Well, that was awkward.
As the U.S. team awaited to board an Air China flight from Chengdu to Shanghai this morning, the Nigerian team arrived at the gate. Opponents on Tuesday, travel acquaintances today. Can you imagine, say, the men's teams from Argentina and Italy on the same commercial flight to reach the destination where they would face each other in the World Cup? Um, no. (I'm sorry, Mr. Gattuso, but all we have available are middle seats and you'll have to share an arm rest with Sen~or Messi.) Men's teams fly charter, women's team fly commercial. Just the way it is.
I had a window seat. A Nigerian player was next to me. The aisle seat was occupied by Manny from Yonkers. Sounds like a first-time caller to WFAN sports-talk radio, doesn't it? Actually, he's a retired arcade games salesman with Portuguese roots who has made a hobby of attending international soccer tournaments. Across the aisle from him was his friend Abraham, a native of India who lives in Michigan and is a retired Ford employee on the same soccer journey.
A few things you should know about Chinese airports: You can walk up to a ticket counter and purchase a reasonably priced seat on very short notice, no problem; you do not have to disrobe when passing through security -- there is a container to drop off your sharp objects, but otherwise, just toss your gear into the X-ray machine (3-ounce liquids, 30-ounce liquids, it doesn't matter), leave your shoes on, keep your laptop in your shoulder bag, and go on your way.
We reached Shanghai -- which at first glance looks like 10 Manhattans rolled into one -- after a two and a half hour flight. Upon arrival, the gulf between the U.S. and Nigerian federations was glaring: While the American players breezed through the terminal and went straight to an awaiting bus as USSF staffers collected the luggage, the Nigerian players were on their own and had to wait at the baggage carousel.
On the long taxi ride into the city, I encountered a massive backup caused by an accident, which prompted several drivers to pull off to the right side, throw it into reverse and exit the entry ramp to escape the mess. Wow. The air does seem a little clearer here than in Chengdu, where on the industrial outskirts, the sky makes Los Angeles look like Vermont. The U.S. team took the rest of the day off and will resume training Sunday morning.
I leave you with some final thoughts about very cool Chengdu, courtesy of the official tourist guide distributed at my hotel (perhaps something was lost in translation):
Maybe her beauty is not grand than that of Beijing, but she is so delicate, which let you want to get near to her and touch her without having the heart to hurt her. Maybe her beauty is not fashionable than that of Shanghai, but she can combine the traditional and the modern so perfectly and made you feel she is so lingering in charm. Maybe her beauty is not open than that of Guangzhou, but she is more lovely, just like that of holding a lute to hide half of her face when stepping out for performance.
Enjoy the weekend.....
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