THE FILMING OF ’6NORTH’ 3/6 Shanghai/China Part 4
The flight from Shijiazhuang was smooth and along the way we thought about how pleasant our experience had been with such a nice family. If you ever have the chance to experience this for yourself with your own Homestay student’s family then do so and hopefully it will be just as rewarding for you as it was for us.
As we left the plane the air-hostess handed over my bouquet of flowers that she had kept safe. We landed in Shanghai’s domestic Hongqiao airport which is located inside the city. Shanghai’s international airport is in Pudong which is about an hour and a half by road outside the city. If you need to get from the city to Pudong airport in a hurry their very fast train takes about 20 minutes at approximately 400km/hr.
The previous day we had left a note for Stephen’s staff to meet us at 7pm in the ground floor lobby of our apartment to celebrate with us our final night in Shanghai. We had left Shijiazhuang late and were still running late traveling on the subway to get there.
We finally arrived at Changshou metro station near our apartment. I hurried with the heavy bouquet of flowers clutched under my arm. We weren’t sure if any of our friends could be there at such short notice, especially YuJin; we didn’t know for sure if she had been contacted or had received my message that was left with her neighbour the previous day. If I could meet her again my journey would be fulfilled.
As we approached the apartment block foyer at street level Stephen got his video camera ready. Our radio microphone had been damaged in transit and we were beginning to worry that it would fail us again at the most important moment. Stephen told me that he could see from a distance several people waiting in the foyer and they looked familiar. First we saw three of his staff and then yes, a fourth person, the petite figure of YuJin! At last I was going to be able to hug her again and show YuJin her photos in my book. They all greeted us. It was wonderful to be able to see everyone again. It felt like the old days when we lived in Shanghai and we eased into our conversation again as if we had never left Shanghai.
Here YuJin apologised to us about her mother’s behaviour the previous day and told us about her mother’s condition. All was clear to us and we were simply so pleased to be able to tell YuJin that even though our letters didn’t get to her we never forgot her and that she features in my book. I presented her the flowers and a copy of my book for her which she was so happy to receive. When you see the video footage you can see her expression when she sees her own photos in my book. It was a special moment and we are so pleased we were able to film it. She couldn’t believe that we had traveled all this way to see her and she held my hand tight as if to say don’t leave me again!
Stephen’s staff Luna, Vincent and Matthew then presented me with another bunch of lovely flowers and they were equally beautiful in pastle pink and mauve, my favourite colours, I felt I need to look for a good home for these too because I couldn’t possibly travel with it to the next 3 countries. We all made our way to the lifts to go up to our apartment. We settled into our lounge and then we all had a nice chat with coffee, tea, hot chocolate. The evening was simple and beautiful, just the six of us in a quiet place where we could talk easily. It was getting late for dinner and the fear of not being able to find a decent restaurant that would still serve us dinner so we made our move. Next day was a working day so we knew that they would all have to get back to their homes. We found a found a late night restaurant/diner for our farewell dinner on the streets below that served decent and tasty food. We ordered a variety of dishes and chatted some more because there was so much to talk about after having been away for so long. We talked about the documentary, book, family, office politics, economy and of course architecture. We enjoyed ourselves so much that the evening passed very quickly and soon it was midnight! We walked everyone to their taxis but no one really wanted it to end but we had a flight to catch the next day at noon and we still needed to pack again. Finally after our goodbyes we arrived at our apartment about 1am and made sure we packed before sleeping!
When we tried tucking ourselves into bed it was still so firm to lie on. Stephen jumped out and pulled off the bed sheets. We realised the reason we had not slept well the previous nights…. . on the top of the mattress was a hardboard that should have been on the bottom, the mattress was upside down! Oh dear! Unbelievable we thought! So, in the middle of the night while everyone else was asleep we decided to make some noise in our room. We flipped the mattress which was actually very heavy, and with a thud we turned it over and then felt the soft side at last! Unbelievable that anyone should be able to sleep on a solid hard surface. Is it only us that noticed the mattress was upside down! At last we would have a good night’s sleep with the mattress the right way up before our journey to Vietnam. We indeed slept like logs, which is what we needed for the next days’ travel.
The next day after packing we decided to leave a note for whoever made this bed previously saying politely; “the bed is more comfortable this side up”, I wonder if anyone would have cared to take notice…… I very much doubt so because they probably didn’t read English. If you are reading this and happen to be sleeping on a hard bed in China then check if your mattress is the right way up!
Daylight came and we felt like we had accomplished what we had come to Shanghai for. The good night’s rest did help clear our minds for our next journey. After packing our bags we realised that we didn’t have much time left because Pudong is far and in peak traffic jams it can take a couple of hours to get to. Leaving the apartment we did feel the panic setting in so we rushed as much as we could along the corridor while I clutched my 2nd bunch of flowers. That’s when we met a lovely young lady going to the lifts too. We asked her if she spoke English and to our delight and relief she said yes, her English was very good. Her name was Indra, from Mongolia, studying in Shanghai for the next few years. I asked if she would be willing to help us get a taxi and ask the driver to take us to the fast train station so that we could reach Pudong in time! She was so friendly and delighted to help us. On the street she hailed many taxis but they refused to take us, our bags probably discouraged them, read part 3/6 Shanghai part 1. We were running out of time and getting concerned. Finally one taxi agreed to take us to the railway station. We thanked Indra and bid farewell presenting her with my bouquet of flowers for her to enjoy on my behalf, which she graciously accepted.
Traffic jams caused further delays but finally we arrived at the station. We thought we were on the right track to the fast train and bought the tickets only to find that one of the tickets won’t open the rotating barrier to allow me in through! I was fuming by then because I knew I didn’t have enough time to correct the ticket at the booth which was too far away, so I did the unthinkable, I made Stephen throw the luggage over the barrier while guards and public watched on, laughing. They gestured that I should simply go underneath the barrier as there was just enough crawling space. Firstly I thought oh dear really!! Then I looked at my watch then I said to Stephen that if contestants on the Amazing Race can do it then so could I….. here I went, shoes off, handbag to Stephen over the gate and I started to crawl….. well half way through I got kind of stuck.
That’s when I regretted not doing yoga everyday. I thought Oh boy, Do I try to continue crawling forward or do I go back to square one again…. Stephen made the decision for me and pulled me through with a cartoon-like sound as i exited. …. yes, many laughed and clapped to congratulate me. I uncurled myself and stood up. We walked about 20 meters only to realise that we had left one suitcase behind at the scene and I had to run back to get it.
Stephen kept going with everything that he had to carry for me. Stephen reminds me that if he was traveling alone he has only one bag and would not be carrying all the bags I normally take……..
Finally we were on the train, but in all the rush we were on the wrong train. This was the slow one. We were dropped off either at the wrong station, or, we hadn’t read the signs carefully enough. This wasn’t going to help check in on time! Worried all the way and with no place to sit we awkwardly stood with our suitcases. It was kind of reassuring to see that there were so many other passengers with suitcases, but the train was stopping at every stop and it became painfully clear that we were going to loose our spot on the plane. We expected to have to buy a new ticket to Vietnam. That would mean having to contact people in Ho Chi Min city to tell them I would not be there as arranged, and how was I going to contact them without a ‘phone? So many things went through my mind.
The train came to a stop and all passengers started to get off this train and we didn’t know why because this station certainly wasn’t Pudong. We asked the last passenger getting off and he said yes we needed to get off this train and then get onto another train on the neighbouring track….. Oh dear here we go lugging everything again, yet another delay. We waited a while and by now it felt that we had surely missed our flight! We took some camera footage of me discussing our dilemma. We got the next train and it was on this one that I started a conversation with a passenger next to me. Her name was Lisa and she was from their local education department. She had studied in La Trobe in Melbourne. She had personal knowledge of life for international students abroad and especially in Australia. She was most keen to read my book and wanted a copy which I didn’t have a spare one to give away so she read my copy and said please come back and visit her high school and the universities in Shanghai because she saw the usefulness of my book. She was on the train for a short while and her station came too soon and bid farewell. Since then we have been in touch with each other via email and she has been reading my blogs and spreading the word among educators there. Of all the people I should start a conversation with on a crowded train I met Lisa who is in the education department. How nice and freaky is that?
Finally we reached Pudong airport, getting your bags into the escalators is not easy because they are so narrow and have barriers in the way. Finally we were in the terminal and started looking for International departure signs. We ran for quite a distance before we found the sign to guide us. We were on the right path at last. Our hearts beating fast we made it to the Vietnam air counter as they were shutting down!
I think they must have pitied us because one counter opened just for us. Then shock horror, the staff said we couldn’t go on the plane without a number, I didn’t understand? We asked what he was talking about. His explanation was very confusing. He said the pilots would not let us on. Luckily I somehow was clued in and showed him the Vietnam visa stamps in our passports and then it dawned on him that we had the right documents to go on the plane to Vietnam. Phew!. That was a worry.
This was our first time flying Vietnam air and first visit to Vietnam too and we are pleased to say that the ground staff and the air crew were exceptional. We won’t hesitate to fly with them again. We made it through the customs etc and were nearly the last ones to board. The refreshment served on the plane was very welcome as we were very tired and parched, we felt that we had run a marathon……………
As we looked at each other we both felt the same exhaustion; we’d made it to Shijiazhuang, we’d found his staff, we’d found YuJin without a ‘phone, we’d met people who had helped us at just the right moment, we’d met people who are now connected with us in some way with our documentary, we’d nearly missed our flight, all of this had been very stressful (Stephen says the worst part was the number of my bags he had to carry but then he always grumbles about how many bags I take that hold things I never actually use on the journey) and all of this was going through his mind when he decided to take a selfie with a fake teeth lolly in his mouth to lighten the mood.
No he isn’t foaming at the mouth, it’s just a fake teeth lolly for him to chew on the plane when taking off and landings!