Greetings from Shanghai, where Intel is about to press the button on the Intel Developer Forum Spring 2008. I'm in a state of complete time zone confusion: leaving Heathrow at 13:45 on Saturday afternoon and arriving in Shanghai twelve hours later at 9am on the Sunday morning will do that to a man.
No Intel news yet. In fact, there may not be some for a while - the show itself doesn't kick off until Wednesday. There's an International Press Day on Tuesday, and tomorrow us hapless hacks will be shepherded onto a bus and given a cultural tour of ancient architecture. I don't think they mean the Itanium.
Shanghai itself is a ferocious mash-up of industrial bleakness, lively pedestrians, an old town that makes Camden Market look like a rural backwater, and enormous swathes of the sort of housing that looks like it's falling down as fast as it's being put up - and it's being put up pretty fast. We flew into Terminal 2, which is brand new and (on a Sunday morning) entirely empty: the baggage carousel stopped in mid-disgorge and nobody seemed interested in taking all the forms we'd filled in in quadruplicate on the plane, so it's not just Terminal 5 that's fun and planes. (Fans of irony might enjoy the observation that it's far easier and more pleasant to get into the authoritarian People's Republic of China than the Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free.)
Me and Mike Magee, the industry standard eminence grise ex- of the Register, ex- of the Inquirer and currently Indian tech publishing entrepreneur, found ourselves at a loose end at lunchtime. Our fellow hacks of weaker mien had gone back to their rooms for restorative napping, the hotel bar wasn't opening until five, the PRs were keeping a very sane low profile - what were we to do? Hit town, of course.
Our hotel is in Pudong, the financial and commercial area, which until around fifteen years ago was countryside. Then it got designated a Special Economic Zone, which meant throwing up the equivalent of a small city as fast as the concrete could be poured.
That means tons of office blocks, acres of building sites and not much joy: the cab ride out of there involved a trip across an enormous suspension bridge notable for an enormous corkscrewing entry road that goes up for three turns and feels like five minutes in a NASA centrifuge.
We landed in Yu Gergen, a chaotic mass of pagoda-style buildings, neo-brutalist modernism, temples. tiny streets and randomly positioned squares, awash with trendy young Shanghai, hyper-focussed shoppers, wandering knock-off watch vendors, friendly beggars and startled tourists. We fancied lunch, but everywhere that looked like a restaurant from the outside was selling jewelry: the good street stalls selling intriguing boxes of nosh had huge queues, and we didn't really fancy the swarming Pizza Huts, Starbucks, KFCs and Macdonalds.
One of the fun shops was a state tobacconist, which had a huge range of fags carefully displayed under glass counters: the locals spent ages peering carefully at the varieties (from 2 yuan per pack to 300: a yuan is worth around seven pence) before making their selection.
We eventually found a rather excellent place for lunch, where I had the Yellow Croaker with Squirrel Nutlets on the basis that even if it wasn't real frog with real squirrel it'd be something interesting. In the end, a Yellow Croaker turned out to be akin to cod and Squirrel Nutlets were pine kernals, but it was darn tasty.
On the way there, though, we'd got used to batting away the watch and bag vendors, but weren't prepared for one smartly-dressed man who attached himself to Mike. He enquired, in excellent English, where MIke was from: the standard Magee response in such circumstances is to say "Iceland" as it short-circuits nearly every preconception going and is entirely impossible to gainsay.
Our new companion mis-heard this as "Israel", and it all went downhill from there. I hung around in the background, eager to hear what on earth it was that the chap wanted to sell, buy or find out, but you won't find a politician, priest or PR on the planet able to spin a denser semantic fog than yer man Magee on the defensive. Our inquisitor was eventually reduced to stuttering "I have to go down here now!" as we passed a turning, before proceeding with commendable speed into the crowd.
No such lack of clarity was evident later that evening, when three of us decided to find some nightlife, only for the taxi driver to misread our intent and drop us off in the middle of the red light district. Very direct, the Shanghai natives, when they scent a deal in the air, even if they've mistaken the scent of rapidly rising panic from three jet-lagged journos in search of a quiet beer.
I tell you, the one-on-ones with Intel execs will be a walk in the park after this evening.