I got up pretty late, had a leisurely breakfast, and Dad and John had something of a plan to go see some lake or another and or just walk through town. We got everything packed, but kept the luggage for once, since we were going to have to bring it with us when we met up with Jevons afternoon. I wasn't sure how far I'd be able to go, but decided that I wanted to try it instead of just sitting in the hotel room on our last day.
It was a little bittersweet in ways, as we'd done so much in so little time, and had explored so many things; but I was also completely worn out between the illness, doing all the travel, and simply having to deal with all the strange things here. Still, the morning was clear compared to the previous days, and we only had to get back to the hotel in time for our flight.
And in these enormous cities I haven't really felt as safe as I do at home, and I'll readily admit that some of that is entirely because it's so unfamiliar. Whereas I've walked, without a qualm, through quite a few major cities in the US, I also knew that I'd be able to feel the vibe for that part of the city I was going through, and keeping to the tourist parts was safer.
Still, by striding away from the polished and posh digs we were given, we stepped into a small adventure.
I'll admit that I don't really see that many feral cats in the US, so it was mildly shocking to see these kittens huddled up against the cold of the early spring morning. One or two were clearly sick, but the others were watching out for them.
Getting to see the cluttered garage was kind of cool, like looking into the backdoor of someone's life. And I'll readily admit that I would never have been on a highway with concrete barriers for sides while riding a bike and carrying a ladder. The bicyclists, even in Shanghai, seemed far more at home than any bicyclist would have been in any of the US cities. I think that so many of the people on these streets once rode bikes on them that they look out for the bicyclists better than we do at home.
On this walk, though, it really struck me just how much of Big City this really is, and that it's on a scale that we just don't see in the US. That walking through Denver, there's this small spot of concentrated high rises, but MOST of town is smaller, more urban, with just one or two story places, not building after building after building of multi-stories that are packed to the gills or utterly empty.
We got to look into it this morning, and see the shiny new firetrucks, all the equipment stacked up against the walls,a nd the laundry hanging up on the upper floors. It was kind of cool to see it up close and really get to see that the round house was useful for the number of trucks they had. Though I have to admit I did wonder what would happen if one of the umpteen skyscrapers actually did catch fire and how that would be mitigated by equipments like this, though maybe it isn't really for that, since most of those kinds of buildings have firefighting already built in.
We did cross the very busy street right here, as it was a relatively quiet intersection. Even with a "walk" light, we were dodging cars making their turns both with and against the right of way.
Jet said, "It's like playing Frogger!"
It did, however, make it possible to cross all ways, and we kept walking toward town. It wasn't the best of neighborhoods. Most of the multi-story buildings looked closed, shut down, and a few had For Rent signs on them. There was an abandoned hotel, with a single working Starbucks in the lobby. The Starbucks, being open, were cheerful about pointing out the public restroom in the building, which was in pretty awful shape. Still.... better than nothing, and there was soap by the leaking sink.
This is an old Russian embassy that is now just a Russian business building. There's still some comradeship between Russian and China, but it's different than before. It was on the river crossing road, so the front was well maintained, but it was interesting to know that only a stone's throw behind this big building were piss-stinking alleys.
Right next to the Russian building was a drawbridge with four lanes of traffic each way, and a beautiful view of the commercial district from the platform of the bridge.
The fantastic shapes and colors were clearer, too. And the various balls, I think, were the pearl exchange, though each of these "pearls" were representative of a lot of things, including a whole globe of the Earth on the ground.
Dad told us about staying at a place we'd driven by on the way back home from Suzhou. It was enormous, with a garden of its own, and it had been particularly splendid.
By the time we'd reached the bridge half our time had run out, so we headed back toward the hotel as quickly as we could, because we didn't want to miss our shuttle to the airport. We went back the way we'd come, and one of the businesses that had caught Jet's eye on the way out, also caught us all on the way back.
The also had something that looked more like a Segway, but these were supposedly cheaper, since there was so much less to them! I'm still not exactly sure how they'd work, but it seemed like they had half a dozen prototypes out and in use. Jet decided it was worth getting a picture next to them in case they do hit it big eventually.
That was fun. We got back in plenty of time, took all our stuff down to the lobby and had the front hotel clerk take all our luggage away from us and store it behind the desk. We said that we were only going to be waiting for a little while, but he insisted on taking it. Pretty much everyone other than Jeff and Millie and the four of us were already gone.
One of the things I finally got shot of was one of the high rise apartment buildings with laundry and open windows all the way to the top. It didn't look quite so odd anymore, after more than a week of seeing buildings like this, but it was still worth capturing on electrons. *laughs*
But I was also pretty sick, and we'd done so MUCH each day. With the way the tour had been planned, the days had all been full, and I really appreciated the guidance we got when we were in all the places we'd been. The few ventures we'd done on our own hadn't been quite as well supported with data, history, or just the stories that were told about how things were.
We left Jevons at the airport, and we all went in together. The four of us had some dinner at a little Thai place, and then headed to the gate. The flight to Beijing was uneventful, but in Beijing we ran into Kelly and Jim! Their flight to the Bay Area had been too full, so they were pushed to our flight to LA, which was sad for them, because they'd been in the Beijing Airport all day, but it was nice to see them one last time.
The flight to LA was long and pretty much uneventful. We slept, watched movies, and I wrote stuff down for when we had to declare things for customs. Once in LA, however, everything seemed to go a little haywire. Dad's plane was also too full, so he was pushed to a flight the next morning! So he went off to his hotel.
Our flight got delayed, first to 10 pm, then to midnight, and we got dinner vouchers out of that deal, but then out flight was canceled completely when the crew that came in at 1am decided they were too tired to fly back out again. Not that I blamed them, but it would have been nice to have them decide that earlier.
So we ended up staying in a hotel in LA for the night. It was actually perfect in some ways, as we'd intended on doing absolutely nothing but sleep when we got home anyway, and this was kind of a way to do exactly that. It was a nice Renaissance hotel, and the airline picked up the tab. In the morning, when we were being driven back to the airport, I got to see the jacaranda trees in bloom! Our meal vouchers weren't enough for an actual *meal*, the next day John got a whole handful of tasty snacks for us in addition to a pizza that Jet and I shared.
Since we were flying on American Eagle, we got to dodge planes out on the tarmac again. We got home in the middle of the day, which was a much nicer option than our original plan for getting home in the middle of the night, so it actually all worked out for the best. It was amazing just getting home, sleeping in our own beds, and finally catching up with our lives again.
It's taken me a while to process everything that happened there, some of it is now in these journal entries, and I 'm glad I got to write them all with the help of the photographs and the handwritten journal I'd used while I was there. I'm really happy we went. Very very happy that Jet got to really experience what life is like over there and talk over some of the things he saw or wondered about when we were there. I loved that Dad got to room with Jet and they shared a lot of the travel experience together.
Thinking about it, it was probably the best way to get introduced to the country we could have picked. So many things, all at once, and getting to see such a huge number of cultural icons in one go was as amazing as getting first-hand experience of just what kinds of impact that kind of population density has. The length and breadth of the culture, history, and land itself made a huge impression. I'm also really grateful for what I have here, now. Whew. And have a better framework with which to think of China, her governance, and what's happening with her people and her economy.
I'm glad we took the chance we had to go, but I'm also really really happy to be home again.