Well let me catch you up on my time in Shanghai! I woke up on Saturday, December 15th at about 6am, got ready, packed up all of my bed sheets, said goodbye to my flatmate, and left my flat at 7am. I had to go to Southern Cross station in order to catch the airport bus by 7:45 and decided to show up early so I could get some food. I was going to Avalon airport this time, which seems a lot further than the Tullamarine airport but it’s actually faster to get to. I arrived around 8:40, got my documents checked, and went through security. Lucky for me, contact solution counts as a medicinal liquid in Australia so I was somehow able to fit all of the liquids I needed into one bag (I even took a picture so I’d be able to do it again for my next flights!). There aren’t many shops past security in Avalon so I just got a coffee and waited to board. I was SO paranoid that the airline would end up weighing my bag before getting on the plane, so I stuffed all of my heavy items in my pockets (my phone, charging pod, and camera). However, after looking around and seeing the numerous amounts of bags everyone else had around me, I realised I was being silly as my bag was only a few hundred grams over. We finally boarded the plane to leave at 10:30am and I was disappointed to find out that there wasn’t any (free) entertainment for my 8-hour AirAsia flight. It may have been a good thing that I didn’t get much sleep the night before because it forced me to relax and attempt to sleep. I don’t know if I actually got any sleep during the flight but after a few hours, I was starving! The flight attendants were serving all of the pre-ordered meals and the smells of food were making me even more hungry. I was somewhat shocked that I wasn’t offered any free food or drink during the 8-hour flight and decided to cave in and buy a meal since I knew I wouldn’t be able to survive until landing. I finally landed in Kuala Lumpur at about 4pm and had a 3-hour layover, which gave me enough time to have dinner. The flight to Bangkok was quite short – less than an hour and a half, and I arrived at about 9:30pm. I tried to go to the connecting flights but the lady checked my ticket and said that since my Shanghai flight wasn’t a connecting flight, I’d have to go through customs, get my passport stamped to enter Thailand, go through security, and get it re-stamped to exit Thailand. Not what I want to hear when the space on my passport is limited! However, I was delighted to see a Dairy Queen after I made it through security. I treated myself to my first Blizzard in a year, and had a hot dog to go with it. My layover was nearly 4 hours but it went by quickly with everything I had to do. The flight was supposed to leave at 12:15am, which was 4:15am Melbourne time so I passed out as soon as I boarded the plane. However, after an hour and a half, I woke up and realised we hadn’t left the tarmac yet. We saw the flight attendants go down the aisle with their bags and then an announcement was made that “due to technical difficulties, we were all required to disembark and we’d be notified when a new plane would be available.” As we got off the plane, we were asked for our boarding passes and were each given a number, which they wrote on our boarding pass (and kept). This number was the only proof that we had to show that we were on the flight. None of the restaurants were open anymore so I went and lied down for awhile but at 2:15, I realised that no one from my flight was around… I walked to the main flight screen only to see that my flight would be departing at 2:30 at a different gate!! I ran to the gate and it was complete mayhem when I got there. All of the boarding passes were scattered along a desk and all of the passengers were surrounding the desk in a mob, shoving their passports and numbers to the flight attendants. Some passengers even tried to go behind the desk to find their own boarding passes! I snuck in through the exit and got my boarding pass within five minutes, but I knew we wouldn’t be leaving by 2:30. Even so, I went and found my seat on the plane so I could try to get some more sleep in. The flight was four hours and I was meant to arrive in Shanghai at 5:30 but didn’t arrive until 8am. I went through customs, got some money exchanged, bought a muffin (I was so hungry since the last time I had eaten was just the hot dog and blizzard), and made my way to the metro station. The trip to Yang and Ron’s took about an hour and 20 minutes, and I had to make a couple of transfers to get there, but I figured it all out! Ron was waiting at the station for me and we walked to a cafe, where Yang and the boys were waiting. It was so nice to see them again! I hadn’t seen Yang and Evan in over three years (Evan’s in grade 3 now), and I got to meet Max for the first time, and he’s nearly two. I had some breakfast and some much-needed coffee, and then we went back to the house. Ron actually had to leave town that day for work and wouldn’t be back until Wednesday so I was able to stay at their place until he came back. Yang had made all of my favourite Christmas treats, so it was nice to have some familiar, delicious food! That day was a struggle for me and it felt like the longest day ever, as I didn’t get much sleep during the past two days. I forced myself to stay up until 9pm (the last hour was a struggle and I was literally counting down the minutes) and then I slept a good 10.5 hours.
On Monday morning, we got up and had breakfast. Then, Yang and I took Max to the only place that families can take their kids in the neighbourhood. There aren’t any green space or parks in the area that they live in (and any actual green space is fenced off) so apparently a family built an indoor playground for their kids and their kids’ friends to play in and then they kept it going for other families to use. However, it’s extremely pricey! Yang has a membership and it basically evens out to paying $20-25 each time they go. It’s insane! However, Max had a great time playing on the slides, jumping in the plastic balls, and riding around in the toy cars. Afterwards, we went to a French cafe for lunch, where we had some amazing food and desserts. We then stopped at a market so Yang could get some meat for dinner. It was neat seeing all of the meat right in front of you, and then they ground it up right when you ask.
On Tuesday, we went went to get coffee (at the London chain, Costa!) and then walked around for a bit so Max could let out some energy. She showed me one of the main tourist destinations in the area, called Tianzifang, which is a bunch of little shops along small alley-ways. We decided to get lunch at a cool Japanese restaurant, which was jam-packed with people. Afterwards, we treated ourselves to some (very expensive) cupcakes next door. Our evenings basically always included having dinner and watching at least two movies, as that had been Yang and my way of bonding back when she knew little English. Unfortunately, Evan would come home after his 7:45-3:45 school day and would usually end up doing homework from the time he got home until after dinner. They work the kids way too hard in China! The parents are responsible for checking and signing off all of the homework (and aren’t given an answer key for it). I checked his math homework one night and it was questions such as 3+4×6-2, as well as long division… for grade 3!!! I didn’t even learn multiplication tables until grade 4 and I don’t think we learnt about BEDMAS until high school. The poor kid never gets a break!
On Wednesday, we went out for breakfast so I could experience an Asian breakfast at Taoyuan Village. We had dumplings, wonton soup, some deep-fried bread, and soft tofu soup. It was delicious! Afterwards, we desperately needed coffee (as Yang and I have both found out that we get headaches if we don’t get caffeinated fast enough) so Yang suggested we go to the cat cafe that we had seen in Tianzifang the day before (Tono’s Palace). It’s so easy to get lost in the alleys so it took awhile until we finally found it. There were at least 15-20 cats in there and they would hop up on the tables next to you – Max was ecstatic! He was a bit nervous around the cats, but he was still so happy to be around them. These cats were definitely the most active out of the cat cafes that I’ve been to. That night, Ron came back home so they ended up moving me into a hotel room that was three floors above their apartment! It made it extremely easy to meet up with them each morning and to go to bed at night.
On Thursday morning, Ron was able to spend some time with us since he only had a work meeting at 4pm. Yang had to go to a parent meeting at Evan’s school, so Ron, Max, and I went for breakfast at the same cafe we had met at on my first day, and Yang joined us afterwards. We then went back to the indoor playground so that Max could play with his dad. Ron went to his meeting so that meant I was in charge of picking Evan up from school (which was just across the street). I had to wear a badge around my neck and go through a certain gate, where there was a big crowd of parents searching for their kids. The weird thing is that every family only gets one badge so if both parents come to pick up their kid, only one parent is allowed through the gate. But as long as you have a badge, you can go through. I obviously wouldn’t look like the mother of any of the kids in the school, so I found it weird how they just let me through, no questions asked. Anyway, I found Evan and we went back home. He had art class so when he was done, Yang, Max, and I went to pick him up and then we went for burgers at a restaurant in their apartment building.
On Friday morning, Ron was out getting his Shanghai residency renewed so Yang, Max and I had breakfast and relaxed at home until lunch. We met up with Ron and a couple of Evan’s friends’ parents for lunch and they ordered so much food – we couldn’t even eat it all! Evan finishes school early on Fridays so we all went to the school to pick up the kids. Evan worked on homework for a bit and then we walked to the bowling alley so Ron, Evan, and I could compete. It was only my third time doing 10-pin bowling but somehow I won the first game! I lost the second game though. The cool thing about bowling there was that tickets come out of the machine every time you knock down pins so at the end of the game, you can hand in all of your tickets in exchange for a prize. After bowling, we went for dinner at a restaurant that serves food similar to the region where Ron is from. Then, we took Evan to taekwondo. The lesson was quite long – nearly two hours – but we were able to watch the whole thing. Evan did quite well!
On Saturday, we all took a taxi to Xintiandi, which is a shopping complex but with an old-style architecture – it has a lot of character! We explored for a bit, had coffee at a chocolate shop, and then went for lunch. Since it was December Solstice, it’s tradition to go and eat dumplings with family so we went to a dumpling restaurant and that’s exactly what we did! After lunch, we took the metro to Yugarden, which is kind of a huge area of different shops and a beautiful central fish pond. We walked around for awhile and then made our way to the riverside, where we walked along the bank for a bit before heading back home. It was drizzling the entire day and none of us had umbrellas so we were cold and soaking by the time we got in the taxi. I got to test out my waterproof jacket and shoes though, and am proud to say that they work! We had dinner at home and then watched a couple of movies before I had to leave. My flight wasn’t until 6:50am the next morning but I’d have to checkin at 3:50 and metros didn’t run after midnight so I’d have to take a taxi at about 2:30. Therefore, I decided it would be better to just go to the airport and try to sleep there. However, when Ron walked me to the metro station, they said that the second train that I’d have to take stopped working at 10pm and it was already 10:30. I ended up having to take a taxi anyway. I got to the airport at about midnight but all of the seats were completely taken! I walked back towards the metro station and found a 24-hour Starbucks, bought a $7 coffee, and sat there until 3. I made my way back to the check-in counter, got ready for ‘bed,’ and as soon as I saw the flight attendants walk towards the counter 20 minutes before check-in time, I ran to get in line – I ended up being 4th but by the time they opened the counter, the line-up was already so long. I went through border control and security, and made it to the other side at about 4:30am. Of course, all of the chairs had arm rests so I tried to make myself as comfortable as possible so I could get some sleep, as I was completely exhausted. At 4:57, they started blaring Christmas music and then at 5:30, they turned the air-conditioning so high that I was shivering. I decided to get up, get a muffin, and walk around until boarding time since I knew I wouldn’t be getting any sleep. We left late and I was only able to attempt sleep during the first two hours of the flight, so the last two hours were quite long. Finally at about 11am, I landed in Bangkok! And I guess I’ll leave the rest for another blog post… Love always
Back on the Road – Billie Stonecipher