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Friday afternoon Shanghai turned a bit gloomy hinting at a rain shower to come. Meetings had gone long and I stepped out for a late lunch at 2:30, not bothering to carry an umbrella. I enjoyed a Hong Kong-style afternoon tea and as I finished, the sky raged with surprise ferocity. I was able to duck into the nearby Holiday Inn, and there I sat as Shanghai became a bath tab.
Whenever I do something slightly mileage/mattress-run esque it seems to backfire. I had checked out of Starwood’s Hongta Hotel across the street in morning and there sat my suitcase, now separated by a canal of thigh-high water. I was moving to the Holiday Inn to get one of three Saturday stays for my IHG Big Win promotion. Back in the office, normally a 15 minute walk, now a swim across Century Boulevard, sat my briefcase with my passport (and camera, I was equipped only with Blackberry). You need a passport to check-in to a hotel in China or have hassles with the Public Security Bureau. The front desk was not willing to let it slide unless I agreed to go to the PSB myself later to register.
Taxis were wisely sitting it out and the company van was not going to attempt a rescue. Many private cars were already stalled from waves caused by other cars pushing through rivers.
I flashed back to a day as an intern in Shanghai in 2001 when a similar flood left waist-high water on my street.
Sick of waiting around and the water clearly going to be around for a while, I decided to ignore all hygiene sense and with a let-up in the deluge I took off my shoes, rolled up my pants, and joined the other festive commuters wading through the streets. There were more smiles and laughs among the pedestrians. Fist-waving was mostly for drivers. Sloshing around felt like being a child and the trip back to the office was quite fun as everyone tried and failed to stay dry.
We camped out at the office a few hours passing around moon cakes that no one wanted to eat. Every so often another person departed to brave the route home. I gave it until 9 pm and still had to ford several streets to get back.
The fast reaction from police and emergency crews was impressive. Several subway lines shut down but were open again by late evening. By 10 pm water had mostly receded though traffic was still gridlocked. When I awoke early in the morning crews were cleaning up and by midday the remaining stalled cars were gone. Shanghai streets were full with people on their regular Saturday outings.