Our family's stay in Shanghai, China

Archive for May, 2012

Traveling in China: Dave’s experiences

In my time in China, I have visited much of the country- 14 of the 23 provinces plus Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan- with many unique experiences I would not have seen in Shanghai.

Cities I’ve visited in China

Hong Kong and Macao are “Special Autonomous Regions” and require passports to enter.  Chinese citizens must obtain visas- but not Americans!  Despite the US’s long-standing “One China Policy”, Taiwan is a separate country in all ways, with an elected democratic government.  The capital of Taipei is a direct 2 hour flight from Shanghai, and is very nice, surrounded by mountains.  It is a clean and thoroughly developed modern city and country, quite a contrast to mainland China.

Traveling in China- across the street or across the country- is an adventure and can be downright dangerous.  As you may recall from past blogs, paying constant attention is essential.  Crosswalks mean nothing, you must put your head on a swivel, constantly looking around for vehicles- especially taxis and scooters- running red lights and going the wrong direction.

I have been fortunate to never see a serious accident.  My uncle came to visit China recently and was not so lucky, witnessing 2 fatal pedestrian accidents.  I often say that not having seen an accident is proof of God’s existence, since divine intervention is the only logical explanation there aren’t more.  You have to see intersections to understand what we mean, 30 scooters running a red light with cars and buses coming right at them.  Somehow everyone brakes and swerves around each other.  It is not the craziest place I have ever seen- that distinction falls to India where roads are total anarchy- but China is a respectable second.

The chaos of a Chinese intersection in Xi’An, with no traffic signals or stop signs- cars, buses, pedestrians, and scooters dodging each other; the picture doesn’t it justice

Unlike the US, where we travel mostly by car or plane, Chinese and most other countries rely on many methods.  Walking is not just for people too poor to own a car.  I was in Los Angeles recently for a trade show, and the Americans (myself included, I hate to admit) drove our rental cars or took a taxi from the hotel to the convention center, even though it was only a mile away.  Our Chinese co-workers, who arrived later, walked without giving it a second thought.

Having visited large cities all over the world, walking in combination with public transportation is usually the best way to get around, both for sightseeing and practical everyday use.

Traveling- in China and elsewhere- is quite logical and is relatively consistent with distance:

Distance
Method
~1 mile Walk
1 to 10 miles Electric scooter, Subway, or City Bus (sometimes Taxi)
10 to 20 miles Personal car or Taxi
20 to 250 miles High speed train, or personal car
250 to 500 miles High speed train; Bus or plane if limited rail connections
Over 500 miles Fly (poorer people take bus and train trips of several days)


Several of the engineers on my team have daily commutes of about 90 minutes– each way.  They walk 10-15 minutes to a bus stop, take 1 or 2 buses to the subway station, then the subway the rest of the way to our office, changing trains once or twice.  Fortunately, our office is located across the street from a station on the main east-west subway line.

Subways are convenient but are often packed, on weekends as well as rush hour.  The individual lines and stops are marked in Chinese and English, by number, and by color, so you have 3 ways to figure out the right train and where to go.  The subway is the best travel value by far.  The minimum fare is 3 yuan (less than 50 cents), the maximum fare for a 90 minute ride across the city is about $1.50. 

Passengers are aggressive, shoving their way onto the train before people have a chance to exit, and pushing and shoving from the train to the exits.  Forming a line is virtually non-existent in China, but the behavior is cultural, and is definitely not considered rude.  With so many people, Chinese seem to have an ingrained aggressiveness to get what they need.  It permeates Chinese society, from yelling at waitresses, to pushing and shoving, to copying others’ work (that will be the subject of a future blog).

Traffic laws are openly flaunted- but then you see fire trucks waiting at a stop light (lights flashing and sirens blaring)

I commuted daily on the subway when I was here last summer and fall, and use it occasionally now.  The constant shoving in public places has been one of the tougher adjustments to living in China.  I often stopped at Starbucks on my way to the station, and used hot coffee as a shield against being pushed.  It actually worked quite well!

Only about 10% of the Chinese population has a car, mostly using them for family trips, and less so for daily commuting.  As car sales increase past 20 million per year (with China now the largest car market in the world), personal mobility will increase rapidly.  In large cities such as Shanghai where traffic is already bad and air quality is horrendous, I cannot imagine how it will be in 10 years.  Like most of the world, driving is expensive in China, considering gas (equivalent to $6-7 per gallon), tolls, and in large cities, parking.

Saturday afternoon stop-and-go traffic in Shanghai; thank goodness we have a driver

Taxi rides can be hair raising.  The taxis are poorly maintained, the drivers drive like maniacs at high speed (and I’m not known as a timid driver myself) on bald tires and worn out shocks, changing lanes and blowing the horn constantly.  Buckle up, don’t eat a heavy meal first, and say your prayers are all good advice for taxi rides.  The locals, of course, are so used to it, they don’t notice anything unusual.

A busy street in Xi’An with its accompanying smog and plethora of buses

We often depend on company cars with drivers provided by customers as we travel, rental cars are uncommon (I’ve never been in one in all my time here).  Trips from the airport to factories and company offices are nearly as good as an amusement park ride.  Routes weave and wind through cities (a great way to see the real China up close) and on modern freeways equivalent to any in the US.  Highways can suddenly end for construction, and we find ourselves on rocky, dirt roads in the construction zone.  These drivers often aren’t much different than Shanghai taxi drivers, hardly slowing down for obstacles.

Because the highway system was mostly built in the last 10-15 years instead of being developed over several decades, they have been tacked on top of the cities.  The freeways are elevated, soaring 50 – 100 feet in the air, passing close to buildings, and the elevation provides for nice views.  Bridges are modern and architecturally appealing- one of our pleasant surprises in Shanghai has been the amazing architecture throughout the city.

Nanpu Bridge at sunrise

As for the cars themselves, the Chinese car companies have all set up joint ventures with global companies.  VW and GM are the largest, cars are a mix of numerous local brands and international ones that you would recognize.  Ironically Buick, which has struggled in the US, is GM’s leading brand here, along with Chevrolet.  Ford and Chrysler were slower to expand to China.  German luxury cars are very common with the newly rich of China, and driving one is not considered showing off, but is a sign of accomplishment.  We have seen two Aston Martin dealers in the Pudong District of Shanghai alone.  Style and quality are rapidly improving on Chinese built cars, but there is still a significant gap between the local and global companies, similar to Japan and Korea 20-40 years ago.  

We saw our first Chinese car dealership outside China when we were in Tasmania, but whether we will see Chinese cars in the US is definitely a subject of debate.  I personally think it is inevitable, maybe a decade from now.  Consumers invariably purchase the lowest cost product they can find, hence Wal-Mart and other discount retailers’ successes.  Countering that argument is the lack of success of Chinese brands to expand globally.  Lenovo computers is the notable exception, but it got a jump-start by purchasing IBM’s personal computer business.  Volvo cars is also now owned by the Chinese car maker Geely.

In 2010, I drove across Lake Pontchartrain (north of New Orleans) on what was then the world’s longest road bridge.  But it is now #2 and soon to be #3.  Last summer, my colleagues and I rode across the new title holder just a few days after it opened, an amazing 26.4 mile long bridge!  (see the link below for photos of it).  But another bridge in Guangdong Province (near Hong Kong and Macau) will open in 2016 that will be 30 miles long!

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2009748/That-bridge-far-Worlds-longest-sea-bridge-opens-traffic-China–hold-title-years.html

There are long distance buses between cities, and I have been in bus factories that make 2 level buses with beds on the upper level.  But I have never ridden one, even my co-workers scoff at them as slow and uncomfortable.  They are cheaper than trains, and only the poorest Chinese appear to ride them.  Buses are everywhere in Chinese cities, subways were only built in the last few years.

There are several passenger ferries in Shanghai- they are the only pedestrian way to cross the Huangpu River from Puxi (Old Shanghai) to Pudong (New Shanghai).  They are a great value, 0.5 yuan for a one way ticket, about 6 cents!  Double that if you are bringing your bicycle, and 2.5 yuan for scooters.  The 5 minute trip across the river provides great views- Jenna always insists on going to the upper deck.  From our apartment we watch them dodge river traffic all day long.

Bicycles are still prevalent- there are millions in Shanghai, used by everyone from school age children riding multilane highways to police on their way to work to construction workers to professional females in dresses (which I’ve also seen in Europe, definitely not unique to China).  Bikes are stolen often, so they are usually old and rusty beaters.  I only ride my bike for fun and exercise, and never leave it out of sight if I do stop somewhere.  There is a great cycling community here, both expats and locals, but I have a new appreciation for what I used to consider as boring rides amongst the corn fields of Indiana.  

This refrigerator on a bike is still one of my all-time favorite travel sights, from my first visit to Shanghai in 2006

A Chinese bicycle and scooter parking lot at a grocery store

The high speed rail network is definitely the shining star of traveling in China.  Trains are clean, fast, efficient, and very comparable to those in Western Europe.  The major difference is the service.  In Europe, there is a wide variety of food and drink, both in the stations and on-board.  In China, there are few dining options, with just an unappetizing microwaved rice and beef dish and a few drinks.  The stations are as packed as subways, with literally thousands of people milling around inside and out. 

The train stops in the station for less than 5 minutes, and you join several hundred other people getting on.  But the speeds are impressive, the newest trains travel 300 kph (~185mph) with an extremely smooth ride, comfortable seats, and power outlets for your laptop.  It is definitely my favorite way to travel in any country. 

Just saying where you are going can be fun as well.  Some city names are hard to pronounce but my favorite trip was going from Hefei (“Hu fay”) to Wuhu (“Woo hoo”)!

As you enter a train station, after having your ID verified (foreigners must have their passport), you go through an airport style metal detector, but everyone sets it off.  The manual check with a hand-held metal detector is nothing more than a quick swipe- which itself goes off- and then you are waved through.  What the purpose is, I have no idea.

The Maglev (Magnetic Levitation) train in Shanghai is a bucket list item for anyone remotely interested in train travel.  It is powered solely by magnets (no motor or wheels) and is the world’s fastest regular service train, peaking at 431kph (268mph), with banked curves and a very smooth ride.  I bragged about it incessantly and when the girls finally rode it, they were surprisingly impressed, asking when we could take it again.  Unfortunately, there is only a single line, running about 20 miles from the Shanghai airport towards the city.  It is convenient enough that I ride it regularly when I travel for business, only about $7 one-way. 

Here comes the Maglev

The high speed and futuristic Maglev pulling into the station

Flying is not much different than the US.  Since overall air traffic volume is still relatively low and there are many large Chinese cities, it is more convenient with direct flights instead of the “hub and spoke” connections we are used to.  Private aircraft, however, are rare.  The US has over 50% of the entire world’s private airplanes, so private pilots and 4-6 seat Cessna type planes are uniquely American.  That is starting to change with the increasing wealth of China.

On commercial flights, most of the same security rules apply such as no liquids, etc. but you don’t have to remove belts or shoes.  Just like train stations, the metal detectors are set so sensitively that nearly everyone sets them off.  Unlike the train stations, the pat-down searches with hand-held metal detectors are very thorough and would result in news stories and lawsuits in the US.  To call them frisky is an understatement.  I am very ticklish, and it is often all I can do not to burst out laughing.

Almost all flights are on jets, but one recent trip was on a turboprop (propeller) driven plane that seats about 50.  I have ridden these many times in the US, they are noisy, bumpy, and slow but fortunately the flights are not much more than an hour.  Out of curiosity, in the middle of the flight I asked my 2 co-workers if they had ever been on a propeller driven plane.  Neither had, and our Chinese sales manager, without even turning his head to look at me, quickly replied “don’t talk to me right now, I am very nervous!”  You have to know Robert, but I nearly laughed out loud at him!

Security signs are also a source of humor.  I was in the city of Kunming recently, and next to signs for no knives, no lighters, etc. was a sign for- I am not making this up– no refrigerators!  Well that explains why my carryon felt so heavy, I wonder who stuck one in. . .

Planes, trains, automobiles, boats, subways, buses, bicycles, walking: each one is an experience unto itself when traveling in China.

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Scenes from the Streets of China

As we have traveled around China and lived in Shanghai, you see some quizzical, dumbfounding, surprising, disheartening and amazing sights. When we have a camera and are quick enough, we try to take photos. A lot of them are “you have got to be kidding!” kinds of photos or “you have to see it to believe” or they are just a snapshot of life in China, a developing Asian country that has an amazing dichotomy.  We often refer to them as “Only in China” moments.  I won’t bore you with a lot of text. We’ll just let you peruse the photos with captions, so you can see for yourself!

The guys in orange suits were working on the street with no warning signs, orange cones or flashing lights to alert drivers.

A scooter repair shop located on the side of the street.

This street outside the fabric market always has multiple vendors selling food, fruit, DVDs, books, etc. The street should be wide enough for two cars to pass, but there is never room for more than one car.

Even the sidewalk outside the fabric market is crowded with vendors selling trinkets and jewelry on large squares of fabric on the ground. We’ve bought a necklace here.

So loaded down he has no room for his feet.

Less than 2 blocks from our apartment is a guy with a barber chair. When the weather is nice, he pulls the chair out to the sidewalk and opens up shop! Gives new meaning to “low overhead.”  I guess his sign should read “walk-ups” accepted.

Less than a block from our apartment, this lady is often seen sitting with her baby and a small bowl, hoping people will drop change in. We do sometimes with a prayer she will use the money for milk or food for the baby.

The driver is squeezed between the handlebars and boxes. I wonder if they loaded it with him in place. Otherwise it would have been interesting to watch him get on!

These three-wheeled carts are everywhere, a mix of man-powered and engine-powered. This is a moderate-sized load. We have seen larger loads.

They haul everything from rubbish to food to computers to appliances. This is their job to pay rent and utilities and buy food and clothing, to take care of their families.

Riding a bicycle, one-handed while holding onto and balancing the roll of flooring on the back.

These guys were hauling rubbish from a construction site. Amazingly, the second guy rode on top with traffic speeding by. No seatbelt there!

From the street, this looked like a miniature home improvement store. Small, Mom-and-Pop stores like this one abound in China while in the U.S. they have largely disappeared, unable to compete with the big-box stores.

These carts often look like they are “duct-taped” together, and yet they carry loads that tower over the driver.

Pushing a food cart down the street as traffic speeds by.

We watched this gentleman pull his bike from the row, tie his packages on the back and ride off down the street. The bike rack is his trunk.

Loaded down with bags and boxes, higher than the driver. Their motto: No load is too large!

A Chinese school bus. We have not seen school buses like those in the U.S. It appears that most Chinese children walk to school. We are always surprised at how young some children are walking by themselves.

This lady will pedal her cart to a street corner, metro stop or other heavy pedestrian-traffic area, cook in the cart with some type of gas-powered cooking device and sell her food to passersby. These types of carts are all over the city selling everything from fried foods, to corn on the cob to thick fried bread. We have not heard of any food inspection entity for groceries, restaurants or food vendors.

Street sweepers like this lady are all over the city. The broom she has is typical. They also have large orange trash cans they roll with them. Dodging traffic, they sweep the sidewalks, curbs, pedestrian crossings, intersections and even the street from spills or fireworks/firecrackers.

If you look in his right hand, you will see a hand-made ringer. Some guys seem to have a typical daily route where they stop and pick-up trash and rubbish from “customers”. As they approach a stop, they will start ringing to see if they need to stop and pick-up anything.  Again, this is their occupation, how they earn money.

I mentioned having seen a man with a turtle on a string in a previous post. The story behind it is much sadder than we imagined. He is apparently trying to sell the turtle for someone’s dinner. The turtle is still alive. As we watched, the turtle would move occasionally, but was clearly miserable. The Chinese guy was bold and unconcerned with our disdain. Cruelty to animals is likely not something that is addressed in Chinese laws.

Someone sorting through the trash cans.

The guy on the scooter in the center was so loaded with cases of water, that he had no room for his legs or feet, plus he had boxes piled on the back.

A policeman on his official police vehicle, a bicycle.

A lady sewing on the sidewalk. Wonder if she takes “walk-in” appointments?

Walking Tour: Old Shanghai

In the gardens at Confucius Temple.

A huge entry door at Confucius Temple.

Before coming to China, we purchased several books, including two tourist books on Shanghai.  One includes several walking tours of different areas in the city.  I tried to plan some walking tours earlier in our stay, but the weather never cooperated and when winter settled in, I postponed them until the spring.

Last Wednesday, we planned our first one through “old Shanghai”.  The Puxi side of Shanghai has many historic areas, including the well-known French Concession.  This walking tour focused on another area with extensive apartment buildings known as Shikumen.  I was unfamiliar with the term and looked it up online.  According to several sources, Shikumen are tenement or apartment housing unique to Shanghai.  They have both Chinese and Western elements in their design.  They appeared in Shanghai as early as the 1860s and continued to be built well into the 1900s.  Usually 2 or 3 stories tall, they are built along narrow alleys called “longtang” in close proximity to one another.  The word shikumen means stone gate, referencing the gates into the longtang.  They have central courtyards that were often used for small gardens.  Unfortunately, many have been or are being demolished to construct newer housing, so today the neighborhoods are often a mix of this old-style dwelling, empty lots and large, modern apartment buildings.

At Yuyuan Gardens

Our walk started at Confucius Temple.  I keep thinking we have visited our last temple, but I will hear about another with something unique and off we go again.  A temple was built on this site in the 1200s, although the buildings there now are only about 150 years old.  It has winding gardens, buildings with upturned eaves and this one has a teapot collection.  Historically, it was the highest seat of learning in Shanghai.  Although not a must-see site in Shanghai, it was a nice start to our walk.

The guidebook was pretty good with directions, but we really were not prepared for the “real Shanghai” look we had.  We missed a turn or two and had to orient ourselves to find our way back to the book’s walk.  The walk takes you through narrow alleys in what feels like people’s backyards, but they are public thoroughfares.  The Shikumen are literally built right on alleys or streets, abut one another and have common courtyards in varying sizes.  Many of the buildings are old, run-down, unkempt and not maintained.  At most, only one car can pass through the alley or street at a time, but many are not wide enough for even one car.

The Shikumen would have been nice housing when built.  We saw vestiges of their beauty in decorative panels inset into the brickwork, multi-pane wood windows, arched openings and carvings in stonework.  The entrances have massive wood doors, but these are now rotting and splintering.  The upturned roof eaves are beautiful and often have motifs on the ridges.  But, as with many things in China, they have not been maintained and updated.  Our observations in our time in China, is that they may build something reasonably well and looks very attractive, but fail to maintain it over time.

A street in Old Shanghai bordered by Shikumen. As is often the case, the facades vary.

There are narrow sidewalks through these neighborhoods, but you generally have to walk in the alleys/streets because the sidewalks are crowded with bicycles, chairs, laundry, food and vendor carts, etc.  In this case, we were constantly alert for all types of vehicles both in front and behind.  At times, it was hard to be observant of the architecture and neighborhoods around us because we were trying to stay out of the way of traffic.

A narrow alley, unsuitable for cars, between Shikumen.

As we walked along, we were definitely the “center of attention” in an area that probably has few western visitors.  I cannot say we felt welcome, but neither did we feel like it was unsafe or that we were in any danger.  We obviously did not look like we belonged there.  The looks we got were mostly “who are you?”, “what are you doing here?” and probably a thought or two of “They must be lost.”  No one approached us to feel Jenna’s hair or take photos.

The condition of the alleys or “longtang” varies just like private yards vary in the U.S. This one needs a little TLC.

Laundry was hanging all over, on poles above our heads, strings across the alley, in windows and doorways.  It was a pretty warm day and most windows and doors were open.  Residents sat outside their doors occupied with various daily tasks.  As we walked by one open doorway, I glanced inside.  It was obviously the kitchen and was only about 3 feet deep and maybe 4 feet wide.  The room was pretty dark.  There was a small sink on one wall with a small refrigerator in the corner, probably one-fourth the size of mine at home.  I didn’t see a stove.  A lady was doing her laundry in a tub sitting in the doorway.

This Shikumen courtyard is neat, tidy and well-maintained, an oasis from the chaos we saw around it.

A typical size Shikumen with a wall creating a courtyard on the other side.

Our walk took us through a street market.  This street market is a daily occurrence where people set-up stalls selling mostly fruit, vegetables, seafood, and meat.  “Stalls” is somewhat misleading and suggests tents with tables, chairs and displays.  Here it is more like a space along the street with crates, boxes and occasionally tables.  There is constant chatter as you walk along, with people negotiating prices for the things they wish to buy.  The girls and I don’t mind the layout, fruits and vegetables and would be willing to shop there.  It’s the meat that is difficult to see.  There is no refrigeration or covering.  Seafood is either swimming in tubs or laying on mats or tables, again no refrigeration.  Some chicken and duck need no refrigeration because they are still alive.  Except for the sounds of a modern city in the background, you could be in any U.S. city 150 or 200 years ago before food-borne illnesses, bacteria and botulism were well-known.  At the end of the street market, we had to veer around a lady retrieving her laundry from above our heads!

Along a wider street with mixed-use apartment buildings. Areas like this are very common in Shanghai as people need groceries, hardware, and services within walking distance.

The last remaining section of Shanghai’s city wall. By 1912, all of the city wall except for this small section had been demolished.

As we continued our walk, we visited the last remaining piece of old city wall around Shanghai.  It’s very much like the Xi’an wall, but much shorter and narrower.  The wall was built during the Ming Dyansty in the mid-1500s.  By 1912, all but one small section had been demolished.

Not your typical McDonald’s!

We ended our walk at the Yuyuan Bazaar and Yuyuan Garden.  The bazaar is a newer shopping area appealing to tourists, but with some interesting and worthwhile shops.  We purchased a Chinese tea set and a mug and had the girls’ names painted with China motifs, like bamboo and pandas.  The area was full of tourists, but also of panhandlers, some of the most persistent ones we have encountered in our time in China.

Yuyuan Gardens. The smallish roof in the center of the photo, almost hidden in the trees was the highest point in Shanghai 400 years ago!

Yuyuan Gardens is a very old garden in the middle of the bazaar.  It’s rather difficult to find.  We asked three different people and finally found it via minimal English and hand signals.  The garden was finished in 1577, repaired and restored at least a couple of times and it remained a private garden until 1961.  The garden has elaborate walking paths, bridges, man-made rock formations, ponds and lots of fish and turtles.  It also has what was the highest point in Shanghai 400 years ago.  Today its height, 50 feet tall, is not very high and since it’s built with glutinous rice as mortar, visitors cannot climb up.  But, the perspective is interesting given the large skyscrapers around it and more going up all over the city.  The garden paths meander so much the girls and I kept getting lost trying to get back out.  Our driver was even looking for us by the time we emerged!

In a garden from the 1500s, Laura and Jenna enjoy very modern entertainment.

I told David our day was interesting and enjoyable, but not an “amusement park” type of enjoyable.  We learned more about the more difficult side of life in Shanghai for residents without good jobs and little education.  We learned that even though Shanghai is a modern city with huge skyscrapers, the latest technology and a huge influx of people from around the world, there are areas that have not moved much beyond the 19th century.

At one point, we heard children singing.  As we came around a building, we saw a pre-school or early elementary schoolyard with a large group of Chinese children.  The school looked fairly new and modern.  Here in the middle of old Shanghai where English is simply not understood and where westerners are rare, Chinese children were singing a song teaching them the A, B, C’s.

The arches in Yuyuan Gardens came in a variety of shapes.

Back in Shanghai

Laura and Jenna wrestle for the box of Cheez-Its.

As you have probably realized by now, we are back in Shanghai and mostly back to our normal routine.  Two days after we returned from Australia, David headed out again, this time to Los Angeles and then on to Noblesville, all work related.  The Noblesville trip did give him a little time to go by our house, pick up some summer clothes and take care of a few things.  He returned on Monday.  Needless to say, the girls and I are quite jealous that he got to enjoy the “comforts of home country”.  Although he didn’t stay at the house since the water is still turned off, he did go by and he had two rules from Jenna and I:  No coffee on the front porch and no playing in the backyard.

Laura bridges to Senior Scouts.

Girl Scouts have ended for the girls here in Shanghai.  They had their year-end celebration which included bridging last week.  Both Jenna and Laura moved up to the next level, the last level for Laura.  It was fun and quite different from bridging in the U.S. where it’s all done within your troop.  Here, it is a school-wide celebration from Daisies on up to Seniors.  They also recognize the girls who are “repatriating” back to their home countries or, in some cases, moving to a new country.

Jenna bridges from Brownies to Junior Scouts.

We have about three weeks of school left.  A little more than the schools at home, primarily due to our travel.  Now that the weather is nice, we should be able to get out more and do some of the walking tours (a.k.a. field trips) in the neighborhoods around Shanghai.  We’ll blog about those as they happen.

Laura practices her photography skills with Jenna.

Right before he left, we met David for lunch and a quick shopping trip for dress shoes at Shanghai Department Store No. 1.  It was interesting and David’s first experience at shopping in a true Chinese store.  The quality shows when you try on something like shoes.  One pair were so tight he could not even get it on his foot.  The next size up were huge.  Standards in the sizing, even within the same exact shoe, are poor.  The clerks don’t seem to realize that and are puzzled when one size is way too small and the next size way too large.  Jenna remains a source of fascination.  The clerks stared at her and several even walked up to her and touched and rubbed her hair.  They are not mean or anything, but it does feel invasive.  You would think after almost 8 months here, we’d be used to it, but not really.

Excited to see the acrobatic show!

While David was traveling, the girls and I arranged to go to a Shanghai Acrobatic show one evening.  We have watched them at the Indiana State Fair several times and thought it would be great to see a full length show.  We were not disappointed.  We purchased tickets and scheduled the trip with our driver.  It was an incredible night!  I’d love to show you photos of the amazing feats, but photography was prohibited.  We can only imagine the number of hours it takes to perfect their performances.

You might be wondering what our plans are for returning to the U.S..  We had expected to be here until April or May at the latest.  Well, we’ll be here through around mid-July.  The plan was for David to spend 6 months here and those plans were based on taxes, what needed to be done, expenses, Chinese restrictions, etc.  However, each time he leaves the country, those days out of the country are not counted toward the 6 months.  So, the 6 months is just the days in the country which makes our overall stay here longer than that.  Our lease on the apartment where we live is up on July 17th, so we expect to leave Shanghai, a week or two prior to that date.

Black swans and a pair of ducks joined us on our picnic near the pond in our apartment complex.

Our weather is warming up.  Although most of the time we are in the 70s, we have had a day or two where it got up to 90.  However, we have not turned the A/C on yet.  The apartment was warm, but not so much that we were sweltering.  The pond, walking paths, shade trees and gazebos are nice amenities at our apartment complex, as are the pools.  We’ve had a picnic by the pond recently and made two trips to the pools.

Well, I suppose I have rambled on in this blog, hopping from topic to topic.  Hope you enjoyed the trip to Australia.  Stay tuned for more of life in Shanghai and a trip to Beijing!

Favorite Things to do in Australia

The Australia trip was so much fun, and (with some difficulty) I chose my top 5 favorites, as well as my least favorite, and what I’d recommend or like to do if I went back.

Favorites:

Me riding Sunny!

Horseback riding was amazing.  It was so much fun getting to ride along the beach, and through the rainforest. It was such a scenic ride; the day was beautiful, and not too hot.  Sunny was a great horse, and wasn’t hard to ride.

Some of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef

Though the weather the day we went to the reef wasn’t very good, I was still able to enjoy it.  Being in the water, and getting to see all the fish

Me snorkeling around in the water!

and coral was amazing.  You can’t see any sign of land in any direction, and you’re just right out there, in the middle of the ocean.  Despite the conditions, it was still one of my favorite things we did.

The cute little kookaburras!

I loved Symbio.  The animals were adorable, so cute, and so much fun to watch.  I fell in love with kookaburras, and could have stood there for hours.  The koalas were so active, moving around quite a bit, and I think we could have watched them all day.  Getting right up close with the kangaroos was like nothing else, watching them feed out of your hand.  It’s one of the coolest animal parks I’ve been to, and if I’m ever there again, definitely worth going back to.

They look adorable, but they bite!

The Tasmanian Devil park was well worth the stop.   The tasmanian devils are only found in Tasmania, though you can find them in zoos in other places, as they died out in mainland Australia, and were definitely one of the things we wanted to see.  They were adorable, and so much fun to see, though you wouldn’t want to get too close to one!  And we got to hand-feed kangaroos again, which just by itself, would have been worth the stop.

The Skyrail car was huge!

And last of all, Scenic World.  It’s in the middle of the rainforest, and you get to ride right down into the valley.  Going down was fun, because we rode in a cable-car, one of the biggest ones in the world.  And getting to wander around on the trails was nice too.  But my absolute favorite part was the Scenic Railway, the steepest train in the world.   We were lying almost flat, and it’s so steep, you sometimes feel like you’re going to topple forward.  It was awesome!

The train car was like a netted box, so exhilarating to go up!

Least Favorite

I have to say my least favorite was Port Arthur.  It used to be a small settlement, where everyone from citizens, to convicts lived along the shore.  A lot of the buildings were in ruins, though many were still standing. Partly why it wasn’t my favorite was simply because it was history.  I don’t mind history, and it can be interesting at times, it’s just not my favorite.  And the weather contributed quite a bit too.  It was rainy that day, and though we had umbrellas and jackets, we still got a bit wet, as well as cold.  Had it been a sunny day, it would have been much more enjoyable.

Recommend

Horseback-riding is most definitely one of things I recommend.  It’s a great way to see a little bit of the beach, and rainforest while getting to have fun riding too.  It’s great for anyone who has never been on a horse or for the most experienced rider.  On the beach, you just walk your horse, though you’re free to trot and canter too.  The horses are amazing, and it’s well worth the stop.

Yard at the female convict site

The Female Convict site.  Though it wasn’t one of my favorites, I still recommend it.  It’s a great way to learn a little bit about the history of Australia, and see what the convict’s lives were like.  You get a tour of the buildings, and get to see where the female convicts lived and worked.  There’s also a “play”, where you’re involved, and get to see what the life of a convict was.

Koalas were so active that day! A real treat to watch them scamper around!

The animal parks.  I can’t just choose one, because all the ones we went to were amazing.  You get right up close to animals like the koalas, and kangaroos, and get to see all the native ones of Australia.  If you’re into animals, the parks we went to were worth spending a few hours to go to.  They’re so cute, and so much fun to watch in their enclosures.

Feeding the kangaroos! So cool feeling their tongue on my hand!

Australia was amazing, and though I didn’t love every single thing we did, everyone got to do several things they really enjoyed.  Though it can be hard to get to due to the long plane ride, it’s worth spending a couple weeks there with all the different things Australia has to do.

Our Australia Trip – Jenna

I liked feeding kangaroos especially when they would hold on to our hand.

I have five favorite things and one least favorite thing to tell you about our Australia trip.  It really was hard to pick just five things.  We did so much and I enjoyed the whole trip.

This little joey was eating from my hand and holding my hand like it was his plate.

My 5 favorite things:

Feeding  kangaroos: Feeding kangaroos is may be something you can only do in Australia.  The kangaroos would just nibble right out of your hand. They were not afraid or anything.  We saw one kangaroo that would not come near anyone. He was very shy.  I almost got him to eat out of my hand though.  It was fun because I had never had one eat out of my hand before.  Sometimes they would even hold onto our hand and nibble.  Later on someone told us that was their way of saying “this is mine.

The shy kangaroo we could not get to eat from our hand.

Holding Tam was so exciting! She was heavier than I thought she would be.

A koala watching the people watching him.

It’s probably the same with koalas, something you probably can only do in Australia.  I like koalas a lot because they are soft and cuddly. Mom, Laura and I held koalas at Kuranda.   I held a soft koala named Tam.  Mom and Laura held a koala named Tilly who did not think I was a big enough “tree”.  We also petted a koala at Symbio.

Symbio: Symbio was a wildlife park near Sydney that we visited.  We got to feed kangaroos, emus, and ponies there.  We also saw koalas that were very active and normally we just see them sleeping.  They also had tigers, emus, kookaburras, meerkats and dingoes. (Mom did a blog on Symbio and TAS conservation park if you would like to know more.)

A little devil with some straw on his nose. He didn’t seem to notice.

TAS Devil Conservation Park: We visited the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park in Tasmania too.  We saw a bird show and fed kangaroos but we mostly saw the devils.  We saw the devils eating, sleeping and fighting.  They are carnivores and they literally eat everything.  I was happy to see the devils because I had researched them and I wanted to see real devils.

The almost vertical railway coming into the station in the valley.

Scenic World: In Scenic world we saw the Three Sisters which is a rock formation.  Four stumps nearby suggest that there once may have been Seven Sisters.  To go down in the valley, we rode a cableway.  To get back up, we rode a train that we were almost vertical.   The rides were a lot of fun!

Coral and fish at the Great Barrier Reef

Least favorite thing:

The Reef: My least favorite thing was the trip to the Great Barrier Reef.  It was a rainy and windy day.  When I tried to snorkel the seawater would get in my mouth.  Laura and Dad were better because they had snorkeled in Florida. I eventually gave up.  Even though it was my least favorite thing about our trip, I would have liked it better if the weather was nicer so I could snorkel easier.

The Three Sisters rock formation.

If someone I knew was going to Australia or if I were going back, I would recommend these things:

  1. The Great Barrier Reef because I really want to try and do it again!  It is a beautiful place and I think most anyone would enjoy seeing the reef and the fish.
  2. The Blue Mountains because it was really pretty and because I could see lots of stars at night.
  3. The Outback because most of Australia to me is The Outback and because we did not have time to go there.

I will probably go back to Australia someday because 1. I want to do more things and 2. I want to do some things again.

Here are a few more of some of my favorite pictures.

An emu munching from my hand.

A Tasmanian Devil having a rather large yawn

Banjo eating eucalyptus.

A kangaroo eating out of my hand.

Petting Banjo while he sat on the tree limb. I think Banjo enjoyed the attention.

Last 2 Days in Australia

Sydney Harbor Bridge

View of the Sydney Harbor Bridge pylon

We spent our last two days in Australia in Sydney, mostly around the harbor or on the water.  Rather than rent a car, we just used Sydney’s trains to travel where we needed.  It was less expensive and we did not have to worry about parking.  We also purchased 24-hour harbor tour passes that let us travel on and off the boat as often as we wanted for 24 hours.  We cruised all around the harbor one evening as the sun was setting and traveled to Watson’s Bay, Darling Harbor and Circular Quay the following day.  It was a great way to see the harbor Sydney is known for and the weather was absolutely perfect.

The bridge itself from the pylon. The blue suited people you see on the right side of the bridge is a group of bridge walkers.

We also went up in the lookout pylon at the Sydney Harbor Bridge.  We really wanted to do the bridge walk, but Jenna was 6 months too young.  The pylon tour was very interesting though and had great views of Sydney and the harbor.  To get to the pylon for the tour, you actually walk on the bridge, which has a pedestrian lane, bicycle lane, train tracks, bus lane and multiple vehicular traffic lanes.  It’s quite a bridge to have been built in the 1930s.

Jenna at the top of the pylon on Sydney Harbor Bridge

At Watson’s Bay, we hiked through a park along the cliffs to see the Hornby or South Head Lighthouse.  It’s a somewhat short, red and white striped lighthouse sited on a high cliff overlooking the harbor.  It was completed in 1858 in response to a shipwreck in 1857, which killed all but one of the 122 people onboard.  The hike was gorgeous and the lighthouse fun to see.  We had spectacular views of ships on the horizon, sailboats in the harbor and waves crashing on the rocks below.

Jenna at the door of Hornby Lighthouse

The waves crashing were beautiful and powerful, creating huge sprays of water, white caps and multiple shades of blue water.

View of the harbor with the waves crashing on the rocky cliff

Hornby Lighthouse, Sydney, Australia

Laura, Mom and Jenna taking a break near the end of our hike after visiting the lighthouse.

In

You can take a water taxi on Sydney’s Harbor. It’s a bit pricey though.

Darling Harbor and Circular Quay, we just meandered around the harbor areas.  Both have been developed with pedestrians in mind with nice walkways, landscaping, water features, shops and restaurants.  Both areas are nice in the day or evening and have easy access to the train stations, which were convenient for traveling to our hotel and the airport.

Our trip to Australia was amazing.  The country has incredible natural beauty, interesting history, friendly residents and an eye for historic preservation.  We were fortunate to interact with several animals in ways we could not have imagined.  We spent 2½ weeks there and could have spent twice that time and still have not seen everything.  It would be like coming to the U.S. for the first time and trying to see all our country has to offer.  It just cannot be done.  It is quite an undertaking to get to Australia from the U.S., but it is well worth the effort.

Mom, Laura, David and Jenna on our harbor cruise. Sorry for the funny faces, the sun was bright and we were squinting.

The setting sun on the harbor

Hope you enjoyed traveling with us.  We are safely back in Shanghai and missing those blue skies and starry nights.

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