Party Girl

Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
Trip End Aug 27, 2010

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Xinjhanzien Ferry

Flag of China  , Shanghai,
Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Birthday Lauren! (and thanks to all those who sent birthday wishes. Note. Facebook is banned in China so we can't reply to anything on ther for a while). 

It was an early start to Lauren's birthday, not because we had birthday things to do but because we had to get to the port terminal to check in for the ferry. We walked through a light rain to the train station and took the monorail to the port where the kids were really excited as we exited beside a pretty fancy looking cruise liner. Alas, this was not to be our vessel; moored on the other side of the dock was a much smaller and simpler looking ship, though still the largest the kids have ever been on. It would still be some time before boarding though as we first had to go through check-in, health checks, immigration and customs … more protocol than for any plane we’ve taken, though remarkably smooth. The health checks were fortunately not too invasive, consisting of a remote forehead sensor scan, a bit like the memory erasers in MIB (is this a sign of things to come?).

Once on board the Xinjianzien, we were shown to our cabin. The booking had gone through as hoped and we had a private cabin – four bunks, a wash basin, a sitting area (complete with TV) and a window, complete with seaview ;-) The ship departed a few minutes ahead of schedule and we were on our way to China. We scurried up on deck to say our goodbyes to Japan, though aware that we’d not see the last of the country until shortly before nightfall as the whole of the first day is spent sailing through the islands of Japan and we wouldn’t hit open water until sometime during the first night. Nonetheless, in keeping with Japanese protocol, we did feel the need to blast out a little Auld Lang Syne on the i-pod. With our propensity for lateness, we’ve often been kicked out of tourist attractions and stores at closing time and that everywhere we went Auld Lang Syne would be played to signal that the end is nigh – another effective Japanese quirk.

I think we were all a little sad to be leaving Japan having thoroughly enjoyed our time there. Derek particularly enjoyed seeing the philosophies of his work being carried out everywhere we went and Sarah and the kids just had fun with the quirkiness of the country and enjoyed the wonderful people.

Sarah and the kids set off to explore the boat – it didn’t take too long but they found the "gymnasium" (ping pong table), games room (computer games), mahjong room, laundry, karaoke/dancing room, café, duty free shop, cafeteria and had a good nosey into all of the other types of accommodation….turns out that we had done well with our choice of cabin. Out on deck we found ourselves chatting with a lovely older Chinese couple from Shanghai who gave us many tips for our time in China and later when Derek bumped into them again insisted on giving him enough money to get a taxi to our hostel!

For Lauren’s birthday we had secretly bought a small cake, some icing and some candles and so Sarah set about putting it all together to create a little birthday cake for her. Alex and Sarah took the cake to the café so that we could light the candles without fear of setting off the smoke alarm. As they waited for Lauren and Derek to arrive an older Japanese gentleman (complete with purple rinse) got quite excited… seeing Alex and the cake he concluded it must be Alex’s birthday and insisted that we should see him that night in the cafeteria, though for what we weren’t quite sure? Lauren arrived in time to blow out her candles, but just as we were cutting the cake the same gentleman returned and insisted that no, we should save it until later, so we duly obliged and returned to our cabin wondering just what we’d agreed to for later?

At six o’clock we made our way to the cafeteria on cue whereupon our new friend led us downstairs to the “karaoke and dancing” room…”oh, no” was Sarah’s first thought, “they’re going to make us sing Happy Birthday Karaoke style”! But, no, they had set up a feast in Lauren’s honour on the dance floor with enough chairs for us and about six other people. We had quite the feast of sashimi, duck, tofu, many veggie dishes and a huge platter of fruit, and of course the beer was flowing throughout. Part way through dinner the captain arrived to present Lauren with a birthday card from the ship; it wasn’t until this point I think that our friend realized that it was actually Lauren’s and not Alex’s birthday! And, yes, Happy Birthday was put on the karaoke system, but luckily it was a group effort! The drinks continued to flow into the evening and a good time was had by all…..certainly a very different kind of birthday party for Lauren this year and one that she’s unlikely to ever repeat!

Who were the other party guests? We’re not really sure exactly how they were connected with our new friend, but there were two little boys from China of similar age to Alex. While language was clearly a barrier for them, boys will be boys, no matter where they are from and the three of them had great fun playing tag until it was time to calm down when they turned to a great device to unite nations – Nintendo DS’s!

Wandering back to our cabin we were slightly concerned to notice that the crew had been hanging lots of plastic drawstring bags on the doors throughout the ship – hmmm, did they know something about upcoming sea conditions that warranted this precaution?

That first night passed pretty smoothly and the bags weren’t needed, at least not in our cabin anyway. By the time we woke up the ship had made it out to open sea, but conditions were still pretty smooth. Breakfast was the only meal included in the ticket price and was not your western style egg and toast or even continental style….nope, it was rice soup, noodles with green spinach like veggies and some shiny dense bread rolls with a weird sweet yellow (bean?) filling.

Time passed surprisingly quickly on the boat and we spent our second day doing school work, reading, laundry and just chilling out. Alex also found time to play with his new friends. The day finished with a movie night, the first time we’ve had time for that indulgence since leaving Costa Rica in January.

Our second night was considerably rougher than the first, though everybody other than Sarah slept right through the roller coaster ride. In the morning we were clearly nearing China; here in the shipping lanes we were a minnow with a phenomenal number of other enormous ships and tankers en-route, but that wasn’t the only indicator of China’s proximity. The ocean had become a dirty brown colour, and the weather was either very misty or we were sailing into a bank of smog….judging by the brown hue to it and the tickle in our throats we suspect it was the latter. It wasn’t long before we had left the open water and were sailing up the river inlet to the international dock in Shanghai. It really is quite an intriguing way to enter China and as we sailed up the river we passed all kinds of heavy industry and associated shipping before the expected Shanghai skyline came into view… sort of. There were numerous famous skyscraper shapes, including the Shanghai Financial Centre and the Pearl Oriental Tower, although truth-be-told we could’ve scraped the sky ourselves that day with a ladder and, well… a scraper. The other thing that met us were the foul odours in the air which changed frequently as we travelled up the river but all had equal appeal and, in all likelihood, health benefits.

We docked a few minutes ahead of schedule (what else would you expect from a partly Japanese venture) and waited to disembark, wondering just what sort of rigour we might face in the way of customs and immigration? Once off we were slightly taken aback by the sparkling clean, modern building we entered. The customs and immigration process was exceptionally smooth and hassle free and we were soon trying to explain to a taxi driver just where we wanted to go and so, the China adventure begins….
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