i felt a little sad on my last day in shenyang. while this week might've gone by quickly for my relatives, it felt more like 2 weeks for me, with something new and unexpected everyday. true, i never left the house without an escort of some kind, but they meant well, just didn't know i sometimes prefer to explore on my own. as scary as it is returning to shanghai, at least i will have my independency back as well as my privacy.
after a shower, i spent half an hour packing up my things. my backpack seems bigger every time i repack, even though there's nothing new except a pair of pants. my cousin's wife called me downstairs for breakfast.
breakfast was another lavish affair. as much as i appreciate the effort, i'm used to eating very little in the morning, if anything at all. god knows i could lose the weight, and my cousin's wife's cooking is super salty to boot, and i still haven't shaken off my occasional dizzy spells. the main course were two plates of homemade chinese dumplings. i ate about 10 and stopped, didn't need to overload. afterwards i surfed the web a little bit while my cousin's wife cleaned the house in anticipation of bin bin's fiancé's parents' arrival in a few hours.
my cousin came home around 11:00, we left around 11:30. this would be a busy day for them since not only were they dropping me off at the airport (1:20 departure) but picking up bin bin's fiancé's parents as well (12:40 arrival). we drove through shenyang one last time. my cousin's wife kept telling me to come back in october when my 2 month work contract ends, but i'm determined to go back to boston. i'm not at my breaking point yet, but being away from home and traveling all the time is tiring. i mean, it's a nice problem to have, but still, i'm not sure if i'm returning to shenyang so soon. there are a lot of other places i could go.
approaching the airport, we encountered a traffic jam going into the airport parking lot. the neverending road construction work left a large truck blocking the only entry point. since we only had an hour left before my flight, my cousin took a detour to the departure terminal, dropped off his wife and myself, and went to go find a place to park, as impossible as it was. my cousin's wife escorted me to the dongfang airline desk to check my backpack and get my boarding pass. we saw my cousin as we finished. when his wife asked where he parked, he said in a no parking zone and didn't care about the ticket. they walked me to the security checkpoint and watched me as i went through after thanking them one last time for all they've done for me this past week. i had a memorable time, better than if i'd just stayed in shanghai for a week. a learned a lot more about my extended family and even saw my ancestral family grave.
finding the gate and then boarding my flight to shanghai was pretty routine. they seemed to be a wider mix of chinese, unlike when i arrived in shenyang and it was mostly dongbei stock. i was dismayed to discover they gave me an aisle seat, but was then surprised to feel the plane moving with only about 1/3 capacity. since i had all 3 seats to myself, i moved to the window. for some unexplained reason there was a 20 minute delay. we didn't leave until 1:50.
even though it wasn't lunch, they served lunch anyway. let's just say you don't ride dongfang airline for the food. the best thing that can be said about the in-flight lunch is that it's edible. the bun had a bit of a surprise with a sweet bean paste filling.
in shanghai my shenyang cousin's younger brother was coming to pick me up - my shanghai cousin - whom i'd never met before but talked to briefly last night on the phone as a cursory introduction. i felt bad because the plane arrived late but there was nothing i could do. as soon as we landed i turned on my cellphone and my shanghai cousin called, telling me he'd wait for me by the exit. instead of pulling up to a terminal gate, our plane parked at the edge of the airport and a shuttle bus came to pick everyone up. of course they would do it this way in shanghai, with some many people traveling everyday. in china, everything is more about quantity than quality. even the transportation of people seems to be about bulk than individual convenience.
after picking up my luggage (there weren't that many people at the carousel, most people just had their carry-on suitcases), i went to the exit. there was a small crowd of people but none that i could see who had a family resemble to my cousin. after looking around a little bit more, i finally called back my shanghai cousin. i saw a man answer his cell phone and i waved to him.
we went to the airport parking lot and my shanghai cousin went to fetch his car. he'd already booked a hotel for me but i was concerned because i already reserved a room back at my old hotel. it wasn't the greatest, but 1) it was close to the pudong airport, and 2) it had internet in the room (although no wifi). my cousin said this hotel was also in the pudong area, in lujiazui. i didn't recognize the name. he said it's the guest hotel for his clients so i could stay for free (which is always a good thing) and i wouldn't have to worry about getting to the airport because he would drive me or get somebody else to do it. so that was that.
we proceeded to drive to lujiazui. to say shanghai is an immense sprawl is an understatement. it sort of has to be, since it has the largest population of any city in the world at 20 million. my cousin told me the distance between shanghai's 2 airports is 80km, which is about 50 miles. imagine a city 50 miles across in size! no wonder it takes forever to get to anywhere in shanghai. not only do you have to deal with the congestion that comes with traffic (humans and cars) but also the physical distance between 2 points. unlike my shenyang cousin, my shanghai cousin has a calm zen-like approach to driving. he doesn't tailgate, he doesn't speed, he doesn't honk his horn. at no point was i scared for my life as i was when either my shenyang cousin or his wife was driving.
once we arrived in lujiazui i realized my cousin meant that lujiazui, the one with all of shanghai prettiest and tallest skyscrapers, the place where everyone takes a photograph of the skyline. and here i was living right next to it! my cousin went in and booked the room for me, for a 3 night stay, charged to his company credit card (he works as a fuel distribution manager for most of china's transportation services). i didn't ask how much, but i saw one of the price cards in the lobby and it was RMB$1800 a night, which is US$300. and that was the cheapest room.
we went up to the 17th floor and i saw my room. it may very well be the same square footage as my own place back in cambridge, it was so big. the bathroom alone is 2x size of my previous shanghai hotel room, with a tub and a shower. it's got a living room and even a balcony. and free wifi! with the router right in the room! and a king sized bed! i almost fainted from the shock. i told my cousin that this was perhaps the fanciest hotel room i'd ever stayed in. he didn't believe me, "but you're from america!" the view isn't too bad either, i could see a glimpse of the lujiazui skyline, and of course it's within walking distance. the only bad thing i can say about the room is the carpet stains. but it's easy to overlook compared to the other perks.
my cousin gave me time to freshen up as he went for a smoke on the balcony. afterwards we went downstairs to a shanghai restaurant a few buildings down. he said he worked in the next tallest building next to the hotel. the restaurant had a very swank interior and smelled of fresh callas lilies. instead of a centralized dining room, we went upstairs and into a smaller room where there were tables. the food was good, but came at a price - RMB$480, which is US$80. that's a pretty typical price for dinner for 2 in a US city, i guess it's the same in shanghai.
afterwards my cousin brought me back to the hotel and left. i couldn't wait to go upstairs and try out the room. at this rate, i may never want to leave shanghai! just sit up here all day and blog and surf the web and eat instant noodles from my hotel room. i shaved, took a bath, washed my clothes, and packed up everything for tomorrow. i looked up the metro route, it may take more than 2 hours to get to the health inspection place, i'll have to leave around 5:30 if i want to get there for my 8:00 appointment. maybe i could take a taxi? but where's the adventure in that!