Dates, Tips and Sunburn.

It’s been a hectic week or so, not that I’ve had a hectic work schedule (as if) but I’ve had to fit in a final day’s sightseeing with my parents (we went to some old villages outside Shanghai, enjoyed some drinks in the highest bar in the world and then finished off with a gourmet burger in the French Concession), a date with a Chinese girl (weird) and a weekend on some islands and beaches.

Firstly, it was with a heavy heart I bid farewell to my folks. They managed to squeeze in an inordinate amount of activities into their slender week-wide stopover. I must mention that on the last day when we visited the outlying villages, my banker student had organized and paid for (what a ledge) a driver to scoot us around. Dropping us off back at the hotel my dad reckoned he should tip the guy (despite him taking us to the wrong village at one point). I wasn’t so sure that this was a good idea as tipping can actually be seen as quite offensive here. Many of the locals believe that their jobs shouldn’t require a patronizing extra fee to vindicate their efforts, which is fair enough. Anyway, dad attempted the sly hand-shake with the money in the palm trick. It was just like GoodFellas. Except the taxi driver leapt back like dad had just electrocuted him and waved his hands in the air in horror. Slightly embarrassed, we slunk inside and spent the extra cash on beers.

The date with the Chinese girl was a weird one. It turns out she’s quite smitten with me (not sure why) and revealed to me that the night before we met she had spent hours researching scotland on the internet. Alarm bells were ringing. Then she asked me to rate my feelings for her on a scale of one to ten. Alarm bells were deafening. I diplomatically dodged that bullet and suggested we go for a drink. Chinese girls don’t usually drink but she insisted that back in her uni days she was a bit of a party girl. One rum and coke down she fell asleep on the table. Oh no. I had to rouse her (no ‘a’ in rouse unfortunately) and take her for a reviving walk in the fresh air before bundling her into a taxi. We’re meeting again tonight. Wish me luck.

The trip to the islands was pretty special. Unofficially it was a kind of farewell trip for me and my flat-mate who I’m leaving behind here. He brought his Chinese girlfriend along, which was a lifesaver as she organized everything, from the buses, to the hotel pick-up to even breakfast in the morning. I was very impressed. She even held her drink in the evenings. On the monday we caught the ferry to Putuoshan island, which is a deeply Buddhist influenced little gem in the Pacific. The ferry was crammed with Chinese tourists fighting over seats. When we arrived the dock was crammed with Chinese tourists fighting over tickets. I had some trouble locating my inner peace. Quite removed from being enlightened we marched away from the bus depot and headed for One Thousand Steps Beach. It was completely deserted. The buses didn’t stop there and we had the whole place to ourselves. For the first time in China I had found an untouched beach, totally wild and windswept , the only sign of humanity being a tiny temple perched on the cliffs overhead. It was pretty close to paradise. We spent the rest of our time lounging on beaches and trying not to drown in the sea. I got horribly sunburnt despite the repeated application of lotion. Thanks genetics. So now I’m home, well at least my home for the next few days before Spinks and G arrive, rubbing aloe vera on to my shoulders and plotting more adventures in western China. It’s going to be a good few months!

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Mental Parentals

This is the last day with my laptop as I’m posting it home tomorrow with my folks. My folks of course, being my parents, who have spent the past week in dear old Shangers, visiting their beloved firstborn. It’s been a great reunion, and my home for the past year has somehow managed to impress them, despite the various flaws I’ve mentioned in the previous seventy-two posts on this blog. The first day, I took them for a wee walk around my favourite park. There was a bloke shagging a tree. Not, obviously, really shagging the tree, but groinally thrusting it repeatedly to revive some well-needed chi from it’s barky innards. My dad remarked – “Well that gives a whole new meaning to barking up the wrong tree.” A brilliant dad-joke if there ever was one.

Later on, the two of them were scoping down Nanjing Road when a hawker approached yelling, “MP3, watches, suitcase!” “No, thank you.” My mum replied, in her best Chinese. As the hawker sifted off, dad started smelling his breath. “Jayney,” he enquired, “do I need to brush my teeth?” My mum, adopting her usual miffed expression, shook her head. “No Jonny. Why?” “Well that man just offered me toothpaste.”

They visited the school today, which was great as the teaching assistants could see what old foreigners looked like. My mum said she felt like royalty. I took them into one of my classes and got the kids to ask them questions. First question was to my dad. “Are you one hundred?” There was laughter, followed by the immortal comment by nine year old Cook – “He is old and strong!”

All in all, I think Shanghai surprised them, although as with most visitors (including myself) they didn’t really know what to expect, just not what was here. The heat almost melted dad, the food disagreed with mum (two visits to Pizza Hut and counting) but they loved it. Especially Luxun Park, which if you ever come to the city should literally be on the top of your list, and not just for tree shaggers. This week my parents saw a full-blown choir, an expert saxophonist, a vast gathering of deaf people, mass ballroom dancing, elderly chin-ups, lake swimming, people jogging backwards and tree shagging. Oh, I already mentioned the tree shagging. Good times.

Happy Birthday Comrades!

90 years since the communist party was formed don’t you know. To celebrate the authorities put an epic music video on all the metro TV screens, which featured Jackie Chan harmonizing over a reel of old propaganda footage. Really. I asked my banker student if he would be celebrating. “No. And outside Shanghai no-one really will. No-one cares,” he said, as he munched down on his Carl’s Junior jalapeno burger . Oh.

I celebrated this historical milestone in Party history by going to the water park again. It’s the only place where the humidity can’t bother you. It really is an amazing place. The wave pool was packed this time round and they obviously decided it would be a good idea to crank up the wave machine to 11. The pool suddenly started to resemble a natural disaster simulator. Raging waves crashed against the high walls at the sides, capsizing kids and adults alike off their rubber tubes and into the watery abyss. Lifeguards in their droves leapt in to save them, only to be smothered by the next wave of helpless punters. Children lost their mothers. Parents could be seen clinging vainly to their empty tubes. A mass of goggles, watches and glasses washed up in the tide, like a leisurely version of Saving Private Ryan. The screaming wasn’t that of unbridled joy I can tell you.