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Published: Wednesday, 5/18/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK

Getting to China: Mayor goes direct, reporter takes scenic route

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Getting to China from Toledo can actually be easy.

Direct flights take off from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport everyday. It was one of the reasons investors from Shenzhen, China said they were comfortable with plunking down millions of dollars to purchase property along Toledo's waterfront.

Mayor Mike Bell, his Public Information Officer Jen Sorgenfrei, Dean Monske, who heads the Regional Growth Partnership, and a group of businessmen leave Wednesday afternoon on a nearly 16 hour Delta flight. He promised to sleep for most of the way - in coach. (Or at least try to sleep.)

Also on the plane will be his parents, Norman and Ora Bell. They were at the mayor's side during his campaign and his inauguration and will be with him for at least some of his second trade mission to China, where he hopes to find deep-pocketed investors capable of contributing to reviving the rusted out downtown Toledo and ailing tax base.

The mayor, whose travel expenses are paid for by the businessmen in his delegation, considered upgrading to business class for his trip to China, but he knew the seat would probably go to his mother before the wheels left the ground.

But getting to China also can be hellish.

My personal choice was to fly from Detroit to New York's LaGuardia Airport and then, the next day, take off from Newark, N.J. It was a chance to bring my daughter to my parents' house in Queens and spend the evening seeing friends in the city before my own trek to the other side of the globe.

Booking a last-minute trip to New York means you're likely to only get a non-direct flight. My daughter ended up staying home, and although she's only 3, I am sure she would have been grateful to avoid the three-hour delay at the gate before even taking off to Baltimore, where my connecting flight was also delayed. Thank the weather.

Luckily, retired U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Richard Woodford, Jr., who is now a training officer for the U.S. Department of Labor living in Virgina, was an interesting flight-mate. Sailors are used to cramped conditions and usually have good stories.

Mr. Woodford recounted his own trip to China in 1988. His ship was returning from an overseas cruise and stopped in China during the Independence Day holiday weekend.

"They really got into it over there and showed us a good time," he said at 34,000 feet someone where between Detroit and Baltimore. "There was a language barrier but someone always spoke English. ... Even in the small villages, there was always someone who spoke English."

He recounted a visit to village by bus where a "mob of people" encircled him while he was taking pictures. "I wasn't in any danger, or felt threatened, but that many people is just daunting," Mr. Woodford said.

Hopefully my own 16-hour flight to Hong Kong on Wednesday will go smoothly.

RELATED STORY: Bell off on new quest to attract Chinese investors

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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