Shanghai Reunion with Grace, May 26, 2010

As my four weeks at ChangXing Primary School neared an end, I was really excited about Grace’s arrival, mainly because I hadn’t seen her in 10 weeks but also because I looked forward to showing her the school and introducing her to my friends in the Shanghai area.  After almost three months of teaching and traveling alone, I was really ready to relax a bit and her arrival signaled the end of my ‘working’ vacation and the start of a ‘real’ vacation together.

She arrived on Wednesday, May 26th, at Pudong International Airport after a 14 hour direct flight from Newark.  I had rearranged my schedule to teach my Wednesday class earlier in the week so I could meet her at the airport.  Her plane arrived at 1:45pm so I left school about 10:00am, taking the bus to Shanghai and then the MagLev… one of the world’s fastest trains with a top speed of nearly 300 mph… to the airport. The flight was on-time and it was wonderful to see her again.  Knowing she would be extremely tired (since neither of us can sleep on airplanes), I had arranged for us to stay in an airport hotel on Wednesday evening.  As soon as she arrived we caught the shuttle bus to the hotel, checked into a nice room, had a little to eat, and turned in early.

Thursday, May 27th: Grace Visits my School

We rose early, ate a western style breakfast at the hotel restaurant, and headed to ChangXing Island. We both enjoyed the ride on the Maglev which is shown in the video below. You’ll notice there were many empty seats on the Maglev: recently, the Metro (subway) has been extended to the airport and it seems that most people opted for it’s cheaper fare: about $1 compared to $17 for the Maglev.

Grace with kids (click to enlarge)

At the end of the Maglev line, we transferred to the Metro for another short ride to the Science & Technology Museum station, where we caught the bus to ChangXing Island. About an hour later, we disembarked at the island’s bus station and hired a taxi to take us the remaining two miles to the school. After taking her suitcase to my 4th-floor room, we walked over to the main school building where I introduced her to Guoming and a few other teachers. We had arrived in time to have lunch in the faculty lunchroom. Returning from lunch, I started noticing that the students were quite interested in the new foreign lady with the blond hair! The photo at right was taken near the playground on the way back from the lunchroom and shows Grace with some of her new admirers. That afternoon, I taught one 2nd-grade class and one 1st-grade class and Grace sat in as a visitor. As you’ll see in the video below, the kids were excited about her presence and surrounded her as soon as she took a seat in the back of the classroom.

Grace Visits my Classroom

That evening, we were invited by the headmaster to a local restaurant for a banquet in honor of Children’s Day. This annual holiday is described as follows in Wikipedia: “When the People’s Republic of China was first established in 1949, the State Council (Cabinet) designated a half-day holiday for all primary schools on June 1… Schools usually hold activities such as camping trips or free movies on Children’s Day to allow students to have fun, and children of civil servants might also receive small gifts from the government…” By this time I had grown to really dislike banquets, for reasons I’ve discussed before having to do with the way men are expected to imbibe alcohol, but it would have been impolite to turn down the invitation. Likewise, it was an opportunity for Grace to see one of these social events for herself. We sat at a table with several teachers, including my good friends Guoming and Karen and several others I didn’t know well. Grace found the event fascinating, sampling the “bai jiu” (vodka-like drink so popular in China) and participating in the toasts made by the leaders, who came to each table to say a few words followed by the obligatory drink. I noticed that several teachers at my table didn’t seem excited about being there and I got the impression they didn’t really want to drink any alcohol. As I’ve said before, at these events women often do not drink any alcohol but the men are strongly encouraged to join in, especially when the headmaster and his cohorts show up at your table, carrying bottles of wine and beer, ensuring everyone’s glass is topped up before the toast. For this banquet, the school had invited local island dignitaries (government officials, business leaders, etc.) and my understanding was that these dignitaries had made significant donations to the school budget. Indeed, this event was aimed honoring their support: a large table in the corner held many large gift bags which were distributed as thank-you tokens at the end of the evening.

Friday, May 28th – Last Day on ChangXing Island

Attending the Children’s Day Performance

On Friday morning, we were invited to the special Children’s Day performance, the one at which our 1st and 2nd grade girls would perform the dance number. I had enjoyed seeing one of their rehearsals the previous week (see older post.)

Upon entering the school, I saw that students were in their classrooms but there didn’t seem to be any lessons in progress. In the hallway, I asked one of the 4th-grade girls what was happening and she said there were no classes today but that everyone had to be in school in the morning. She said she wasn’t too happy about it because she wasn’t really interested in the movies and cartoons being shown in the classrooms. Guoming drove Grace and me to the theater where, to our surprise, we were greeted as honored guests, escorted down the aisle and seated in the second row, in front of all the kids already sitting in the theater seats. The theater was not large enough to hold all of the students from the island’s primary schools, so only the performers and those who had achieved high status in their schoolwork were invited to attend.

The concert was definitely fun although Grace and I felt a little odd being seated with the dignitaries. Like all of them, we were met at the door by students, escorted to our special seats, adorned with a red neck scarf and saluted. The three front rows of the theater had been reserved for special guests but only a handful of the seats were filled. At various points during the show, one of the dignitaries was introduced, came onstage, and made a speech. Of course, I cannot tell you what was said but I’m sure it was in the vein of encouraging the students to do their best, etc. By western standards there was way too much of this, but I have come to understand that long-winded speeches by authorities are the norm in China. I was a little dismayed to see some of the dignitaries working on their laptops and making phone calls during the student’s performances. But, perhaps if I were a dignitary and these kinds of events were a frequent obligation, I might also become tempted to get a little work done during the show. Although we were happy that no special attention was paid to us – the only foreigners present – and very happy we didn’t have to make a speech – I think we would have felt a little more comfortable if someone other than the students who seated us had made an attempt to welcome us.

Video: Children’s Day Performance

We returned to the school about 11:30am and had our lunch in the staff cafeteria. Only then did I learn that the school day ended right after lunch. Learning of schedule changes at the last minute was a common occurrence so I wasn’t too surprised but, this time, I was disappointed because it meant I wouldn’t get a chance to say goodbye to many of the teachers. I left small goodbye gifts on desks I knew belonged to some of them and gave the rest to Guoming who said he would distribute them on the following Monday.

Afternoon: Tour of ChongMing Island

After lunch, Guoming’s wife Zhou Hai Qin brought her car from the medical clinic where she works on the island to meet us at the school. The school is pretty close to their apartment but the medical clinic is not, so she routinely takes the car in the morning and Guoming and Yao Yun ride to school on his motorbike. They arranged for Hai Qin to bring the car so that Guoming and Yao Yun could give Grace and me a tour of the area. After dropping Hai Qin back at her clinic we headed first for the eastern edge of ChangXing Island where a narrow strait separated us from a smaller island known as HengSha Island. From there we headed back west on the island to where we crossed over the beautiful new bridge to ChongMing Island. Along with the new tunnel from ChangXing to Shanghai, this bridge provides a major new artery between Shanghai and northern China. On ChongMing Island, our driver, Guoming, and our navigator, Yao Yun, gave us a lovely tour of this green, rural island.

Video: Visiting ChongMing Island with Guoming and Yao Yun

Saying Goodbye to ChangXing Island

That day was our last on ChangXing Island. We would leave the island that evening and check into a nice Shanghai hotel,

Dinner with Our Special Friends (click to enlarge)

where we would spend the rest of Grace’s stay in China. Guoming arranged for us to start the evening by gathering with his family and Karen’s to enjoy a wonderful dinner at a nice restaurant near the school. The food was delicious and we savored these last moments of all being together on the island, sharing laughs, hugs and wonderful gifts. One of the highlights was Yao Yun singing a sweet song for us, as shown in the video below.

Video: Yao Yun Sings a Sweet Song

After dinner, we said sad goodbyes to Karen, Gu Chao and Yao Yun and loaded our bags into Guoming’s car. Guoming and Hai Qin drove us to our Shanghai hotel which was a wonderful help because schlepping our large suitcases on buses and trains would have been difficult, especially after a long day and with Grace still trying to adjust to the 12 hour time difference. Guoming had arranged the evening’s events so that we would leave the island after dinner, because Shanghai city doesn’t allow out-of-city vehicles until later in the evening (after rush hour.) We made the hour-long trip without a problem using Guoming’s GPS, and he dropped us right in front of the hotel. We thanked them and were happy to know that we could say good night instead of goodbye because we would be meeting them the next day at EXPO, the World’s Fair running in Shanghai all summer.

Our Hotel: Shanghai Radisson at People’s Square

To try to help Grace better enjoy her 10-day whirlwind trip to China, I had booked a room at the Shanghai Radisson, a large, modern hotel overlooking People’s Square, the large park in the center of town. Although quite expensive (especially compared to what we would have paid at a standard Chinese hotel that didn’t cater to westerners) we were glad we did it because our room was large (separate living area, 2 bathrooms, and bedroom), quiet and extremely well appointed (king-size bed, large-screen TVs in living area and bedroom, etc.). The view of People’s Square was quite beautiful – at both day and night – as the video below shows.

Video: Our Hotel in Shanghai

Saturday, May 29: Visiting Shanghai’s Worlds’ Fair – EXPO

Long before I had arrived in China, Guoming had bought tickets to take Grace and me with his family to EXPO, the World’s Fair which ran from May through September of 2010. Our luxurious, quiet room gave us a good night’s sleep and the next morning we enjoyed a fantastic breakfast buffet at the hotel (although we never did this again because it had the outrageous price of about $35 each!). After breakfast, we took the Metro from the station right across the street in People’s Square to the EXPO park entrance. Guoming’s family had arrived at EXPO at opening time (about 8:00am) Guoming but we had agreed we wouldn’t join them until about noon. We had a great time together that day, exploring the massive EXPO site, watching the people (mostly Chinese), and visiting a few of the pavilions sponsored by different countries. We were a bit disappointed in some of the pavilions – Grace and I waited about 45 minutes to get in the Portugal pavilion and discovered it to be several large rooms with out-of-focus videos being projected on their walls. Apparently, some of the pavilions were very nice (e.g. China, Korea, Germany, etc.) but the wait for those was over 4 hours and we didn’t try to see them. On an earlier visit, I had enjoyed the Spain pavilion and on this day, my favorite was the Taiwan pavilion, which could be enjoyed from the outside, without waiting in a long line. For dinner, we took Guoming’s family to an Italian style restaurant, where we had items like spaghetti. It wasn’t very authentic Italian cuisine but it was OK. Guoming enjoyed it but I think Hai Qin wasn’t too impressed with it. Overall, it was a wonderful day, and we greatly appreciated our dear friends taking us to this important, national event. The video below gives you some idea of what the day was like.

Video: EXPO (Shanghai World’s Fair, 2010)

Monday, May 31: Lunch with my Friend MaryAnn Lee

If you have followed this blog in the past, you’ll remember I have an American friend – MaryAnn – whose family moved from New Jersey to Shanghai about 3 years ago. Her husband Peter works for Dow and will work there for at least one more year before being transferred back to the US. In 2005, on my first trip to China, MaryAnn and her family welcomed me warmly to their home, took me to the top of the recently-opened World Financial Center, and treated me to a wonderful meal at a very popular dumpling restaurant in Old Town called Din Tai Fung. On this trip, just after I arrived in early March, I had visited MaryAnn’s beautiful new 10th-floor apartment overlooking Century Park. The view is stunning and the apartment is ultra-modern, a much different life-style than the one I knew as a volunteer teacher :-). When Grace came, I wanted to take MaryAnn and her family out to lunch or dinner so I could repay her kindness and Grace could meet the family. It turned out that it was possible to get together with MaryAnn only and we had lunch at Din Tai Fung’s other Shanghai location, in Xin Tian Di, an upscale area not far from our hotel. We had a most delicious meal, with MaryAnn knowing what to order to make it special. The dumplings there really are delicious. MaryAnn insisted on picking up the lunch tab, which I didn’t like but am becoming accustomed to with Chinese friends :-). Later in 2010, when she visited the US, we had her to our house for a cookout, so that made me feel a bit better.

Dinner with Our Friend Lisa at Her Parents’ Home

That evening, our friend Lisa, whom I met in Shanghai in 2005 and who joined us here at home for Christmas in 2009, invited us to dinner at her parent’s home in Shanghai. Her mother and father had spoken to us briefly over Skype in 2009 to thank us for taking such good care of Lisa during the holidays. I spoke a little Mandarin to them but most of that conversation required Lisa’s (most-able) translating. Lisa met us at the Metro station nearest their home and then hailed a taxi to take us the final few miles. I still remember how Lisa’s Mom was waving at us from the window of their third-floor apartment as we approached the modern building where they live. They welcomed us warmly to their home and we had a nice visit before enjoying a most delicious meal, consisting of at least ten separate dishes! We felt so welcome despite our limited inability to directly communicate with Lisa’s parents. They are wonderful people – which didn’t really surprise us because we know what a wonderful daughter they raised – and we really enjoyed our evening. Grace and Lisa’s Mom found a way to communicate with body language – in the video below, they share their ideas about the kinds of things that are “good for you.”

Video: Dinner at our friend Lisa’s Parents Home

Tuesday, June 1: Trip to Suzhou with Lisa and Mandy

The next day, Lisa and her friend Mandy, who is attending college in Columbus, Ohio and who also joined us at our home for Christmas 2009, treated us to a wonderful day-trip to Suzhou. This ancient city is known for it’s silk and it’s beautiful gardens and is only about an hour away from Shanghai by train. Mandy and Lisa met us at the Shanghai train station and shepherded us throughout a day we will always remember fondly. They insisted on treating us, providing train tickets, a delicious lunch, a lovely cruise on an ancient Suzhou canal, and several tasty treats throughout the day. We especially enjoyed the “bubble tea” – cold, flavored tea with tapioca pearls. I hope the video below gives you some idea of how nice the day was but, of course, nothing can compete with being there :-).

Video: Visit to Suzhou

Shanghai Sightseeing and Visiting Jessie at the Xu Bo Office

Grace returned home on June 3rd, while I stayed on in Shanghai until the June 8th. Before she left we found time to do sightseeing in Old Town, to visit the famous Shanghai Museum near our hotel and the Oriental Pearl Tower in the modern Pudong area, and to visit my friend Jessie and her staff at the Xu Bo office. The video below captures some of these events.
Video: Shanghai Sightseeing

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