Our last few days in Kunming were full of goodbyes, purging our apartment of its belongings and trips to favorite places in town. When it was all over, it was just the four of us standing in our empty foyer at 5:00 AM on departure day. We were brought to the airport by Helen, Will’s tutor. Our friendship with her will be lifelong, and we hope that one day she can travel to the USA so we can start to repay the kindness she showed us all year long.
China Eastern smacked us one more time with a three hour delay. There is a reason this airline is not well-regarded. But soon we were on the way. Arriving in Shanghai was like entering a new country. The city is modern, clean and cosmopolitan. Easily the most Western city we had been in since last October’s visit to Hong Kong.
The next morning started fast, literally, as we took a ride on the Shanghai Maglev. The Maglev train is a commercially operating magnetically levitated train operating on 30km of track from a station in central Pudong to the Pudong International Airport. Originally built as a demonstration of the technology, the train is still largely a ride for tourists and train enthusiasts. We all went zipping along at 430km/h (267 mph). It took 8 minutes to cover the 30km. Impressions were as follows:
Ernie: Awesome! The ride was smooth, the train got up to speed very quickly and was amazingly quiet.
Johanna: Hmmmm….only 8 minutes from Point A to Point B…barely enough time to review my lists…
Will: Good. It was wild but scary. If we crashed, it would be bad.
Eden: Fun but creepy.
The train also provided perhaps the most humorous moment of the day. I was struggling to remember the word for a dimple on a man’s chin. It was a moment that demonstrated both the large population of English-speakers in Shanghai AND the fact that my English has rapidly declined…when a Chinese man across from us looked up and said, “It’s called a cleft chin, Miss.”
We were accompanied all day by Ronnie, a friend of a colleague of Ernie’s. He knew Shanghai inside and out. And told us his family history, which was incredible, and touched on China’s deep political history. Both of his parents, as young adults, were individually sent to Yunnan Province, where we had just lived for the past year. This came as part of the Down to the Countryside Movement implemented by Mao to essentially avoid an uprising.
They met, married and gave birth to Ronnie in Kunming, eventually returning to Shanghai after twenty years. Incredible, but typical story for millions of Chinese.
Our day continued with a visit to the top of the tallest building in China, where we had lunch and took in the sights of Shanghai. There had been rain and smog for two weeks, but as chance would have it, the skies cleared and we had blue skies after lunch and into the afternoon. We strolled alone the Bund, a district along the water’s edge that was built by the British shortly after the Second Opium War. To finish the day, Ernie and I visited one more temple and Chinese garden…the kids preferring to stay in the comfort of the air conditioned minivan. 🙂
Our year in China complete, we returned to the hotel and toasted with dinner on the 30th floor of our hotel. We laughed about how silly it felt that the year had come to a close…the time has gone both faster than the Maglev AND, at times, seemed to move at the pace of molasses falling from a jar. There will be adjustments in our return, of course. But after conquering Asia, we are certain that we can handle whatever comes next.
USA…here we come!
—Johanna and Ernie