room for a “routine health check.” They took my temperature and scanned me multiple times with a thermal imager to ensure I didn’t have a fever or was coughing at all. With the virus still everywhere in full swing, the Chinese were understandably weary about letting in foreigners who could be potential vectors of disease.
Luckily for me, I had my official stamped letter. Let me tell you, waving that thing around was like some kind of magical pass. That letter, an invitation actually, was the entire reason I was in fact half-a-world away from home, here in Shanghai. But I’ll get to that shortly. First, a little bit more about PVG…
Third, amazingly enough, there was not a scrap of litter anywhere. Shanghai’s airport concourses, though bustling with throngs of people, were sparkling clean. As I’d waited by the baggage carrousel for my luggage, I’d observed the Chinese secret: Legions of cleaners. Wearing nondescript grey uniforms, there were hundreds of masked men (all were young men that I observed) who appeared to be state-sponsored janitors. I guess when you have 1.4 billion people in your country and lead an authoritarian state, you can simply hire janitors by the truckloads to keep your airports clean.
Eventually, I was able to collect my bags and make my way to the airport’s central bus hub. Unlike LaGuardia, where there was essentially no signage of any kind and travelers were expected to either be native New Yorkers who’d grown up in the Big Apple their entire lives and thus simply expected to know how LGA was laid out, PVG actually had incredibly helpful colored arrows that were painted onto the floor’s linoleum tiles. Like, literally: Painted on the floor was signage that you could easily follow to get to wherever you wanted to go. Jesus. It was absurd how well designed Shanghai’s airport was. You literally could not have created a diametrically more polar opposite airport than LaGuardia if your life had depended on it.