We have just returned from spending Christmas with our family in Shanghai. This is the first in a series of posts on Impressions of Shanghai I will be sharing over the next few weeks.
Our son and his wife have called Shanghai home for almost 10 years. Their three children were born there, including little James who joined the family in August.
Two hip replacements and ongoing issues with arthritis and fibromyalgia have prevented me from taking the long trip to Asia. This year I could get around without walker, crutches or cane. It was the right time to head to China for a visit.
We chose the short flight: an hour and a half jump from Edmonton to Vancouver, four-hour layover in Vancouver followed by a 12-hour flight to Shanghai.
Crossing the international date line swallowed up a day, which spat it back out again when we returned home. Our aging bodies still aren’t sure which time zone we are in.
Flights and arrival were uneventful. As the cabin cleared, I slowly unfurled my aching limbs from the never-comfortable seat and limped off the plane. We queued up at immigration, collected our luggage, and looked for our son.
But he is nowhere to be seen. A girl at information who understands English offers to loan us her phone to call him. The call went immediately to voicemail.
So we sat and waited.
My husband preferred purposeful pacing and investigating over waiting. He walked up and down in the airport and called out our son’s name. I was told the Chinese do not like yelling or loud voices. A very young policeman glanced up at Bud with a trace of a smile on his lips, but no one else seemed to notice this big white guy, or what he was doing
I was tired and sore. I did not mind waiting.
Bud phoned our son again. He got through. David saw our flight was delayed, but our pilot had made up the delay time. Just wait. Our son was on his way.
David is the head of an American program teaching western nursing to Chinese students. The classes are conducted in English, so English-speaking nurses, scientists, and English teachers form the teaching crew. We were eager to meet everyone and live among them for a couple of weeks.
We strategically packed each of our four big suitcases to the weight limit, filling them mostly with secret Santa gifts for team members, and Christmas gifts for our family. We squeezed in three outfits each for ourselves along with a few personal items.
We see David striding toward us. We have traveled 10,000 kms to visit our son and his family. It’s thrilling to be here, the place they have embraced and made home.
Our driver, “Cousin,” pulled up in his Kia, the Chinese equivalent of a Rio. It looks small. Very, very small.
Not at all deterred by the task of hauling us halfway across the city, Cousin gestured me into the front seat and my husband into the back. Bud struggles to fit his frame into the tight back seat, but before he is settled, a large suitcase is shoved in beside him. Our son draws his legs up and squeezes in next to the suitcase. Another large case is maneuvered into our son’s lap. The largest carry on is twisted, turned and pushed to fit on my husband’s lap. I hold a carry on. The other two large suitcases and the other two carry ons are jammed into the tiny trunk. After some adjusting, the trunk lid is slammed shut.
Cousin is a typical Chinese man, small of stature and of average build. The three in our family are each tall and, *ahem,* plump. I can barely get my legs in the front and my knees are pulled up tight against the dash. After wiggling and squirming I was finally able to shut my door. Cousin pushed Bud and his suitcase further into the car and with a resounding grunt, shut his door.
But our son could not close his door. Remember in the Cinderella story how the Duke took the glass slipper to Cinderella’s home and the wicked stepsisters shoved, squeezed, jammed, and twisted every which way to try and get a foot into that slipper? David was the foot and the Kia was the slipper. Finally Cousin rolled down David’s window and pulled the suitcase partially out of the window (the door was still open.) After more grunting, groaning and repositioning, the car door grudgingly shut, with the suitcase still hanging precariously out of the open window.
Imagine all of this occurring in an airport parkade. Cousin had pulled his car out from the parking space to allow us room to get into the vehicle. His vehicle, all four doors and trunk open, blocked all other cars from getting past us to the exit. Soon horns were honking, headlights flashing, and people shouting…in an underground parkade…in the dark.
After we were, *phew,* all secured in the Kia, Cousin grinned, nodded, jumped into the driver’s seat, and off we went. Fastening a seat belt was not an option, though I doubt any airbag could have held us tighter in place that all that luggage did. I gripped the roof handle with grim determination, pushing away thoughts of what would happen if one of our doors could not stand the strain and popped open as we were careening along in city traffic.
Driving is a thing to behold in this city of 23 million people. To say that every man does that which is right in his own eyes is an understatement. Swerving, squeezing, merging and zooming are all requisite skills for Shanghai drivers. And honking. One must certainly honk when driving in Shanghai.
Cousin knows almost no English. David gave him instructions in Mandarin, but mostly Cousin drove while we chatted with Dave.
During a lull in the conversation Cousin pointed toward my window and said something. I looked out my window and saw the Disney castle. “Ah, Disney,” I commented. He nodded vigorously, grinned, and repeated, “Disney” Neither Bud nor David could see past their respective suitcases. Bud was practicing breathing and talking himself into not being claustrophobic. But I could see it, brightly lit and proudly filling the horizon, this western bastion on the Asian landscape.
Finally – our destination, the university where our son lives and works. Cousin jumps out and pulls the suitcase from David’s window. David slowly unfolds himself from the back seat and pulls out the suitcase beside him. Someone opens my door and lifts out my carry on, while someone else helps my husband with his suitcase and exit strategy. I must have gotten out of the car, though by now details grow blurry and my memory, fuzzy.
We made it! We’re in Shanghai, ready for a wonderful adventure, looking forward to time with family, anticipating making new friends, and prepared to create amazing memories.