Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.
Who: Eileen Grant and her son Patrick, of Alexandria.
Where, when, why: In March, Patrick and I visited my daughter, Rosie, and son Tim in Qingdao, China, where they were teaching English. The four of us also visited Beijing and Shanghai.
Highlights and high points: Patrick and I arrived in Beijing and took a trip to the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall (about two hours north) the next day. At this less touristy section, we had wonderful views and really got a feel for the immensity of the wall. In Shanghai, the four of us went to the Bund area (where all of Shanghai’s great photos are taken) and also to the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center (China’s tallest building). The building looks like a gigantic can opener, and the can-opening part is where the observation deck is. The floor is made of plexiglass, so you can see all the way down; it was really stomach-churning. Rosie and I took a while to walk on it, hanging back close to the walls. Meanwhile, Patrick was dancing around with no qualms!
Cultural connection or disconnect: We missed our flight from Beijing to Shanghai, and when we tried to buy tickets on the next flight, we learned that we had to pay cash. It was strange being at an international airport and not being able to use a credit card. I guess there are too many fake or stolen cards being used, and the airlines don’t accept them. When the first three ATMs refused my card, I went back to the ticket counter and begged them to take the card. They refused, so I found a fourth ATM (Agricultural Bank of China, I won’t forget them anytime soon), which gave me the money. But by the time I got back to the counter, the flight was already boarding. The next flight cost about $163 more. I went back to the ATM and stood there praying that it would take my card a second time. It did, and I was so happy that I forgot to remove the card from the machine. I didn’t realize it until we were in Shanghai, and it was too late to do anything but cancel the card. I was so worried, because it was my only credit/debit card and I thought that I might have to call the American Embassy to get some help. Fortunately, Rosie was able to get me some money, and all worked out.
Biggest laugh or cry: For Rosie, Tim and me, the biggest laugh was Patrick and food. Patrick, who’s 16, is sort of a picky eater, and Rosie and Tim warned me that he might not like the food in China. We all agreed that we’d have to look for places to eat that offered more Western food. Nothing could have been further from the truth! He ate everything — food from street vendors, food from vegetarian restaurants, and often things that we couldn’t even identify! We went to a few places that were definitely dives, and amazingly, Patrick ate everything. This was partly a tribute to how good the food was and partly to his opening himself up to new things.
How unexpected: This may sound strange, but the subway systems in Beijing and Shanghai were extraordinary. There’s not much English, so you need a map with the English word beside the Chinese one, and you have to learn how to read the Chinese one. Patrick figured out the Beijing system the first day, and we took it everywhere. We had the same reaction in Shanghai: What an efficient and well-organized system it was.
Fondest memento or memory: It was such a great trip with so many interesting parts that picking one is hard. One thing that struck me was what a wonderful experience my two older children had teaching English there. Rosie was there a year and Tim only three months, but both were happily employed and working hard, and they loved it. Qingdao was the perfect place to work. It was relatively modern yet still very Chinese. The foreign-language schools were very happy to have these native English speakers and offered them more work than they could handle.