Dinosaur Park

Hmm.   Felt a bit buggered today.  Maybe I overdid the running over the last couple of days.  
Today was the big ‘Dinosaur Park’ excursion.  My day began, though, with Maddy coming in to my room at about 6.45am to talk to her sisters.  She’s been missing them, and it was great to see everybody on the small screen of my iPhone via Facetime.  
In many ways it was a perfect day for a visit to a theme park – 25 degrees and sunny.  They may actually have some dinosaur fossil exhibits at this Dinosaur Park.  One of the information signs implied that they do.  The sign also explained that a boffin in the Department of Minerals and Science in this Capitalist Autocracy of China decided that the best way to get people to learn about dinosaurs would be to build an amusement park around the museum.  
When Jakob was here the big roller coaster was broken. It’s fixed now, and it is amazing.  The kids spent the whole day on rides or consuming food and drink.  I don’t believe a genuine fossil was seen, and I’m pretty sure that nobody learnt anything about dinosaurs. 
They seemed to have a great time.  
I, however, found a quiet corner, sat down with my snack pack and iPad, and read for about 4 hours straight.  
This is my top 5 reasons why that was a good decision:
  1. The queue for the most spectacular ride was about 90 minutes;
  2. The duration of the most spectacular ride was about 90 seconds; 
  3. Nothing is sadder, or stranger than a middle aged bloke going on rides at a theme park without his family;
  4. Although I was not dressed like ‘Mini Dino’, whenever I roamed Chinese people kept approaching and asking to have their photo taken with me.  I must be displaying a bit of my inner Indiana Jones after a week without a beard trim;
  5. Most of the rides discouraged people with back or neck problems from participating.  After my humiliating ‘thumbs down’ from the Chinese masseur the other day, I wasn’t sure I should risk exacerbating whatever spinal condition I may be suffering from. 

Two more sleeps for me, then the long trip home. 
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Going with the Flow

A quieter day.
It’s a public holiday today.  It’s also Saturday.  Most of the Chinese students have gone home for the day so our kids are rattling around this enormous empty school. 
This morning they had a couple of hours down the street under their own steam.  All made it home intact, and seemed to have a good time.  My daughter went shopping and has been spending the afternoon with her room-mates re-decorating their humble dorm room.  She’s always making things or drawing at home, so I suppose it was inevitable that she’d find a way to do that while away.  I think she’s learnt an important travel survival skill.  
One of the boys has required some ondansetron for nausea again, which was tremendously effective.  Another sprained his ankle yesterday.  Although it swelled up massively immediately, the swelling effectively resolved overnight after early cold-pack, compression and elevation.  He was hobbling at brekky time, but when I came back with newly purchased crutches at lunch time he was walking much more freely.   I hope that this is the worst soft tissue injury we see here, although the way these kids have been playing sport there’s bound to be more to come.  I suspect the crutches will see some use.  

I’ve needed a recovery day. Two of the staff and I enjoyed a beautiful meal with some staff and a local communist party leader last night.  Although the food was delicious, it was really a side show for repeated rounds of toasting.  I’m not sure I could survive another raised glass of the local wheat liquer, Maotai.   My strategy last night was to ‘go with the flow’.  If we have another dinner like that I think I’ll have to try a different approach.  Maybe the approach – “Sorry, I can’t.  I’m on medication” could be the way to go. 

What Grown-ups See

We arrived at Gaoyou middle school this evening.  
I’m going to have to switch location services on and check on apple maps to see exactly where we are.  The bus trip from Shanghai took at least four hours.  We crossed the Yangtze river.  
I spoke to my family while on the bus, using Skype and the $40 data SIM that I bought in Shanghai.  The roads were consistently superior to the roads between Melbourne and Hamilton. 
What struck me most today was the absence of confronting poverty.  I’ve not travelled in Asia much, and not at all for 18 years.  On previous trips the poverty was confronting.  On this trip it is not.  
There is still evidence of disparity in living standards, but I don’t think it’s any more striking than in Melbourne.  Travelling through the countryside this afternoon was more reminiscent of travelling through Europe than through Indonesia in the 1990s.  The population density is striking.  There are clusters of farm houses surrounded by small farming allotments. But the houses look sound and the farms appear fertile and tidy.  
Every city is marked by dozens of high rise apartment buildings in construction phase.  Every waterway is full of working vessels transporting raw materials and goods.  
And all of this was observed from a comfortable coach travelling fast on very, very smooth roads.  
Is this really a foreign country.  Is this really China?

(There are giveaways.  I particularly enjoyed finding a well used ashtray in the non-smoking toilet cubicle of our hotel.  Subject matter for another journal entry, perhaps). 

Jaded

Long day of touring.  On the bus at eight-thirty this morning and off it at nine-thirty tonight.  In between we’ve travelled what is obviously a pretty well worn tourist route in Shanghai. 
Which is not to say that it hasn’t been enlightening.  We’ve been in Pudong today – the commercial hub of China.  This is effectively a brand new town, constructed out of farming land since the early 1990s.  The buildings are new and still look beautiful (I take it all back); the streets are wide and clean. 
Beneath the veneer, however, there are reminders of what it was like to tour here as a kid in the mid 1980s.  
The Shanghai museum was terrific.  Could’ve spent a day looking at thousand-year old ceramics and coins that were much older than that.  We had little over an hour. 
 ‘Shanghai Designated Tourist Restaurant’ read the sign above the door  of the establishment at which we dined for lunch.  No recommendations on Urbanspoon.  
It became clear that our guides have various profit sharing arrangements in places with different vendors of mementoes and souvenirs around town.  We would all have enjoyed a more historical, and less self-servingly commercial perspective, I think.  It would have been good to hear what happened in ‘The Bund’ – the foreign government protectorates – in the 1920s and 1930s – rather simply that these magnificent buildings were simply built at that time.  We spent 15 minutes looking at them from across the road and then went to a shop which sold pearls.  To 14 and 15 year old kids! In this part of town the Chinese flag flies above 20 or more buildings in a row.  They seem to be making a statement that these magnificent old structures, built by foreign powers, now serve China.  Across the road a massive statue of Chairman Mao presides over the splendid new river promenade, the restaurants and cafe’s and bars and cars.  Contrasts beyond words. 
The kids have had too much shopping.  Spent money on trinkets and toys and food they didn’t really need to eat.  
All I set out to buy was mobile data.  Job done. 

Jaded. 

Shanghai

Image from chinayourway.org
It’s been a big day. 
Twenty-eight hours after embarking on our journey I finally slipped the card into the hotel room door here.  The final two frustrating hours had been spent sitting or wandering in gut-cramping weariness,  while the hotel staff tried to belatedly figure out how to accommodate us.   No point in being prepared, I supposed.  
En-route to the hotel, on the very fast magnetic train and rather slower subsequent coach, our guide explained to us that prior to 1992 there had been no bridges over the river in Shanghai.  Only ferries, she said.  
That seemed extraordinary to me.  Now there are multiple bridges (did she say eight?), some quite magnificent, and many tunnels.  Shanghai has grown explosively.  
Everybody knows that. 
As I surveyed the Shang-high-rise condominiums from the bus window, jaded after long travel, I sensed drabness and rapid decay.  Utilitarian block-work apartments buildings seem to crack and rust early in this city of smog.    
We’d been told by the guide, however, that the city is spectacular at night.  And this evening, as we walked out to find some food, Shanghai did present a prettier visage.  At night neon and liquid crystal displays abound, and the city shines.  The roads seem like boulevards and people are out on foot for recreation – shopping, dining, playing soccer. 
The sole Chinese speaking adult amongst us helped some of us to order meals in small restaurants where English was neither spoken nor understood.  Many of the kids fended for themselves: few words, and many gestures. “What is this I’m eating?  Do you think it’s eel?”  
They seem determined to try new things.  To be adventurous.  To have fun. 

I wondered, as I walked home, if Shanghai may really be – like London or New-York – one of the great cities.   

Waiting…waiting…..waiting

Travelling is a series of movements and waits. There is much excitement in the idea of travelling, but a lot of frustration and anxiety in the reality of it all. Landing in airports in the middle of the night, being woken up by flight staff to be served dinner at 2am, checking in, customs, transfers. All the while waiting for a little glimpse of normality – a bed to sleep in, some food when you are hungry, the sound of a familiar voice. I know these amazing young people are going to have a fabulous time.