As part of work we often travel to places we can be extremely hesitant to visit or conversely over the moon that you got assigned to that particular region. In this particular instance, I had no idea what to anticipate. The destination: Yantai, China.

Never having been to China, I was excited for the opportunity. The purpose for the trip was for a golf match between 10 top tier USA players vs. a Chinese team in a Ryder Cup style format. I would be chaperoning our young guns hoping to lead them to victory. For those that are as unfamiliar as I was, Yantai is in the middle of nowhere China. Or should I say, nobody actually lives there. It’s not even in the middle of nowhere, it is on a beach.

Everything they had planned for us was top-notch. Nanshan International Golf Club has 36 holes of caddieschampionship golf that we’d be playing. One of which was designed by Colin Montgomerie and hosted the Chinese Masters the year prior. The hotel was 5-star with a lovely ocean view out towards Korea.. Unfortunately, you can’t see the horizon due to the smog.  Caddies each day on the golf course who were all young women fixing our divots and selecting clubs.  I always replied to their advice with, “xie xie” or, “thank you”.

The hospitality was a little over the top at times. Before I ever even step foot in my hotel room there was a woman waiting outside. I thought it was some sort of concierge to greet me. She walked in with me and started speaking Mandarin. Then she started making hand gestures to communicate in her form of sign language. I quickly realize she does not work for the hotel. Instead, hoping to work me if you catch my drift. After my politest thanks but no thanks, she grabs the phone and calls another room and heads down the hall.

About five minutes later I get a knock on the door. I’m thinking, not her again! Nope, it’s our one of our other players. “Hey man! Did some crazy lady just try and give you a happy massage?”

If you’re ever planning a trip to China, you’ll likely need a week or two to acclimate. Trouble for our group of young golfers was we had 5 total days in town. Two days of practice and two days of competition. We hit the ground running. I’ll make the 36 holes of the tournament short for you, we lost in dramatic fashion. The home turf advantage was no match for us.

chugThe good news is that easterners love seeing westerners and blue eyes. Bingo! Women, men, grandma’s, children all coming up to our team asking to take selfies galore. It made us feel very welcome. I was even challenged to chug a beer against a man in speedo, which I lost as well.

Outside our hotel was a stage with parties going on nightly to which I could not comprehend anything going on. One act we saw each night was a transsexual woman singing karaoke. She(?) was pretty good! After she got off stage she approached me and of course, asked for a selfie.

If that wasn’t enough, it was my turn to go on stage. Except this time, it wasn’t for karaoke. It was for a drinking game in Mandarin. I had no idea what was going on, but it ended up with me losing $28 in Yuen and chugging four straight beers with a little person.

One of the things that made Yantai so different was that there were more than 50 skyscrapers for bselfieusiness & residential that were completely vacant. It’s as if someone said Disneyworld was going to be here and then Walt Disney said never mind. Vagrants and construction workers lived in each of the basement floors of every building, that’s all.

Prior to leaving town, a friend of mine had told me about a program called Global Premier Upgrades with United Airlines. United’s top tier frequent fliers are rewarded with these “GPU’s” as a thank you. They allow you to upgrade yours, or anyone else’s ticket to business/first class. Often times, these business folks don’t have time to use them before they expire and resort to selling them. Lucky me! You mean I can buy my way into first class? I’m on it! So I scour craigslist cautiously in United’s hub towns of EWR, SFO and CHI. I found a man we’ll call Jack and messaged him inquiring about his GPU listed for $450.

stageHe quickly replied via text and we started talking. As nervous as I was, he sounded like he’d done this a million times. For the record, in no way do I condone this act nor does it abide by the rules of United airlines. This is for informational purposes only. He asked my flight information and if I could pay via Paypal. He pulled up screenshots of my flight and his status to make me feel comfortable. After some brief negotiation, we arranged $375/per upgrade for myself and companion. He received the payment and he sent a screenshot of the upgrade which went right through due to the large amount of availability. Forewarning, if there are few seats available it might not go through quickly or never at all. In which case, you should arrange some form of refund.

first classSo there we were after five days in China ready to head back. Fortunately, I have a nice 180degree lie flat business class seat for my 13 hour return journey! After being welcomed with champagne and a wonderful amenities kit, I sit back and pick out some movies. One 5-course meal and a few beers later I am zonked out! I fell asleep immediately for the remaining eight hours. When I awoke, I almost wished we could keep flying around some more! So enjoy a GPU if you ever get the chance. Paying $375 for a 13 hour business class seat beats the heck out of paying retail, which, was estimated around $6,000.

 

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