On Friday, 11.11.11, the boys kindergarten went on a tourist trip to HaiWan. The school blurb about the trip – which Donal had to get translated as Cindy was away for the week – said the class would go fruit picking, go to the beach, fly kites and have a treasure hunt – and would thus learn all sorts about nature and teamwork and many other things including bond with their parents who were compulsory on the trip. The latter being a non-starter, our two wonderkids were getting to bond with granny (if they have not done so already – I am hoping this was a translation matter rather than what was really being said). And, of course, they heard only the word BEACH and their memories of New Zealand surfaced and nothing Donal or I could say dimmed their enthusiasm.We didn’t want them to be disappointed, and although we did not know at all what to expect, we did know that a chinese beach, just an hour’s drive from Shanghai, would not match up to Manawatu or Wanganui, or even Lake Taupo.
This being so, in spite of having to rendezvous at 7.30 and get up earlier than usual, we were out of the house and at the coach departure point before the teachers arrived. Granny was of course carrying a full bag which I thought would be sufficient emergency stuff for two boys and laughed to see many of the chinese grandparents or parents, each of whom had only one child to bond with, one of them even had a wheelie suitcase. Do they know something I do not… yes indeed they do… see later. We were all given a packed lunch, water, bread rolls and apple, and of course I got two bags. When we (zhong wu class , i.e middle 5) had all gathered, there was a roll call for the 26 children in the group and a rapid talk in chinese. Two nice mothers realised I might not follow and kindly told me I would be in bus 9, although they were in bus 2. I noticed thankfully that one of the boys’ friends, Yuan Yuan and her grandfather who speaks some English, were also lining up in the bus 9 row. Then we all filed out to the buses – there were about 20! and many many more lines of children from other classes and maybe even other schools. Bus 9 had a big 紫薇(zi wei) 9 on the front, and a guide with an orange flag, which I pointed out to Louis and Ali and said we must always remember this bus and this guide. We got on, I grabbed four seats by putting Ali and Louis on one side and I sat across the aisle from them with my bag. As we had four seats, and everyone else only needed two, when all ready to go we also got the new teacher, Dong Laoshi, who had only arrived in their class the week before. Ali came to sit with me and Dong Laoshi sat with Louis. This was great – she was so helpful all the way and also got on wonderfully with both boys, so it was clear she knew them well already.
Then we got to the tourist site, bus parked on the road and we had to walk along to the entrance, cars flying by. I can see why parents had to come too, and for the first of many times that day was extremely glad I was not one of the teachers. The first ‘event’ was treasure hunting, but I didn’t know that as the instructions were as always in chinese. We were in a large grassy area, with some bushes and ditches and Louis and Ali just saw places to jump and took off to have a whale of a time. there were people throwing lots of plastic toys around, and all the other kids were holding a parent hand and running about picking them up. It reminded me of the Easter day candy hunt on Block Island with about ten times more kids. When I finally got Louis and Ali back from ditch jumping, it dawned on Louis that all his mates had toys and he did not – Ali didn’t care but he did. Some of the parents had at least ten, and fortunately a couple of them gave each of the boys a toy – a blow out whistle.
I could write for hours about all the daft details, like the fishing which meant putting on boots and getting into a concrete tank into which someone had dumped fish. Most of the other parents had them safely caught into plastic bags, ready for dinner, before I even got the boys boots on. After that the guide realised I hadn’t a clue, so she started looking after me. Next was the dragon boat where we all had orange life-jackets to put on, and I only had to do my own. There were eight cross benches to a boat and paddles for all, we were on the second bench and both boys were great – they were really thrilled to be rowing [though the guy at the back with a big steering paddle managed complete control up and down a big lake]. Then we had the kites, the wind was just about right and we were told to come back to this spot at 12.15 so everyone had picnic lunch here too. I found out what all the other parents had in their big bags, no simple rolls and apple for those who had been on trips before. They all shared everything, so there were kids running all over practically forcing food, especially cake and sweets on everyone else. We enjoyed everything.
Then it was back to the bus, on to the beach, and holiday rides on swingboats and a kids roller coaster. I had to go on with them and I do NOT like roller coasters, but giant swing boats are even worse. Ali would not go on that, he had been on one before, so he stayed with Dong Laoshi while Louis and I went on. Louis loved it, I was very very glad when it was over! Then we passed three horses, and had rides there too, which were much longer than I expected and far better value than any I have been on elsewhere.
Back to try to find the bus, on the bus, off the bus, etc etc we are getting good at finding 紫薇 9 with its blue front and triple silver curve logo and orange curtains. The last activity was not fruit picking, but POTATO DIGGING!! Home experience for an Irish granny. Actually it was sweet potato, or kumara, as New Zealanders call it, but seemed much the same and all the kids loved it so I added a large bag of kumara to the carry home items. Now I really know why the chinese parents came prepared with big big bags. When we finally got back to Guiping Lu / Pubei Lu coach stop, some of them had their evening meal of fish and kumara plus left-over lunch and candy. Ali and Louis carried our bags of potatoes proudly home.
I think it was an amazing day out, great for children, most of whom are city kids, but Oh I was so glad I was not one of the teachers who had to count us in and out of those buses.
Final unexpected event, the next day, Saturday, as we came home from an ordinary quiet morning at the recreation grounds, we passed some of the Suzhou coaches at their usual terminus. And there it was, blue front and triple silver curve logo and orange curtains, even without a number 9, OUR BUS. Ali and Louis said Hey, our bus, and went up the step and chatted to their friend the driver. We seem to have friends all over Shanghai, or at least, in this small corner of a big city.